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Rumors circulated this week that Fox honchos, desperate to retool and salvage "American Idol" after a disastrous 12th season, are considering replacing the entire judging panel with "Idol" alums. Such a strategy may seem a little too self-referential, a little too retroactive, and definitely gimmicky, but you know…it just might work.
Hiring Idols as judges would serve two important purposes: It would bring back nostalgic viewers who probably stopped tuning in after Simon Cowell left (and certainly after Nicki Minaj signed on), and it would drum home the point that "Idol" is the only singing show on U.S. television that has consistently churned out actual pop stars. Would "The X Factor" ever cast Melanie Amaro or Tate Stevens as a judge? Would "The Voice's" panel ever include Javier Colon or Jermaine Paul? I rest my case.
After more than a decade, "Idol" has certainly launched the careers of enough people with the credentials (and TV-tested personalities) to fill "Idol's" presumably four vacant chairs. Here are my picks for some past contestants who should be in the casting mix:
Adam Lambert – Adam's name is reportedly on "Idol's" shortlist (and was supposedly in the running last year), and with good reason: The man is great television. Seriously, was "Idol" ever as exciting again once Adam's season was over? He's funny, he's smart, and he's not afraid to be candid (maybe even too candid). Yet he's still likable, he's got great taste in music, he can sang, and he's got a flamboyant fashion sense that could make even Mariah Carey look plain. And according to recent interviews, he's ready to sign on the dotted line. What are you waiting for, Fox?
Blake Lewis – Before even Adam, or David Cook, this Season 6 runner-up was a real "Idol" game-changer. His "You Give Love a Bad Name" cover is still the stuff of legend and ranks as one of the greatest "Idol" performances of all time. Since then, Blake has enjoyed a varied and rather hip career, topping the Billboard Dance Chart and collaborating with electronic acts like DJ Dan, BT, EC Twins, and others. Plus, he's known to be mouthy; he blogged about "Idol" for AOL; and he used to host legendary "Idol" viewing parties at his house, complete with "Mystery Science Theater 3000"-style commentary. So he'd come to the table with unfiltered opinions.
Brooke White – This Season 7 songstress actually judged the Miss America pageant once, so she'd be good at singling out the pageant-contestant types from the real-deal artists. She's also chatty, strong-willed, and one of the first female musicians to truly make a stamp on the show. Sign her up!
Chris Sligh – He only placed 10th in Season 6, but Chris has enjoyed a surprising amount of post-"Idol" success, most notably co-penning Rascal Flatts' number-one country hit "Here Comes Goodbye" (which was memorably covered in Season 12 by Kree Harrison). He comes from the CCM world, which would appeal to "Idol's" core conservative base, but as his infamous blog once proved, he's unafraid to tell it like it is. Plus, he once had a goal to make David Hasselhoff cry…so you know he'd be tough!
Clay Aiken – Yes, I know Clay is polarizing, and yes, I know he isn't the epitome of hipness and wouldn't necessarily attract that all-important youth demo. But he's funny and feisty; he has a Claymate fanbase of old-school "Idol" diehards; and "Celebrity Apprentice" totally proved that he's good television. Plus, he practically already auditioned for the job on "The Office" a couple weeks ago!
Casey Abrams – Randy Jackson declared him the best musician to ever appear on "Idol," and we need a bona fide musician on the panel. Plus, he's lovable; he's already worked the "Idol" circuit as The Hollywood Reporter's backstage correspondent; and the way he reacted when he got the Judges' Save in Season 10 proves that he'd make for some very unpredictable TV.
David Cook – No all-Idol "Idol" judging panel would be complete without the original WGWG, not to mention the first contestant to really do the whole "make a song your own" thing. David paved the way for the likes of Kris Allen and Phillip Phillips, so give the man his due, and give him a job.
Jared Cotter – This may seen like an odd choice, since Jared didn't even make it to the top 10 in his season, but hear me out. Jared has gone on to have a pretty impressive behind-the-scenes post-"Idol" career, co-writing huge hits like Jay Sean's "Down" and "Do You Remember" and David Guetta's "Where Them Girls At." He was also a VJ on Fuse, so he knows how to be comfortable on camera. Jared's success is proof that "Idol" can open many unexpected showbiz doors.
Melinda Doolittle – Have you seen Melinda's "Idology" videos with TV Line's Michael Slezak? She's a genius. She knows what she's talking about, and she always delivers her constructive criticism in a cheerful manner. I'm surprised she hasn't been hired to be a judge or mentor on some singing show already.
Taylor Hicks – He's the ultimate underdog contestant, a role model for any potential Idol who doesn't fit the traditional pop-star mold. Plus, he recently told Yahoo!'s Reality Rocks (in the video below) that if he became a judge, he wouldn't be "afraid to be mean." Well, he learned from the best: his former nemesis and harshest critic, Simon Cowell!
Which "Idol" contestants would you like to see on the judging panel in Season 13?