American Idol has been on our screens since its debut in 2002. Out of the gate, music executive Simon Cowell, choreographer Paula Abdul and music manager Randy Jackson comprised the panel of judges, with radio/TV personality Ryan Seacrest as their host. (Brian Dunkleman served as co-host for the first season.) For seven seasons straight, the three judges held down the fort as some of the best and worst talent in America came across their stage. For the eighth season, Kara DioGuardi joined the group of judges and stayed for two years.
By season 9, Abdul saw herself out, and comedian Ellen DeGeneres stepped in for one season. Soon after, Cowell bowed out; and by the end of season 12, all three of the original judges had moved on. The American Idol judges table has seen music industry stars such as Steven Tyler, Jennifer Lopez and Nicki Minaj take on the audition process and hand out the coveted golden tickets. The show aired for 15 seasons before coming to a bittersweet end.
In 2018, after a two-year hiatus, ABC announced a revival of America's favorite reality competition show. Judges Katy Perry, Luke Bryan and Lionel Richie are still holding down the fort today.
Let's take a look back at every past and present American Idol judge and see what they are up to today!
Cowell isn't just known for this time as a judge on American Idol. He has also judged other British TV competitions such as Pop Idol, The X Factor UK and Britain's Got Talent. He then went on to host American TV shows such as American Idol, The X Factor US and America's Got Talent. He became known as one of the most critical judges on the show due to his harsh one-liners. But, despite his harsh reputation, he was and still is one of the most beloved judges. Cowell has produced several successful singles and albums for artists including Little Mix, James Arthur, Fifth Harmony, Labrinth, Leona Lewis, Noah Cyrus and more. He also signed several successful boy bands such as One Direction, CNCO and Westlife.
Before starring in American Idol, Abdul was actually a Lakers Girls and a choreographer with several albums under her name. She became popular in the late 1980s and quickly became a fan favorite by the 1990s. In 2002, alongside Cowell and Jackson, she became a judge and was known for being the nicest judge on air. She stayed on American Idol for eight seasons. Back in 2018, she went on a solo tour to celebrate the 30th anniversary of her first studio album, Forever Your Girl. In 2020, she announced she would be a panelist for Fox's reality competition show The Masked Singer. She did return to American Idol in 2021 for a temporary run after Bryan was out after testing positive for COVID-19.
Jackson was also an original judge on the show and was the one who stayed the longest, leaving in season 12. At the time of the first season, he was known as a musician who produced and toured with well-known artists. Out of the three, he was known to be the "level-headed" judge who balanced out the other judges.
He also hosts a radio show, "Randy Jackson's Hit List."
DioGuardi, a Grammy award-winning songwriter, left American Idol after just two seasons. She wrote about her departure in her book Helluva High Note. "The janitorial closet they called my dressing room had long been disassembled, so no walk down the corridors with my personal effects in hand was necessary." She also added that she started chain-smoking cigarettes to try to form a friendship with Cowell, which never stuck. According to the bio on her website, DioGuardi lives in New York City and has been a Herb Albert Visiting Scholar at Berklee College of Music.
She has built five recording studios at Phoenix House, one of the nation's leading non-profits dedicated to helping individuals, families and communities affected by addiction. In 2016, she co-founded Inspired Nation, a non-profit organization whose goal is to build a bridge between the talent and dreams of youth and their hope for a more inspired world. In 2018, DioGuardi became co-owner of Walkers Maine, the acclaimed restaurant by Chef Justin Walker and his wife, Danielle Walker. DioGuardi is one of the most accomplished songwriters in modern music and has worked with artists including P!nk, Perry, Celine Dion, Kelly Clarkson, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Jason Derulo Demi Lovato, Gwen Stefani, Carrie Underwood, Enrique Iglesias, Santana and many more.
Yes, believe it or not, DeGeneres was a judge for American Idol after replacing Abdul in 2010. The talk show host signed a five-year contract but left after just one season. After her departure, she continued hosting her NBC show, The Ellen DeGeneres Show. Unfortunately, in 2021, it was announced that the show would be ending. The announcement came after several employees accused the show of having a toxic workplace.
