‘American Idol’ Needs ‘SNL’ Producer Lorne Michaels Type As Next Judge, Expert Says (ANALYSIS)

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Now at a crossroads in its 10 plus years, American Idol — in search of two judges to fill vacated chairs left by Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler — could right its ship by picking a judge similar to Saturday Night Live’s creator and executive producer Lorne Michaels, says an Idol expert.

Michaels has long been the comedy’s show arbiter of talent since its debut on NBC in 1975 with Chevy Chase, John Belushi, and others. The show subsequently introduced stars such as Eddie MurphyAdam Sandler and Will Ferrell.

Why is Michaels a good choice?

“That guy has been doing Saturday Night Live forever,” TV and pop culture professor Robert Thompson of Syracuse University says of Michaels. “He certainly has casting abilities. Now, I don’t know what he knows about music. But you need someone who owns a record label or has been doing talent scouting. You want somebody who has got some real credibility in discovering talent. They have the right to be making that judgment.”

The original American Idol judge’s table, of course, defined that role with Simon Cowell’s acerbic, though well-regarded, critical perspective.

Without a clear judge, Idol has been left grasping for straws at credible judges — while competitor shows like NBC’s The Voice have new bells and whistles like spinning chairs.

“This is an important period in American Idol’s history,” Thompson says. “They really need to get a good set of judges in those positions. A mix that is going to be compelling, and people are going to want to watch the thing.”

So, who does the show need?

1) A megastar along the lines of Mariah Carey — but with more scandal attached.

Scandal meets celebrity: well, that intersection is owned by X Factor’s Britney Spears. Carey is, comparatively, less unpredictable. “Mariah Carey probably stacks up to Britney as a megastar,” Thompson says. “She doesn’t stack up to Britney in that she hasn’t had as much scandal attached to her. You think that’s going to be interesting to watch. That was the same with casting Howard Stern [for America’s Got Talent] — that he was a celebrity who was controversial. Mariah Carey doesn’t have that kind of clout. Certainly a megastar though.”

Carey’s husband Nick Cannon recently told paparazzi that Fox could’t afford his wife’s salary, which would have to be higher than Lopez’s payday of millions. Other names mentioned in press reports include Adam Lambert, Miley Cyrus, and others.

2) A wild card. Heck, why not make it Randy Jackson?

“Right now, Randy is the only continuity from the beginning,” Thompson says. “If Randy stays, you have to choose your other two people with him in mind. If he leaves, you have to mix up your recipes accordingly. As far as predicting who’s going to work — unless they’ve been guest judges before, and we’ve seen them work, it’s really kind of hard to tell. You can even tell in the second week — sort of that long haul ability to say something compelling, that’s not the same old thing.”

Jackson’s status is still undetermined; if he stays, Idol has a foot firmly planted in its original history.

What may not be welcome to the show is judges with similar responses as Tyler and Lopez’s.

3) No more visceral responses.

“[Tyler and J.Lo] seemed to like an awful lot of people,” Thompson says. “There wasn’t the usual drama that we often got elsewhere. They seem to be viscerally responding. The opinion of whether Steven Tyler or Jennifer Lopez likes the song or not is worth more than the average person off the street because they’ve both been in the music industry for a long time and obviously have some experience.  You need someone in that category who has systematically assessed performers for a living, successfully — doesn’t need to be someone we know the name of — applying the same criteria as throughout their career. That’s what Simon Cowell did.”

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