American Idol: 14 Dream Candidates to Replace Steven, J.Lo and Randy as Judges

“Steven, J.Lo, and Randy, your journey ends this summer.” That’s been the phrase — delivered in the voice of Ryan Seacrest — percolating in the minds of American Idol fans over the last few weeks as the grandaddy of TV singing competitions prepares to reboot its judging panel once again.

Okay, okay…so only Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler have confirmed their exits from the Idol table, but after 11 seasons of barely intelligible feedback, insufferable name-dropping, incorrect use of air quotes, and an overwillingness to serve as a mouthpiece for producer manipulation, Fox isn’t going to reward Jackson with a twelfth season, right? (Please answer that in the affirmative.)

Whatever the case may be, Idol’s producers will have to hurry up and get a trio of judges in place before audition callback rounds start filming later this summer. And to help them with the hiring process, I’ve cooked up a list of a dozen dream candidates they should at least consider as replacements for Tweedle-Huh?, Tweedle-Abs, and Tweedle-Yo!

Click through my gallery of suggestions below, then hit the comments with your own brainstorming sessions. And for all my Idol news, interviews, and commentary, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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  1. CarolH says:

    Out of Michael’s choices I would love to see Adam Lambert, Mariah Carey and Melinda Doolittle

  2. Carla says:

    Shania Twain, Pharrell and Linda Perry!!!!!

    • Scott says:

      The Pharrell suggestion is actually a good one. I’d do Pharrell, Bono and Mariah Carey.

    • TS says:

      Shania Twain is a natural choice…when she mentored she had Simon Cowell telling contestants they owed her a kiss (Casey James season 9)…she is smart, talented and could offer smart advice but with suttle tones that the panel needs… Adam Lambert…come on, he HAS a voice..a career..and he was only runner-up..if anyone knows how toclimb to is Adam…Also I do not “assume” Duets will be renewed (Jennifer Nettles uncertainity with her baby etc)…So I think John Legend’s input both honest and lyrical would be a great balance as the thrid judge

  3. Sue says:

    What about Janet? Miss Jackson, if your nasty!

  4. I love the idea of Ben Folds, actually I would love to see the entire judging panel of the sing off from last season move to American Idol, Shawn Stockman, and Sara Barielles. That was the best judging team on TV!

    • matttucker76 says:

      Folds would be great, though you’d have to wonder how he’d fit into Idol’s environment. Think he’s probably too music “geeky” for most of the audience that watches Idol. Plus, unfortunately — fortunately for us fans, though — Ben’s touring with Ben Folds Five end of this year into early next year to support their new album out this September. I have a feeling he wouldn’t be available for the gig. Though a panel with Folds, Mariah, Pharrell or Perry, and Jimmy Iovine would actually be quite the marvel.

    • Denise says:

      I agree and am sad that The Sing Off was canceled. Hands down the best judging panel!

      • kim says:

        Ugh, they were the worst judging panel — if you think everyone was complaining about this season where all they did was praise, that’s all that ben folds and company did on the sing off.

        • Cathy says:

          Were we watching the same show? I thought all three Sing-Off judges gave GREAT constructive feedback. They weren’t nasty about it like *some* Idol judges, so maybe you mistook it for positive feedback only.

        • J says:

          There’s a big difference between cheerleading and telling people what they did well in a strong, specific way, while also offering kind constructive feedback. It’s called great coaching, actually.

      • Kelly Kaye says:

        Loved The Sing Off…and am VERY sad that it’s been cancelled. Best singing show imo. And agree about the panel.

  5. Aretha Franklin, Adam Lambert and Melinda Doolittle. That’s the holy trinity right there.

  6. Linda says:

    Pharrell Williams, Adam Lambert and Shania Twain. Different genres, and all three are articulate and have the smarts and ability to offer good insights to contestants. And Pharrell produced a couple of tracks on Adam’s latest album, so at least 2 of the judges going in would have a history of working well together.

