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Steven Tyler Leaves 'American Idol,' But What Did He Really Bring to the Table? (Opinion)

As a TV judge, the Aerosmith frontman pocketed millions of dollars, raised his profile and saw a sizable boost in music sales from his two-season tenure on the Fox series. But THR's music editor questions what the show -- or its contestants -- got out of it.

Steven Tyler PR 2012 P
Michael Becker / FOX

This week, it's Steven Tyler who's going home on American Idol. 

The news was a foregone conclusion to some, a surprise to others and a welcome delight for the thousands of Aerosmith fans aching for new material. And that’s the main reason for the two-season judge’s departure: more time to spend with his band (a tour is planned to coincide with new album Music From Another Dimension, due out Nov. 6) and fewer hours wasted with innocuous comments like, “That was beautiful” and “The road to success is always under construction.” And I say “wasted” purposefully -- with sobriety pun not intended -- because for the past two years, Tyler’s star power hasn’t offered all that much to the show’s sagging ratings (down 25 percent from 2011) and, outside of season 10’s Lauren Alaina and saved finalists Casey Abrams and Jessica Sanchez, didn’t seem to impact the contestants much either.

VIDEO: 'American Idol': Randy Jackson and Steven Tyler Assess the Final Two

Sure, there were moments when the Aerosmith frontman put his pedigree on display, offering a quick anecdote about “back in the day,” and the occasional nonsensical Tyler-ism was good for a laugh, but did he impart wisdom on these wide-eyed hopefuls desperate for their next break? Not really. More credit is due to Jennifer Lopez, and this season even Randy Jackson, who figured out a way to criticize tactfully without fluffy compliments of no consequence.

“Steven and Jennifer are artists,” executive producer Nigel Lythgoe explained to The Hollywood Reporter as season 11 was wrapping. “They're always going to be exceptionally considerate because they don't want to chop the legs out from underneath the kids. They're not going to make any money from them, it’s not like they’ll be working for them, so it’s always going to be, ‘You were fantastic.’ ”

That’s not to say that a show like Idol should be about “bringing the mean,” as it was in the Simon Cowell era, but bring something to the (judges’) table -- because you’re certainly being paid handsomely to sit there.

VIDEO: 'American Idol' 2012: Eliminated Contestants Backstage Interviews

“I’ve decided it’s time for me to let go of my mistress American Idol before she boils my rabbit,” said Tyler in a statement announcing his voluntary departure -- and referencing the Michael Douglas-Glenn Close classic Fatal Attraction. But for Tyler, his affiliation with the Fox show has been anything but life-derailing. To the contrary, it put his band back on the map in a way that doesn’t cost millions of dollars in promo (in fact, he pocketed a nice salary, though nothing close to the $20 million a year Lopez was believed to be making); introduced the rocker to a new, younger audience; and prompted an upsurge in catalog sales to the tune of 250 percent. In the process, he’s secured new representation in XIX Entertainment, founded by Idol creator Simon Fuller; scored several high-profile gigs, including an Aerosmith performance at Wal-Mart’s annual shareholders meeting (paving the way for an exclusive album release with the big-box retailer?); an appearance on 60 Minutes; and the cover of Rolling Stone. Not bad for a few months' work. 

Where will the show go from here, and to whom will it turn? The guessing game is already well under way, and though nearly every pop star worth his/her salt has already been approached for the gig, expect talks to resume on all fronts.

As for Tyler, who declared in his exit statement that he’s devoting the next few years to “the ultimate in auditory takeover” and “kicking some serious ass,” he may be missed at the Idol table but not nearly as much as he is on the world stage. 

What do you think, Idol Worshipers? Was it time for Steven to go? And who should replace him?

Twitter: @shirleyhalperin