As part of American Idol's complete overhaul for its upcoming 13th season, the show is considering hiring former alums to join the judges' panel. With Mariah Carey, Nicki Minaj and Randy Jackson definitely not returning, and Keith Urban's fate still up in the air, it's safe to say that there are at least two open positions at the table. Jennifer Hudson is reportedly in talks to join, while original champ Kelly Clarkson has said that she is not interested. Here's a list of 12 alums we think would be great additions to the floundering show (in alphabetical order):
Clay Aiken: Aiken's name has already been bandied about as a potential judge, perhaps prompted by his guest appearance in the Office series finale as a judge of a singing competition show for which Andy (Ed Helms) auditions. The Season 2 runner-up, who also finished second on Celebrity Apprentice, is one of the more successful Idol alums, having released a slew of albums and even dabbled in Broadway. Plus, his rabid fan base of "Claymates" would almost guarantee a ratings boost for the show.
Fantasia Barrino: Fantasia returned to Idol in Season 12 as a guest performer — and brought the house down. Practically speaking, she's probably not on the shortlist for Season 13, simply because of the fact that she just released a new album and will probably want to spend the remainder of the year promoting it, rather than attending Idol auditions. But the Season 3 champ — who's also had success as an actress on stage and screen — could certainly offer advice to the contestants on what it takes to go all the way.
Kelly Clarkson: American Idol is, after all, the House that Kelly Clarkson Built. The original winner is a longshot to join the panel, as her rep has said that she's already turned the offer down, but how great would it be for the hopefuls to get advice from the laidback Texas girl-turned-chart-topper? Aside from her musical success, Clarkson also brings the all-important likeability factor to the table — something for which some of the contestants could certainly use a mentor.
David Cook: Sure, Season 7 winner Cook kicked off the "White Guys with Guitars" stigma that has plagued the show in recent seasons (ending with Candice Glover's victory last month), but Cook was the first Idol contestant who truly showed a knack for taking songs and making them his own week after week. While he might not be the most charismatic alum, he'd definitely be able to offer the contestants tips about song choice and arrangement.
Chris Daughtry: Like Cook, Daughtry would bring a rock sensibility to the panel, rather than the typical R&B, pop or country backgrounds of the judges. As the third most successful Idol alum (behind Clarkson and Carrie Underwood), the Season 5 standout, who made it to the final four before his surprising elimination, is proof that you don't need to win Idol to be successful in the music biz afterward. Like Fantasia, however, Daughtry (the band) announced earlier this year that it was hard at work on a new album, so availability may be an issue.
Diana DeGarmo: DeGarmo would be the poster-child for the numerous career paths laid out before contestants post-Idol. Since her Season 3 runner-up showing, DeGarmo has starred on The Young and the Restless and on Broadway. Plus, since she's married to fellow alum Ace Young, the show would essentially be getting two alums for the price of one. And an Idol gig would provide great footage for the couple's upcoming entertainment show on TVGN Planet 360.
Melinda Doolittle: Though she hasn't released an album since 2009, Doolittle represents just what the doctor ordered for Idol. The third-place finisher in Season 6 is probably the most qualified alum, as far as critiquing experience, since she currently co-hosts TVLine's weekly recap video "Idology." As a music major, she's well-versed in the technical aspects of quality performances, and the "Idology" videos prove that she's more than capable of offering insightful, honest feedback while still being entertaining.
Jennifer Hudson: Along with Aiken, Hudson is the other name that has set tongues a-wagging as a potential judge. Unlike many Idol also-rans, Hudson (who finished in seventh place in Season 3) is a household name, thanks to her Oscar-winning turn in Dreamgirls, her Weight Watchers ads, and unfortunate events in her personal life. Her blistering duet with Candice Glover during the Season 12 finale proved that she's one of the greatest Idol vocalists of all time, and contestants often cite her as the alum whose career they'd most like to emulate.
Adam Lambert: Though he says he hasn't been approached to join the panel, consider Lambert the "viewer's choice" judge. The Season 8 runner-up's flamboyant, inventive performances (and appearance) made him one of the most talked-about Idol contestants ever, so having him on the judges' panel would almost surely provide a ratings bump. He's also got the David Cook inventive song arrangement criteria checked off, and has been a guest judge on the Chinese version of Idol.
Joshua Ledet: The Season 11 bronze medalist has yet to release his debut album, so his chart success is TBD. But, having openly talked about his battles with stage fright, Ledet would be able to empathize with the contestants, and certainly knows what it takes to earn standing ovations from the judges. Imagine Fantasia and "Mantasia" on the same panel!
Katharine McPhee: Like Jennifer Hudson and Diana DeGarmo, Season 5 runner-up and Smash alum McPhee also represents the varied careers Idol alums can go on to have. Now that Smash is over, we've got her next gig lined up and waiting — but we're not holding our breath for McPhee to join the panel. As much as she'd probably like to take a jab at NBC by defecting to Idol, she too is prepping an album due out later this year, and we expect a tour will follow.
Jordin Sparks: Sparks, who was just 17 when she won Season 6, is the youngest winner in the show's history, so she could infuse some much-needed modernity into the song choices and (hopefully) increase viewership — without all the diva baggage of someone like Nicki Minaj. She's also one of the winners who has gone on to see the most mainstream chart success, and has come back for performances during nearly every season of Idol since she won.
What do you think? Which Idol alums would you like to see on the judges' panel? Weigh in below!
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