Debut of Ellen DeGeneres on 'American Idol' buoys ratings

TUNED IN: 28 million watched Ellen DeGeneres, second from left, join judges Simon Cowell, Kara DioGuardi and Randy Jackson.
TUNED IN: 28 million watched Ellen DeGeneres, second from left, join judges Simon Cowell, Kara DioGuardi and Randy Jackson. (Michael Becker/fox Via Associated Press)

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By Lisa de Moraes
Thursday, February 11, 2010

Ellen DeGeneres's debut on "American Idol" was good for the aging show's ratings -- attracting nearly 28 million viewers, the Fox singing competition's biggest audience since its season debut.

More impressively, it's the nine-season-old franchise's biggest non-finale, non-debut Tuesday audience in nearly two years.

Last season's first night of the so-called Hollywood Week eliminations round had about 25 million viewers. This season, DeGeneres and fellow judges Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson and Kara DioGuardi will cull 181 finalists down to 24 Idolettes who will compete in the series that remains the most watched on TV.

The stand-up comic, who has no musical background, replaces Paula Abdul after she walked because the producers would not offer the same kind of stupid money they were offering Ryan Seacrest to return for the show's ninth season.

But, of course, Paula Abdul is no Ryan Seacrest.

"When people say, 'What do you know about music?,' I'll tell you what I do know," Ellen announced during her unveiling in Tuesday's episode.

"I know what it's like to stand on stage and try to please an entire room full of people," she said.

In other words: nothing.

On the bright side, we got early glimpses of the tension reportedly brewing between Ellen, who thought she was signing on to a long-term run on the ratings gravy train, and Simon, who is leaving the show at the end of this season to launch his "Idol"-esque (cough) ripoff (cough) "The X Factor" in the fall. The day Hollywood Week started and DeGeneres made her debut (Tuesday's episode was not live), Simon had literally just signed his contract to do a U.S. version of his show that had effectively killed the U.K. version of "Idol." He did the deed in front of about 200 TV critics at Winter TV Press Tour 2010 and showed up late for the Hollywood Week taping.

For those of us who attended that contract signing, it was fun to see Ellen's reaction to the news when Simon came late:

"So this is it, huh? I come on, you leave?" Ellen cracked on night one of Hollywood Week, according to The Washington Post's Team TV Snowpocalypse "Idol" blogger Emily Yahr.

Simon chuckled in response. We will always love Simon.

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