Jennifer Lopez in, Ellen DeGeneres out at 'Idol'

Producers consider Lopez one of best mentors ever on show

A major tectonic shift hit "American Idol" on Thursday as Fox announced that Ellen DeGeneres is leaving the show after one season, becoming the second judge to depart the show in the past few months, followed by reports that actress-singer Jennifer Lopez will take her place.

Lopez's name has been in the mix for a while. Producers considered her one of the best mentors to ever appear on the show, and Lopez is said to be a huge "Idol" fan.

Picking Lopez would give the show a credible music industry figure to replace DeGeneres, who was criticized for her lack of technical music-critiquing skills. In a way, she'd be more of a replacement for Paula Abdul -- whose absence was severely felt by fans -- than for DeGeneres.

DeGeneres said she was stepping down because of her busy schedule with her syndicated daytime talk show and because she felt burdened by the emotional toll of criticizing young contestants.

"A couple months ago, I let Fox and the 'American Idol' producers know that this didn't feel like the right fit for me," DeGeneres said Thursday. "I told them I wouldn't leave them in a bind and that I would hold off on doing anything until they were able to figure out where they wanted to take the panel next. It was a difficult decision to make, but my work schedule became more than I bargained for. I also realized this season that while I love discovering, supporting and nurturing young talent, it was hard for me to judge people and sometimes hurt their feelings."

A source in the DeGeneres camp said she was prepared to meet the terms of her multiyear contract but told friends that her comedy wasn't effective on the show and that Fox president of alternative entertainment Mike Darnell had told her privately that he blamed her chemistry with fellow judges Randy Jackson and Kara DioGuardi.

As first reported by THR, Fox has been looking to significantly shake up the "Idol" format for its 10th season, including potentially ditching current judges and bringing back original producer Nigel Lythgoe. The show is lowering its audition age to 16 and tweaking its scheduling format for next season, shortening the results show.

DeGeneres' tenure as an "Idol" judge was criticized for relying too heavily on scripted-sounding quips rather than inspired analysis of contestant performances. Behind the scenes, DeGeneres reportedly had difficulty getting along with departing top judge Simon Cowell.

In an exclusive statement to THR, Cowell praised DeGeneres' performance on the show.

"As I got to know Ellen, I grew to really, really like her," he said. "I have huge respect for her because she's always been in control of her own destiny."

Sophomore DioGuardi also is said to be potentially exiting the show. It remained unclear Thursday whether she would return.

Jackson, who has another year on his contract, is considered likely to stay.

"We love Ellen and understand and support her decision to bow out of 'Idol,' " said Peter Rice, chairman of entertainment at Fox Networks Group. "We were fortunate to receive the humor, energy and love for talent that she brought to the show."

Said Darnell: "It was a joy to work with Ellen. She brought an incredible spirit to 'Idol' and was a great new addition to the team. While we're saddened by her decision, we are very appreciative that she gave us ample notice so that we could work through it together."
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