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Posted at 03:00 PM ET, 07/24/2012

‘American Idol’ judges: A timeline (Mariah Carey, do you know what you’re in for?)

Mariah Carey, do you know what you’re in for? The “American Idol” franchise, also known as the country’s most popular show, has had a long history with its judges. Let’s take a look back:

June 11, 2002: “American Idol” debuts, and, surprise! It becomes the out-of-nowhere hit of the summer. At this point, Paula Abdul is the star of the show, the most famous name on the judging panel. She’s paired with the unknown Simon Cowell, a music industry executive who created the British version of the show, and Randy Jackson, a fomer bass player for Journey and record producer.

About 10 million people check out “Idol” the first week, but the audience grows over the summer, and 23 million tune in on Sept. 4 to see Kelly Clarkson take the prize in a two-hour finale — it’s the summer’s most-watched program.

October 2003: Speeding up production for Season 2 with an audience hungry for more nasty Simon Cowell comments to deluded contestants, the “Idol” producers hire New York DJ/hip-hop artist Angie Martinez as a fourth judge. But she quits after just a couple days of auditions, saying, “It became too uncomfortable for me to tell someone else to give up on their dream, especially when I realized that many of them have supported my career.” See ya, Angie.

August 26, 2008: The show sticks with the three-judge format for awhile, and things go swimmingly. “Idol” becomes a ratings monster, crushing other shows in its path, its peak being Season 5 in 2006 (the year of Taylor Hicks and Katharine McPhee), averaging 31 million viewers.


Kara DioGuardi (Angela Weiss - GETTY IMAGES)
But going into Season 8, producers have noticed the ratings have slipped a bit (averaging about 28 million people), which means it’s time for — a new judge. Thus, we say hello to Kara DioGuardi, a pop songwriter-producer, who had a very short judging stint on ABC’s flop singing competition ”The One: Making a Music Star.”

“Paula finally has some backup and now there is going to be a lot more 'girl power' on the show,” Fox reality programming exec Mike Darnell explains happily. Paula seems less than thrilled about this arrangement.

Kara is a bit awkward on the panel, though manages to hold her own— mostly thanks to the infamous Bikini Girl Stunt in the finale. Still, ratings slip to about 26 million viewers for the year.

August 4, 2009: A day after Fox signs Kara for another season, Paula Abdul tweets the bombshell: She won’t be coming back for Season 9. Rage pours in from fans on Twitter, but “Idol’s” wackiest judge sticks to her word and is out. Will this mean “Idol” is back to a three-judge format?

Sept. 9, 2009: Not quite — Fox announces that talk show host Ellen DeGeneres will become the new Paula for Season 9.

Jan. 11, 2010: Surprise! Simon Cowell drops by Winter TV Press Tour 2010 to announce that this is his final year on “Idol.” Next year, he’ll be taking his talents to “The X Factor,” another singing competition series in direct competition with “Idol” on the same network.

And sadly, Ellen doesn’t do much for the ratings in Season 9 — and neither does the news of Simon’s final season of meanness. The show slips even more, still dominating, but dropping to an around an average of 24 million viewers for the season (winner Lee DeWyze and runner-up Crystal Bowersox didn’t make much of an impression, either).

July 29, 2010: To the surprise of almost no one, Ellen announces she’s done, saying she’s not the right fit for the show — an understatement at best.

Sept. 3, 2010: The “Idol” judge casualties continue: Fox announces on Take Out the Trash Day — Friday night before Labor Day weekend — that Kara has decided to not return to the country’s most-watched TV show.

Sept. 23, 2010: On the heels of auditions for Season 10, Fox parades out the new judges to an audience in Los Angeles. As rumors had already pretty much confirmed, Aerosmith rocker Steven Tyler and pop star/former Fox’s “In Living Color” Fly Girl dancer Jennifer Lopez are the next to join the panel. Randy Jackson hangs on for dear life, as well.


Steven Tyler, Jennifer Lopez, Randy Jackson (Danny Moloshok - AP)
January 2011: “Idol” moves to Wednesday and Thursday nights and the ratings bounce back a bit in Season 10, averaging about 25 million viewers.

January 2012: The same three-judge panel remains going into Season 11, though ratings take a tumble. With an average of around 19 million people for the season, its the show’s smallest audience since way back in 2002 for the debut season. Approximately 22 million people watch Phillip Phillips walk away with the “Idol” crown in May, the smallest finale on record.

July 12, 2012: Word is that Fox execs want to “shake up” the show in Season 12, and Steven Tyler bids farewell.

Or, in Steven Tyler language, he actually says, “After some long . . . hard . . . thoughts . . . I’ve decided it’s time for me to let go of my mistress ‘American Idol’ before she boils my rabbit...I strayed from my first love, Aerosmith, and I’m back.”

July 13, 2012: Though she was totally upstaged by Tyler’s announcement, J-Lo phones in to “Idol” host Ryan Seacrest’s radio show to say that she’s done, too.

Or, in J-Lo language, she actually says/rambles: “I honestly feel like just the time has come that I have to get back to doing the other things that I do, that I’ve put kind of on hold because I love ‘Idol’ so much. You know what I mean?...I could just keep doing ‘Idol’ for the rest of my life, but that would be giving up a bunch of other things, and I just, I don’t know, I feel like we had an amazing run.”

July 23, 2012: Fox programming chief Kevin Reilly holds up a cellphone at Summer TV Press Tour 2012 and dials Season 12’s new judge, who he said was just signed a few hours ago. The voice belongs to none other than Mariah Carey — “I am so excited to be joining ‘Idol,’” she told critics, via speakerphone.

Apparently, that sly fox Randy Jackson — who has worked with Mariah and is the only surviving original judge — was apparently “instrumental” in making that deal. So even though there’s no word on whether he’ll be in or out, he appears safe.

Steven Tyler’s replacement is still TBA — but stay tuned.

By  |  03:00 PM ET, 07/24/2012

Tags:  American Idol

 
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