Kelly Clarkson will be a guest judge on the first live episode of American Idol in its “farewell” season, exec producer Trish Kinane told TV critics at TCA this morning. Clarkson’s also hoping to appear in the finale, although that’s about the time the pregnant singer is expected to deliver her baby.

Simon Cowell will be part of the finale, Kinane said, knocking down a reporter’s suggestion that he should have returned to judge the show this season by noting there would have been “huge” scheduling issues (Cowell’s also involved with reality franchises in the UK).

Though the network has announced this as the show’s “farewell season,” some on stage say they’re open to continuing the show. At the start of the Fox exec panel at TCA, cochairs/CEOs Dana Walden and Gary Newman noted this season’s debut clocked best year-to-year retention in six years. “It’s been an amazing run and it’s still a healthy show,” EP Kinane acknowledged, when asked why the show is ending if it’s doing well. “You’d have to ask Fox,” she said when pressed again.

4 months
One of my favorite shows, sad if this is the last season!
Anon-Milchan
4 months
Totally agree - what a great idea. Bring Simon back and have an all-star season - some...
Partisian
4 months
There's no point of doing it -- Kelly Clarkson will crush them all (and yes, including Carrie...

After a reporter said the network is “making a mistake” calling this the final season. “They’re calling it the farewell season,” Harry Connick, Jr. corrected.

“What did I say?” the reporter shot back.

“Final,” Connick corrected again.

“I think the Eagles have had a least three farewell tours,” judge Keith Urban jumped in.

“You never know with a format like this – it’s possible,” judge Jennifer Lopez weighed in on the “final” versus “farewell” debate. “Whether they’re making a mistake, if that’s the feeling, right now, that’s their feeling….At the end of the day you never know.”

“I was just speaking to Gary and Dana before the session,” host Ryan Seacrest said. “The numbers look great this season and we’re all pleased people are watching, and some are coming back to watch…Does that mean it’s the end? I’m not so sure.”

Finally, a reporter asked the judges flat out whether they’d return if they got the call in a couple years. Connick said he couldn’t think about that now. “Hypothetically,” Lopez began, and seemed to sort of leave open the door. “I’m obsessed about it,” Seacrest answered. “This show is like a family member to me.”

“Always be there when they call,” added Lopez, somewhat vaguely.

TBS/TNT chief Kevin Reilly, however, said it’s time to pull the plug. With American Idol an important player for Reilly during his tenure as chairman of Fox, an Idol question got lobbed his way at TCA, the morning after the singing competition launched its 15th season.

“Yes, now is definitely the right time,” Reilly said. “Idol was an extraordinary, one of a kind show, but it is time for it to be over.”

Last May, Fox announced  American Idol, would end its run after this season, its 15th. The parade of returning American Idol alums will include original executive producer Nigel Lythgoe who is set to reprise his duties for the series finale. Lythgoe, along with fellow Idol veteran Ken Warwick, were ousted after Season 12 in 2013 as part of a major shakeup aimed at turning the once-dominant series’ ratings fortunes around. Also, Seacrest has said all of the show’s previous judges would appear this season.

American Idol rocked TV Reporters Who Cover Television, and timeslot competition, when it debuted in the summer of 2002 and quickly became a monster franchise for the network. It introduced Cowell to American viewers, produced such recording stars as Carrie Underwood, Clarkson and Jennifer Hudson – Hudson being the competition’s Most Famous Non-Winner – and spent nearly a decade dominating TV ratings. But the seriesstats have declined steadily over the past several years, and its hours were trimmed. The decision to end Idol came as the network had success with scripted fare, most notably Empire, which is important because scrubbing Idol from its schedule will require substituting its 40 or so hours on the network’s primetime slate.