Simon Cowell has said (repeatedly) that he may leave American Idol next year, after his contract expires, and this time, we actually believe him.
He says he’s tired of trans-Atlantic commuting, but he’s also itching to bring his British hit The X Factor Stateside, something his current contract prohibits. So short of Fox renegotiating his contract to let him also do The X Factor, Simon might actually walk away from the Idol stage.
But who could best fill Simon’s skin-tight tees? Someone capable of dishing out the biting criticism, of course, and a pro who is a seasoned member of the music industry, like a manager or producer, to give their judgment some heft.
Here’s our slate of possible replacements for that fourth (or third) judge’s chair.
1. Larry Rudolph: He’s best known as the man who made Britney Spears a star—and then helped her become successful again last year. As a music manager and founder of Reigndeer Entertainment, he’s clearly a hitmaker. Beyond his work with Britney, Rudolph has managed Nick Lachey, Jessica Simpson and Toni Braxton at various points in their careers and seems particularly skilled at turning mediocre singers into brands. Also, his critiques on the Idol-inspired “children of rock stars” reality competition, Rock the Cradle, showed a Cowell-esque approach to judgment and tone.
2. Sharon Osbourne: Even though she’s famous for being the foul-mouthed matriarch on The Osbournes, Sharon is also a successful music manager. She’s guided Ozzy’s career for 30 years and created Ozzfest along the way. And she was even a judge on Cowell’s X Factor and still serves as one on America’s Got Talent. (If Simon ditches Idol, we don’t think producers would mind poaching a judge from another Cowell-produced show on a rival network.) Sharon’s certainly capable of making comments just as provacative as Simon’s, except hers usually aren’t about the music. And she’s a loose cannon who threatened to quit X Factor and America’s Got Talent numerous times.
3. Johnny Wright: Another manager, Johnny Wright shepherded New Kids on the Block, ‘NSync and Diddy’s recently disbanded girl group Danity Kane. In fact, it was Wright’s work on Making the Band that makes us think he could be a good Idol judge. He’s more soft-spoken than Simon, but he showed on Making the Band that he’s an astute judge of star quality, not only in helping put together a group that was successful before Diddy blew it up, but also in his specific critiques about candidates. He could offer the same sort of artist-focused advice that Simon provides. And he has time on his hands (right now, he’s managing Menudo).
4. Louis Walsh: Who says Simon’s replacement has to be a household name already? Louis Walsh, Cowell’s fellow judge from The X Factor, is an Irish music manager who’s had a fairly successful track record across the pond managing best-selling Irish boybands Boyzone and Westlife. And if Simon leaves Idol for X Factor, we wouldn’t be surprised if Idol decided to poach from its UK competition. The only red flag with Walsh is that he’s made some homophobic remarks in the past. But, he does seem willing to speak his mind and stray from popular opinion. He’s already said he doesn’t think Susan Boyle is a great singer.
5. Diddy: Probably not a good fit in the Idol universe, because he would want to take over the show. But, he’s the only reality TV-friendly music mogul who embodies Simon’s blend of shocking, brutally honest, blunt criticism. Sometimes Diddy goes too far, as his capricious firings on Making the Band illustrated, but on that show he also proved he doesn’t sugar-coat his judgment and seems committed to creating hit performers. That’s another wrinkle that makes Diddy an unlikely candidate. He’d no doubt insist that the winner be signed to Bad Boy, on Warner Music Group, not rival Sony Music Entertainment, and we doubt the folks at Idol or Sony Music would be too happy about that.
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