  7. annehedonia says:

    Adam Lambert, Melinda Doolittle, ummm… maybe John Legend or Shania or Aretha or Dolly. But what about an irascible judge. Isn’t that de rigueur? You know, the “love to hate” factor.

  8. brandon says:

    Mariah and Dolly would make for a really interesting panel. I’d also love Kelly Clarkson, Mick Jagger, Justin Timberlake, Reba (except she has a new sitcom on ABC), Usher, and the list goes on…

  9. My dream three would be John Legend for the industry vet/producer slot occupied by Randy. Dolly Parton for the J. Lo. slot. And Adam Lambert for the high-voiced rocker Steven Tyler slot. If they go with two women, then let it be Dolly, Melinda Dolittle and Adam Lambert.

  10. Captain says:

    I think Dolly Parton, Adam Lambert and Pharell Williams would make a pretty awesome panel.

    • ben says:

      I agree. Dolly was an absolute star as a mentor and I think she would be hard to hate as a judge. Pharrell could be good but not as good as would be. I was impressed with him on X Factor. If we are going homegrown I’d actually prefer Kelly to Adam; indeed, there are others I’d probably prefer even more. But I can’t turn down the idea of a home grown talent as a judge.
      Also viable: Any one major diva – Mariah, Shania, Aretha. But no more than one. And I don’t think any are needed with Dolly there. Personally, I don’t object to Randy staying on board either. I think there is a safety net in continuity, and they should do their best to keep him as a judge until someone (anyone) else is willing to sign a much longer deal to judge the show.
      And one last point. Pharrell/ would be perfectly viable even if Randy was retained. So would Aretha. It isn’t necessary to stick to only one black judge, just like it isn’t necessary to stick to only one woman judge. The key point is having three people who actually provide feedback.

    • Angela says:

      My sentiments exactly. And I’d be okay with Melinda Doolittle should one of those three not be able to do it/not want to do it, too.

      Adam seems a pretty popular choice, but wow, yeah, Dolly would be fantastic on the show. Good pick, Slezak!

  11. Ella says:

    My dreams are all over the place…..Carrie Underwood, Melinda Doolittle, John Legend, Justin Timberlake, Usher, Mariah Carey…..who knows =D

  12. Marianne says:

    John Legend, for sure!

  13. YowzaPowza says:

    Linda Perry and Adam Lambert for sure. The third, maybe Melinda (only because I love her on Idology, but she’s too nice, and two previous Idol contestants would be stupid) or Aretha.

  14. Hey Michael, what about another opinionated Idol alum? I’d like to throw Clay Aiken’s name into the ring! Did you see him on Celebrity Apprentice? He doesn’t hold back, and he’s quite funny.. not to mention, he can sing!

  15. limoladi says:

    Adam lambert, shania twain, and aretha franklin please

  16. Lizziej says:

    As talented as he is, Adam Lambert is not seasoned enough (yet) to judge other people. Love almost all the other suggestions, though.

    • My Alter Ego says:

      Perhaps, although given that he’s been performing in musical theatre for years before he was on AI, he’s not inexperienced! (Plus, he’s just hot off a very successful “mini” tour with Queen — something not to be sneezed at.

      I think that something that would work very favorably is that Adam’s season on AI was not that long ago — even the sixteen year old contestants would likely remember watching Adam on the show when he competed. Most (not all) would likely have a good impression of him, and, thus, be more likely to pay attention his critiques/guidance. (Most people on this blog have noted what a good mentor he was, when in that role!) He’s youthful enough to be current with them/they’d listen — that seems like a conducive situation.

      • Diana Baskin says:

        I agree he was a good mentor but I never liked him on the show. I had to give him props for being a pretty good mentor. I guess he would be OK as long as he doesn’t sing.

        • I doubt they would promise you that… His album was number 1 on Billboard.