Tyler left American Idol after seasons 10 and 11. He told Rolling Stone in an interview, "After some long, hard thoughts, I've decided it's time for me to let go of my mistress American Idol before she boils my rabbit." He continued, "I strayed from my first love, Aerosmith, and I'm back -- but instead of begging on my hands and knees, I got two fists in the air and I'm kicking the door open with my band. The next few years are going to be dedicated to kicking some serious ass -- the ultimate in auditory takeover."
Today, Aerosmith is on tour and playing rock music all over the world. You can find tickets to their shows here:
Lopez had two rounds as a judge on American Idol. She stepped in for seasons 10 and 11, and came back for seasons 13 through 16. Since Idol, Lopez has performed a Super Bowl halftime show, starred in hit feature films such as Hustlers and Second Act, and has become one of the highest-paid actors in Hollywood.
Mariah Carey became a judge for season 12 when both Tyler and Lopez left in 2012. At the time of her entrance, she had just released her album and stayed for one season. But, apparently, there was drama while she was on a show. According to the Hollywood Reporter, back in 2015, the singer had told the Australian radio show Kyle and Jackie O that her time on the show was "boring" and "fake." She stated, "When I say it's fake, I mean, I have to make up things to say about everybody. Half the time, the performances are good, you'll just be like, 'It was good.'"
Fear not, she is doing just well after being a judge. She went on to complete a Las Vegas residency and filmed a docu-series for E! Network called Mariah's World. In 2020, she went on to release a memoir, The Meaning of Mariah Carey, and performed a holiday special, Mariah Carey's Magical Christmas Special.
The rapper joined American Idol for season 12 in 2012. Apparently, it was a messy situation between Minaj and Carey after several reported that there was tension behind the scenes. Minaj left the show after one season. Minaj is still one of the most successful artists in the industry; her recent release was in May 2021, a reissue of her 2009 mixtape Beam Me Up Scotty.
Keith Urban came on as a judge on season 12 alongside Minaj, Jackson and Carey. The country singer actually stayed on for four seasons, leaving after season 15. While on the show, he did release new music and continued to tour around the U.S. Ever since, the star has been working hard and kept his career going. Married to Nicole Kidman, the singer is still releasing new music. His most recent album, The Speed of Now Part 1, was released in September 2020. In December 2020, he was named one of Rolling Stone Australia's "50 Greatest Australian Artists of All Time."
Harry Connick Jr.
Harry Connick Jr. joined American Idol for season 13 and appeared as a mentor on season 9. During his time on season 12, he mentored the top four contestants and performed some acts for the audience. For season 13, he joined Urban and Lopez, staying for three seasons. Connick is pretty successful in the music industry, selling over 28 million albums worldwide, and is ranked among the top 60 bestselling male artists in the U.S. by the Recording Industry Association of America.
Perry is no stranger to the pop world -- and, of course, now the TV world. The singer joined American Idol during season 16 after Lopez, Urban and Connick left. Perry had originally appeared as a guest judge for the show back in 2010, officially signing a whopping $25 million deal to become a judge in 2018, according to Page Six. At the time of her appearance, she had just released her album, Witness. She returned as a judge for seasons 17 and on.
Bryan joined American Idol during season 16. Like Perry, he is still a judge on the show but, unfortunately, had to miss the first live show of 2021 due to being under COVID-19 quarantine. The country singer has sold over 7 million albums and 27 million singles worldwide since his career began. In 2o13, the country singer was named Entertainer of the Year by the Country Music Association and the Academy of Country Music Awards. He is one of the world's bestselling music artists.
The talented and legendary Richie became a judge alongside Bryan and Perry during season 16. The singer is well known for his successful career and love ballads from the '80s such as "Easy," "Three Times a Lady," "Hello" and "Still." The singer has sold over 100 million records worldwide to date and has won three Grammy Awards, an Academy Award and a Golden Globe Award. In 2016, Richie received the Johnny Mercer Award, which is the Songwriters Hall of Fame's highest honor.
READ MORE: Kelly Clarkson's 'American Idol' Win Changed TV History
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