‘American Idol’ EP Nigel Lythgoe ‘Optimistic’ Jennifer Lopez Could Join Mariah Carey on Judges’ Panel

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With news breaking Monday that Mariah Carey will join American Idol as a judge next season, producer Nigel Lythgoe isn’t giving up hope that Jennifer Lopez might return to the show after saying she’s 99 percent sure she’s leaving.

“I’m optimistic — about 1 percent,” Lythgoe told Celebuzz. “I always say, why would you say 99 percent if that’s not a negotiating tactic?”

With Lopez’s fate in question, Lythgoe also opened up about the show’s ratings, which have declined steadily over the last couple of seasons; the season 11 finale in May was the show’s lowest-rated finale to date, down about 30 percent from the previous year.

Still, even with the dip in ratings, Lythgoe isn’t worried about the show’s future just yet.

“It’s still the number-one show,” he said. “Eleven years, there’s no other program in the history of television that’s been number one for that period of time.”

Lythgoe went on to explain that while the show isn’t as popular as it once was, neither is television in general.

“We can see the falling ratings on everything,” he insisted. “They always said to me, if we lost 10 percent over the next five years, we’d still be the number-one program. What other programs can you say that about?”

Carey joined American Idol following high-profile exits from judges Steven Tyler and Lopez, who left the show after just two seasons.

If Lythgoe had it his way, he says he would change the judges every year. Case in point: When the show began in 2002, no one had ever heard of Randy Jackson or Simon Cowell, and Paula Abdul was on the verge of becoming a has-been.

“They became stars, and therefore, you have to replace them with stars nowadays,” he said. “And the bigger the star, the shorter period of time they spend with us.”

Lythgoe added that the secret to Idol’s success ultimately lies in the judges.

“It’s how they fit together as a team,” he emphasized. “We mustn’t look on them as individual artists. Randy, Paula and Simon showed that no matter who they are – if they’ve got good chemistry together, it’s a train wreck some weeks, it’s interesting some weeks, it’s homo-erotic banter other weeks – you’ve got something going that you’re interested in.”