        • Pattygale says:

          This cracked me up. The one man who can perform without autotune and lip-synching and you don’t want him to sing. I love it. As Roger Taylor said, drummer for Queen in case you’re not familiar with him, “Adam’s voice is 1 in 100 million.” If you can win Queen fans over, even if they still mourn the death of Freddie Mercury, you must be doing something right….. like singing on key and with ferociousness. Oh well, to each his own.

    • winnie says:

      I don’t see what seasoned has to do with anything. Last season’s “seasoned” pro’s were stuck on “That was fabulous, You know I love you, You look fantastic, That was incredible, ad nauseum.
      Adam is a superb showman with a fantastic voice and an amazing work ethic. Also he’s very articulate and constructive. And he knows what they’re going through and will go through after the show.

  17. Annie says:

    Having a big name star, and no Adam Lambert wouldn’t fit the bill, wouldn’t guarantee that that person would be a good judge, but just for the buzz and media attention, they need someone who is as big as Britney Spears.

  18. macy says:

    I would add Harry Connick Jr. (remember how awesome he was as a mentor?) and remove Madonna from the list. I would be afraid that she would be too much of a diva.

    • Loni says:

      I so totally agree! I was surprised Harry Connick Jr. wasn’t on the list. He did a great job actually working with the contestants to improve their song arrangements and styles. Plus, he’s easy on the eyes so that’s always nice!

  19. blingedup says:

    Interesting list…..

    I give a BIG YES!! and a bunch of PRETTY PLEASES to Dolly Parton, Adam, Ben Folds, Aretha, and Melinda Doolittle. Any of these would be fabulous!!

    I give a regular ol’ I-think-they’d-be-fine yes to Shania.

    I give a I’m-not-too-familiar-with-them-but-you-presented-a-good-case “Alright” to Pharrell, Sylvia, Jody Watley, and Linda Perry.

    I give a “I think I’ll pass” to Lukasz just because I don’t like any of the songs you listed as his productions.

    And I’m giving a strong “Hell NO! Don’t ruin my show!” to Mariah and Madonna. Ugh.

    Did I cover all your choices? Only one I could think to add would be darling Kristin Chenoweth, although I doubt they could get her.

    I hope they get good ones. Idol is at quite a crossroads right now….

  20. Hyde says:

    I HATE him but Kanye would make a great addition, he’s brutally honest and knows how to spot and produce talent and he’s been through the biz as an artist too, he’s be a great new version of Simon. #2 I would pick Rick Rubin, he’s the greatest music producer there ever has been in my opinion, if not him then Adam Anders, he does a lot of the work for Glee. My #3 choice would be Melissa Etheridge.

    • winnie says:

      Kanye is an arrogant egomaniac – there would be no guarantee that he wouldn’t leap onto the stage, push the contestant off and sing it himself. Especially if the contestant was really good. ;)

    • Pattygale says:

      Hmmm, maybe having an arrogant douchebag as a judge would bring in the viewers, until they chose someone he didn’t like and he could run up on stage and say they didn’t deserve it as he took their trophy away much to the dismay of Ryan. Kanye’s about due again, isn’t he? Been long time since he showed his ass on national tv.

  21. Andrew says:

    One name that is not on the list that I think would be a great addition to the AI Panel would be Harry Connick, Jr. When he was a mentor a couple of years back, he was insightful, direct and funny. And better yet, he would call out the other judges when they use the word “pitchy”!

    • kim says:

      I agree with the inclusion of Harry Connick, Jr. He would be honest, direct and add a little humor “here and there”. I also think Justin Timberlake would be an interesting addition as well. Need to be careful with the “diva” slot. One is enough (not enough room at the judging table for extra large egos…) so I think Mariah or Dolly even Miranda Lamber –if you want country represented. I also like the idea of Janet Jackson. This year will prove to be interesting. Think AI knows this could be “do or die”.

