EXCLUSIVE UPDATE 6:30 PM: We’ve just learned the backstory of how Ellen DeGeneres bowed out of American Idol and who will be the new judge taking her place. It’s Jennifer Lopez, whose singing and acting career has been on the skids after her recent movie failed at the box office in the spring and she was dropped by her record company Sony Music Epic Records this past winter. We hear her manager Benny Medina (whom she once fired) orchestrated the meeting with the American Idol producers a month ago, and negotiations have been ongoing ever since. We’ve learned a deal was closed earlier this week under the utmost secrecy. Today’s news came shortly after Nigel Lythgoe returned to Idol as an executive producer. He has vowed to shake up the show’s team of judges in the wake of the departure of Simon Cowell, publicly stating that he always thought a panel of three and not 4 made the most sense.
Still to be decided is who will replace Simon Cowell. Everyone associated with the show wants Elton John, but we hear he’s asking for too much money and has too many touring commitments he can’t get out of. (Denials That Justin Or Elton Judging ‘Idol’) 2ND UPDATE: Tonight, unconfirmed reports say Idol has offered Cowell’s judge seat to Steven Tyler. 3RD UPDATE: And another unconfirmed report claimed judge Kara DioGuardi has been fired to bring the panel count down to just 3, not 4.
As for Ellen Degeneres, we’re told she wanted off the show two months ago and complained that Idol producers “couldn’t control Cowell”, one insider tells us. Least of all Cecile Frot-Coutaz, the CEO of FremantleMedia North America. “Cecile is doing X Factor with Simon, so she’s in his back pocket.” DeGeneres and her reps went in to to see Fox Broadcasting’s Entertainment Chairman Peter Rice and Alternative TV President Mike Darnell and asked to be let out of the year left on her contract. “She’s not comfortable. She’s not happy. It’s not been fun,” Fox was told. But Rice and Darnell responded that, with Cowell leaving, “We can’t let you out now because it would be bad for our franchise. Give us a chance to figure out who we could get.” In the end, all the show’s producers — Fox, Fremantle, and 19 Entertainment — worked it out. “Peter Rice was awesome,” an insider tells us. “Ellen is thrilled and relieved.” We’ve learned that serious conversations took place between Idol and Jessica Simpson to replace Ellen. But once Jennifer Lopez was locked in this week, the DeGeneres announcement went out. (more…)