Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul, Simon Cowell and Ryan Seacrest onstage on set of American Idol
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'American Idol' Judges: Where Are They Now?


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 were the panel of judges, with 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 some of the 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 nine, Abdul saw herself out and Ellen DeGeneres stepped in for one season. Soon after, Cowell bowed out, and by the end of season twelve, all three of the original judges had moved on. The American Idol judges table has seen music industry stars like Steven Tyler, Jennifer Lopez and Nicki Minaj take on the audition process and hand out the golden tickets. The show aired for 15 seasons before coming to a bitter-sweet 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 in 2021.

Let's take a look back at some of the judges from the past and what they are up to today!


Simon Cowell

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 like Little Mix, James Arthur, Fifth Harmony, Labrinth, Leona Lewis, Noah Cyrus and more. He also signed several successful boybands such as One Direction, CNCO and Westlife.

Paula Abdul

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 1980 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 judge Luke Bryan was out after testing positive for COVID.


Randy Jackson

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."

Kara DioGuardi

Kara DioGuardi, the 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 and form a friendship with Cowell, which never stuck. According to the bio on her website, Kara 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 that's goal is to build a bridge between the talent and dreams of youth and their hope for a more inspired world. In 2018, Kara became co-owner of Walkers Maine, the acclaimed restaurant by Chef Justin Walker and his wife Danielle Walker. Kara is one of the most accomplished songwriters in modern music and has worked with artists like P!nk, Katy Perry, Celine Dion, Kelly Clarkson, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Jason Derulo, Demi Lovato, Gwen Stefani, Carrie Underwood, Enrique Iglesias, Santana and many more.

Ellen DeGeneres

Yes, believe it or not, Ellen DeGeneres was a judge for American Idol after replacing Abdul in 2010. The talk show host has 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.

Steven Tyler


Steven Tyler left American Idol after seasons ten and eleven. 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: https://www.aerosmith.com/tour.

Jennifer Lopez

Jennifer Lopez had two rounds as a judge on American Idol. She stepped in for seasons ten and eleven and came back for seasons thirteen through sixteen. Since Idol, Lopez has performed the Super Bowl halftime show, starred in hit feature films like Hustlers and Second Act, and has become one of the highest-paid actors in Hollywood.


Mariah Carey

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 an 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 also 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 also performed a holiday special, Mariah Carey's Magical Christmas Special.

Nicki Minaj


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, with her recent release being in May 2021, a reissue of her 2009 mixtape, Beam Me Up Scotty.

Keith Urban

Urban came on as a judge on season 12 alongside Minaj, Jackson and Carey. The country singer actually stayed on for four-season, leaving after Season 15. While on the show he did release new music and continued to tour around the US. 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 of 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 also 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 best-selling male artists in the US by the Recording Industry Association of America.

Read More: Everything We Know About 'American Idol' Season 20!

Katy Perry

Katy 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, 18 and 19, and now, season 20! The show is set to premiere on Sunday, February 27, 2022.


Luke Bryan

Luke 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 quarantine. The country singer has sold over seven 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 best-selling music artists.

Lionel Richie

The talented and legendary Lionel 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 Awards, which is the Songwriters Hall of Fame's highest honor.


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