American Idol Judges: The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly

Ever since its first season in 2002, American Idol has been the place to go to see some of the country’s best-hidden talent, along with the people who think they have talent but should’ve just stayed hidden—and we all know who they are...
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Ever since its first season in 2002, American Idol has been the place to go to see some of the country’s best-hidden talent, along with the people who think they have talent but should’ve just stayed hidden—and we all know who they are (“She bangs! She bangs!”). Regardless, one thing you can always expect from Idol is entertainment, whether it comes from in front of the judge’s panel or behind it. With 11 successful seasons already under its belt, the series has kept audiences entertained with a cast of eccentric judges with opposing personalities—and this year is no exception. So before we countdown to the inevitable epic meltdown on national television between divas Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj, let’s take a stroll down memory lane and examine the pros and cons of the past divas that have judged American Idol, including the biggest of them all: Simon Cowell.

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Ellen DeGeneres (The Annoyingly Nice Diva). Pro: We all love Ellen DeGeneres; her personality and wit shine through in whatever she says. And how could anyone not love her adorable little dance moves that we see nonstop on The Ellen DeGeneres Show? Finding out that this loveable comedienne was joining the cast of Idol was sure to bring a fresh comedic aspect to the show. And she delivered on that front. Con: Unfortunately we all forgot one important detail: Ellen doesn’t know how to be critical of others—or at least doesn't have the stomach for it. A general inability to be unpleasant at times may not be a problem in an everyday world, but as a judge (of anything), that doesn't work. After she made her debut on Idol in 2010, Ellen bowed out the same year and went back to doing what she does best; being excruciatingly kind.

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Kara DioGuardi (The Invisible Diva). Pro: On the surface, Kara DioGuardi was a great judge on American Idol. Actually, in comparison to the ridiculousness perpetrated by other judges that have taken part of the show, she’s downright fantastic. DioGuardi always kept her composure and gave thoughtful advice to the contestants, which was even more helpful coming from the perspective of someone who worked one-on-one with the nation’s first American Idol, Kelly Clarkson. Con: Even with her laundry list of good qualities as a judge, DioGuardi was still missing a crucial factor as a judge. She wasn’t memorable. The hit song maker didn’t have any one-liners or idiosyncrasies that made the other judges fascinating to watch. Although a few judges were a bit too eccentric, it’s better to be remembered for something than forgotten altogether—at least in show biz.

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Paula Abdul (The Cuckoo Diva). Pro: Paula Abdul is the first person to introduce the country to the “caring judge.” With her constant encouragement and experience as a singer, dancer, and songwriter, Abdul was a judge that everyone could get behind. And one of the highlights from the American Idol during its early years were her constant squabbles with the anti-Paula of the judges panel, Simon Cowell. The back-and-forth tension between the duo made audiences tune in every week. Con: Somewhere along the lines of American Idol, it’s safe to say that Abdul went a little nutty. Her words of wisdom and praise slowly turned into slurred, sloppy sayings. Week after week, Abdul’s critique of the contestants left audiences thinking “…Say what?” Although her intentions were always good, Abdul just couldn’t manage to keep it together, not even for her brief 60-second critique. (And we won't even mention her strange clapping method...)

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Steven Tyler (The Creeper Diva). Pro: From the moment that it was announced that Steven Tyler was joining American Idol as a judge, skepticism grew. Considering American Idol was known for its squeaky clean image, picking the lead singer of Aerosmith—a band that had its fair share of sex, drugs, and booze—seemed a bit out of character. However, Tyler proved skeptics wrong and his fun rockstar persona added a new flavor to the show, especially with some of his hilarious one liners. Con: As much as he was full of good times, though, Tyler couldn't quite shake that creepy vibe. His comments to the young female contestants were just shy of that level of comfort that would make you want to change the channel. Let's just say his eyes wandered a bit too much—even on his co-judge J. Lo!

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Simon Cowell (The Blunt British Diva). Pro: It's no secret that Simon Cowell was the face of American Idol. America was introduced to Cowell when rude British television show hosts were all the rage ("You are the weakest link—goodbye!"), but his blunt honesty to the contestants made him more than a brief novelty. Cowell stuck around American Idol for its first nine seasons and helped it grow into the success that it is today. Con: People all over the country tuned in to watch Cowell's confident and controversial critiques of the contestants. He played the "villain" of the series effortlessly, having no qualms about crushing the dreams of some contestants who, frankly, needed their dreams crushed. But there were exceptions to his cold-hearted critiques that could leave a bad taste in your mouth. For instance, Cowell gave a pass to "Bikini Girl" during the eighth season on the show...hmm, we wonder why. By him softening his blows to certain contestants, he lost the edge that made him such a standout to begin with.

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Jennifer Lopez (The Comeback Diva). Pro: Jennifer Lopez came out of the gate swinging as a judge on American Idol. She had it all: the likable personality, the honest yet gentle commentary about the contestants, and the experience to back up every word that she said. Her temperament as a judge worked so well with fellow judges Steven Tyler and Randy Jackson that the antics of Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul felt like a distant memory. Con: Lopez was a stickler for perfection as an Idol judge. She always had a strong opinion ready for every contestant. Even though she always critiqued politely, no one could ever perform good enough. Apparently, Lopez had to show the crew what perfection looked like, having no qualms performing her new tracks on the show—(Cha-ching! Talk about taking advantage of record sales!) After she got her career revamped, she dropped AI like a bad habit. What do you think were the pros and cons of the previous American Idol judges? And what do you expect from the new judges panel? Sound off below!