  22. Karen says:

    I like most of these choices. Would love to see Adam Lambert and Pharrell Williams on there, as well as John Legend, Dr. Luke and Linda Perry.
    Another choice could be Alicia Keys or Pink (though I’m not sure they would want to be on there)

    • Lisa (@KittyKay3) says:

      I thought of Pink as well. One year on idol could keep her in the spotlight and give her a year with her new daughter. She would be honest, funny and helpful. Linda Perry is another interesting choice. No to Madonna. It would be all about her and not the contestants.

  23. CA says:

    I would really like to see Adam Lambert as one of the judges. I think it would be an interesting dynamic to have a former competitor judge a new batch.

  24. Tim says:

    Good list, except you forgot Katy Perry.

  25. Barb says:

    Pharrell Williams, Melinda Doolittle & Adam Lambert = Perfect Panel

  26. MG says:

    Adam Lambert, Pharrell & Dolly Parton

  27. kms says:

    Adam Lambert, Pharrell and I’ll add Fergie.

    • Lea H. says:

      I agree with Adam and Pharrell, but I would add Dolly or Pat Benatar, who is classically trained and has been in the business forever. Also, I think Stevie Nicks was one of the best mentors on the show and would be a fantastic judge.

  28. Steve says:

    Michael, to paraphrase ‘Mean Girls” a bit, stop trying to make Jody Watley happen.

    Jody aside, there are some good ideas here. Here are a few more that came to mind:

    Bruno Mars (serious cred as a current artist & producer)
    Chris Isaak (almost always great on camera)
    Dr. Dre (hard to imagine anyone with more producer/label head experience with more name recognition with people under 40, plus he’s got ties with Jimmy and Interscope)
    Pink (because she’s effing Pink)
    Andre 3000 (because I’m tired of waiting for an Outkast reunion)
    Michael Slezak (duh)

  29. Lance says:

    One obvious oversight here….Michael Slezak! But then, who would host Idology?

  30. Jenny says:

    Adam Lambert… who cares about the rest! lol

  31. SPC says:

    Dolly, Ben Folds and …. maybe Pharrell?

  32. Dera says:

    Love your last pick Michael. Pharrell, Dolly, and Adam! It’ll be one epic show.

  33. Linderella says:

    I’m all for Dolly but if an American Idol makes the grade it should be Kelly Clarkson. She’s proven she has the props on Duets. I would think Usher would also be an excellent addition. If you want someone with rock credentials to prove you don’t have to win AI to win in the music business, then Chris Daughtry would be terrific.

  34. christa says:

    how about Michael Slezak??? take your comments to the public!!!!

    • Lisa (@KittyKay3) says:

      I have been advocating for a rotating Idol Journalist seat. Lyndsey, Jim and Michael rotating. They know idol history and always seem to spot the talent early. Rotation seems to work for SYTYCD

  35. Dev says:

    My favourite three would be The Hoff, Charlie Sheen and Carrot Top

    • Pattygale says:

      Are you too young to remember THE GONG SHOW? I think those three would do better on a remake of that, but you get an A for thinking outside the box.

  36. Bambi says:

    I say Adam Lambert, Justin Timberlake and Melinda Doolittle. .. yeah.. those are my picks

  37. Sara says:

    Dolly, Pharrell, and Shania. That would be interesting.

  38. Gina says:

    Dolly, Adam and Melinda. Interesting grouping, to be sure, and they are all smart, funny…and, most of all, caring. Also, they can sing. Truly sing. Without a magic auto-tune mic, even!

  39. monique says:

    Kanye West, Mick Jagger, and P!nk

  40. Adam Lambert? Melinda Dolittle? WTF?? Shouldn’t the judges have some sort of credibility within the music business to be able to pass judgement on others? If you’re going to put nobodies like that who haven’t accomplished a single thing in the business, and couldn’t even WIN the show themselves, then you might as well bring Ellen DeGeneres back.

    • Denise says:

      BACK OFF Melinda Doolittle! She is awesome and has fantastic insight.

