Wednesday night American Idol returns with a new season and a new lineup of judges, including fresh faces in Mariah Carey, Nicki Minaj and Keith Urban. But can these new additions even compare with the judges America has known and loved? The country invites these stars into their homes to laugh and cry together—so do you want Nicki Minaj standing in your living room?
Good question. Looking back on American Idol's 12 years on TV we have to ask ourselves, "Who is our all-time favorite judge?" Click "next" to brush up on the seven judges to ever grace American Idol, then watch the premiere Wednesday night and vote for your all-time favorite Idol panel.
Who: Former hitmaker turned wild-wacky personality Paula Abdul.
When: In the early episodes she was known as "the nice one." Soon enough, strange behavior possibly cast a shadow over her judging credibility following her exit after season 8.
Her Legacy: Her judging skills parlayed into a CBS' dance competition show Live to Dance. Plus, she reunited with Simon on America's premiere season of The X Factor. She dabbled in reality TV with Hey Paula (but never renewed for a second season... we wonder why?). Even took a stab at a musical comeback. Nothing seemed to fit her quite as well as her position in between Simon Cowell and Randy Jackson.
Who: Kara DioGuardi—a hit songwriter for Xtina, Britney Spears and Pink—was recruited as a fourth judge for Season 8. Known for serious, sometimes brash commentary, DioGuardi certainly proved her credibility by baring both her bikini body and vocal chops on the season finale.
When: Seasons 8 and 9, which launched stars like Adam Lambert and Kris Allen and produced a few missteps, too... what ever happened to Lee DeWyze?
Her Legacy: She teamed up with Jewel to launch Platinum Hit, an Idol-like reality show for songwriters on Bravo. She also landed guest spots on tracks from former Idol champ Kelly Clarkson ("The Sun Will Rise") and pop singer Jason Reeves ("No One Ever Taught Us").
Who: Simon Cowell (no introduction needed).
When: He stayed a season longer than Paula, leaving after the ninth season in 2010.
His Legacy: He's a reality legend thanks to his biting insults. But he'll also be remembered for his on-point insight. He famously predicted that Carrie Underwood would win the season (she did) and that she'd "sell more records than any other previous Idol winner" (she did that too). He continued to judge on both sides of the pond (the UK's The X Factor and Britain's Got Talent). He also has judged two seasons of America's The X Factor, which is still yet to match the ratings, or even produce a superstar, like Idol.
Who: Everyone's favorite comedian/talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, who was the first judge not directly involved in the music industry. She said she was giving "the people's point of view."
When: She was a late announcement as Paula Abdul's replacement on Season 9.
Her Legacy: Though she could make even Simon laugh, DeGeneres was "criticized for relying too heavily on pre-scripted-sounding quips," says The Hollywood Reporter. She left after one season, saying, "It was hard for me to judge people and sometimes hurt their feelings." She has since stuck to hosting Ellen and other awards shows; Idol has only tapped music-related judges since.
Who: Latin-pop diva, mega movie star, perfume-extraordinaire and serial dater J. Lo.
When: Producers shook up the lineup for Season 10, bringing back the three-judge panel, now including J. Lo, Randy and Steven Tyler. J. Lo was effectively "the new Paula" for seasons 10 and 11.
Her Legacy: Billboard said Lopez concocted "the most impressive reality-TV-based rejuvenation of a music career ever," rejuvenating stars' views on reality TV and their career sucess. During this time J. Lo launched her first hit ("On The Floor" ft. Pitbull) and tour in years. Alongside ex-husband Marc Anthony Lopez also judged on FOX's Q'Viva! The Chosen, a moderate hit in the U.S. that aimed to discover the best new Latin entertainer.
Who: Aerosmith's wailing frontman Steven Tyler.
When: Like Lopez, Tyler was brought in for the Season 10 shakeup that would position the rocker as "the new Simon" for two seasons, but he was never that mean.
His Legacy: The weekly TV spot upped Tyler's public personality. His autobiography Does the Noise in My Head Bother You? was a best seller and his solo single "(It) Feels So Good" delivered Top 40 success. His only post-Idol interaction was a comment about judge Nicki Minaj, which the pop diva deemed "racist" (Tyler later apologized).
Who: Our "dawg" Randy Jackson, Idol's rock. The only judge to last all 12 seasons.
When: Since Idol's premiere, he's seen every success (Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Chris Daughtry, Jennifer Hudson) and every, um, lesser success (where is Taylor Hicks now?).
His Legacy: He feels like a mainstay at this point, there to appease fans who have stuck with Idol since season 1. He's affable and has the ability to bond with whoever may join the panel.