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'American Idol': Three Burning Questions for Season 11

THR music editor Shirley Halperin gives insight into whether Jennifer Lopez will remain a judge, what will become of winner Scotty McCreery's music career and whether TV's No. 1 show will remain on Fox.

The Judges
Kevin Winter/American Idol 2011/Getty Images

Now that the last note of American Idol's Season 10 has been sung come a slew of new questions: What will become of winner Scotty McCreery's music career; how will Idol's 11th year shape up in terms of the judging panel; and will TV's No. 1 show re-up its broadcast deal with Fox?

Question No. 1: Will Idol return to Fox?

In a word: Yes. No network would give up the most-watched show on television. But a better question is how much Fox will pay to air Idol. We're told that negotiations are currently underway between Idol's corporate parent, CKx Inc., and the network to keep it on the air beyond 2012, as is currently contracted. (Fremantle Media serves as the show's equal partner on the U.S. version of the show.) The talks are said to be "heated" as both parties will have to reassess their positions based on Season 10's performance. Most industry observers had expected ratings to nose-dive without Simon Cowell as a judge. Instead, they have essentially stayed the same, proving that the Idol production is not dependent on one key piece of talent, so CKx could easily demand a higher fee of Fox for broadcast rights going forward.

Idol is also under new ownership, thanks to the recent sale of CKx to Apollo Global Management for $509 million, but its stakeholders are members of the old guard: Robert Sillerman, CKx's founder and largest shareholder, and Promenade Trust, whose sole beneficiary is Lisa Marie Presley. In addition to Idol, CKx holdings include So You Think You Can Dance and the rights to the likeness and names of Elvis Presley and Muhammad Ali.

Question No. 2: But what About J. Lo?

According to insiders, the Fox-CKx licensing deal is typically hammered out in early summer, but potentially complicating the situation is the matter of Jennifer Lopez. Unlike fellow judges Randy Jackson and Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler, both of whom are locked for Season 11, Lopez only signed on for a one-year commitment, so her return remains a question mark. (When asked about the judging panel for next season Jackson recently said on TBS' Lopez Tonight, "We'll all be back next year, man. I believe we'll all be back!") Would Lopez dare leave the show that reinvigorated her career? Idol creator and executive producer Simon Fuller says the judges' table will be set soon, hopefully avoiding the last-minute scramble before the Season 10 auditions began last summer. "We have just ended one of the best seasons in Idol's history," Fuller tells THR. "After a short holiday, we will all address the outstanding issues for next season."

Question No. 3: Will Scotty McCreery have a career?

Given these unknowns, it seems the one sure thing is 17-year-old McCreery's shot at a career, although it's still unclear which Universal Music Group label he and runner-up Lauren Alaina will land on. "The country genre is tailor-made for an American Idol winner," says Jeff Rabhan, chair of New York University's Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music and himself a former manager of Idols Kelly Clarkson and Elliott Yamin. "Nashville is historically a songwriter-driven town where performers have been vessels for great songs, which is exactly what Idol is. It also tends to embrace its new country artists, so if he comes out of the gate strong, he has a real shot at staying power."

For proof, look no further than the show's sole country winner, Carrie Underwood, who also happens to be its biggest seller.