    • Pattygale says:

      Okay, so JLo and Steven Tyler (who I used to love) have credibility in the music industry … how did they work out for you? JLo falling for every sob story, never giving a critical or constructive statement and Steven, I don’t even know what to say about him. There is a huge difference between being a star and knowing what you are talking about when it comes to the technicalities and evaluation of a performance. You people don’t seem to understand that THEY ARE NOT THE TALENT, they have to be willing and able to put themselves out there to JUDGE the performances each week, being brutally honest for the sake of the contestant… and that is different from being mean. Madonna, Mariah…. both too self-involved. Fergie, Pink, Cher, I think they would be great. JT, think maybe he’s too nice and wouldn’t know how to be honest.

      I think I’m done with all this but will leave with a slightly revised list: ADAM LAMBERT, after years and years of singing lessons, doing plays, singing in clubs, and being articulate and honest, AND going through AI himself.
      HARRY CONNICK, JR. Nice but honest
      FERGIE, funny, but I think would be brutally honest but constructive and nice.

  41. Pat says:

    Lez not waste our time on some of poor Michael Slezak’s suggestions. (I guess Ausiello is paying per word these days) Shania starts her Vegas residency in December so she wouldn’t be available. Madonna said just last month that there are too many of these talent shows now and that she’d never be a judge on one. The Melinda suggestion was a cute shout out to a friend, but they’re not going to put an artist on the panel whose own family refused to buy her music. I’m shocked Slezak didn’t suggest Alison Irihita. She probably could work around her shifts at the Dunkin Donuts.

  42. Mary B says:

    Harry Connick Jr, Shania Twain and either Adam Lambert or Kelly Clarkson, love her on Duets and after all she is the original American Idol.

  43. hey something you all should consider before throwing out names, is who they have a sponsorship contract with… for example, you all keep saying “Hey what about Katy Perry”.. remember she has a deal with Pepsi, and unless you think Coca Cola is pulling out of the show, then you can forget about her….. You really think Pepsi would allow her to be on it, with the big Coke glass in front of her?(I know she sang on the show, but that was before the Pepsi deal)

    • Evelyn says:

      Plus she already said no. They asked.

    • Most replying here don’t understand all the politics surrounding picking new judges. There are too many to mention. I agree no way will they pick anyone associated with Pepsi. They need to pick people that have good technical skills as well as mass appeal not divas especially the older ones if AI wants to get younger viewers. ST and JL didn’t work out as they didn’t really offer any constructive criticism & JL if she did made no sense. Her forte isn’t singing it’s dancing so she shouldn’t be giving anyone advice on how to sing. ST had the rock experience but wasn’t trained to sing. Adam Lambert is a trained classical singer. My picks would be Adam, Harry Connick Jr and Linda Perry all three would bring knowledge and experience to the table. Miranda Lambert is married to Blake Shelton who is tied to The Voice so she’s out.

  44. donna says:

    I like the idea of Melinda, except then she can’t do the OVERWHELMINGLY AWESOME Idology stint, so no go. Ben Folds was great on The Sing Off, I pick him. Adam L. maybe, although probably a long shot. I’m not sure Aretha and Dolly would work out well if you’re going for a young relevant audience, sorry. Mariah Carey would be good. And I think an unknown element with lots of cred, like Sylvia Rhone, about whom I know nothing would shake things up. So let’s have 4 judges: Ben, Mariah, Sylvia and either Adam Lambert or John Legend

    • lovingadam1031 says:

      Donna problem with John Legend who I love he’s involved with Duets and it would be a conflict of interest. I am not a fan of Mariah and her husband has already been quoted saying idol can’t afford her so that turned me off. Don’t know Sylvia or Ben but think Adam Lambert would be perfect as he knows many genres and would add a lot of flare and bring in many viewers. Why do you think Adam is a longshot?

  45. The ones that make sense are Adam Lambert, Pharrell Williams and Linda Perry because all three have technical music skills: song writing, singing, and would appeal to many people. But only put one ex-idol on panel. Don’t think Aretha would be a choice as AI is trying to attract younger viewers and the younger ones don’t appreciate her talent and experience. I would not go with another aging rocker as their genre isn’t appropriate for what producers are looking for and ST didn’t offer much to the panel as a rocker. Adam has done every genre including opera, musical theatre, rock, and pop and Linda has song writing experience in the pop genre. This trio would by my choice.

  46. Sha says:

    Mariah.. she could be the new Paula except infinitely more talented!
    Pharell… credibility, credibility, credibility.
    Adam… an alumni would be perfect. and he already sort of judges the contestants through his tweets.

    not sure why you put madonna on the list. really? REALLY?

  47. punkfunk13 says:

    I like Pharrell, Mariah & Adam! Pharrell has the artist/producer cred, Mariah the big voiced diva cred and Adam the new fresh idea of having a former contestant for the first time. People said Adam couldn’t be a mentor and then he ended up being one of the best the show ever had. Having Adam on the panel could also silence The Voice critics that say Idol doesn’t openly support gay contestants.

    • lovingadam1031 says:

      Damn good comments and I agree with you about bringing on Adam Lambert. Never thought about the The Voice critics who say idol doesn’t openly support gay contestants. AI would be making a huge statement plus Adam would bring so much flare, excitement and credibility with his many years as a child actor, singer and musical theatre experiences. Now he has frontman for Queen to add to that resume and that is something only a few people in the world have done.

  48. RalphE says:

    I don’t care who they drum up for next season, as long as it’s 3 judges getting replaced. In other words GET RID OF JACKSON! HE IS A USELESS TURD! ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!

  49. Adam says:

    Click trap

  50. Tess says:

    I’m sure I’m in the minority here, but I’d rather three behind the scenes people than three singers as judges. A) They’re not going to worry about being liked so people will buy their next album nor will they be using the show as a means to bolster their music careers, B) Being able to sing does not mean you are able to judge others singing. That’s like assuming because you can sing you can write a decent song. Not always the case. And this is why record companies employ A & R people and not professional singers to determine who to sign.
    I’d rather they go with people like Sylvia Rhone, Linda Perry, and Pharell than Aretha, Mariah, and Madonna any day. Even Ben Folds would be a better choice as a performer because he’s also a musician and songwriter and probably produces too so he covers a lot of aspects, but he probably is too cerebral for Idol. Course, tptb will want at least one big name to anchor the show so long as they can afford them (not sure who on that list would qualify there). They might consider a former contestant if they are successful enough not just quick with an opinion, so Adam would be more likely than Melinda even though she is more than capable when doing Idology with Slezak. I wouldn’t be surprised if Randy sticks around too, they’ll claim for continuity but it will probably be more because he comes cheap.

    • Joy says:

      You just said everything I’ve been thinking. Go with those who have a proven track record of identifying and developing a whole range of talented performers, even if they don’t have the same name/face recognition. Idol’s baseline audience and media profile are high enough that if you put on really good people, the show will get the buzz it needs to grow that audience, and perhaps people will actually like what they’re seeing and stick around instead of just tuning in a few times because of a famous name.
      I’d also be interested in seeing a professional music critic on the panel — somebody with experience putting their feedback on a musical performance into terms that connect with a lay audience… The ideal for me would be somebody like Kurt Loder, who has tons of experience in front of a camera, and will show no qualms whatsoever about being harsh when the occasion calls for it.
      I also want to echo Michael’s call to get somebody knowledgeable about country music on the panel. Neither Skylar this last season, nor Scotty and Lauren before her, ever got much particularly on-point feedback from the S10/11 judging panel. Obviously it didn’t hurt Scotty or Lauren too badly, but if their fan base makes up that much of the audience, I feel like the show could make much more of an effort to supply halfway interesting/knowledgeable commentary on their performances.