After weeks of speculation and gossip that Randy Jackson would follow his former "American Idol" co-stars Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler out the studio door, TMZ is now reporting that he is in fact stepping down as an "Idol" judge. (Fox reps declined to comment at this time.) With Randy, the only judge to serve on all past 11 seasons of the series, no longer on the panel, it's the end of an era, dawg.
However, longtime "Idol" viewers who are worried that host Ryan Seacrest (who recently renewed his contract for $15 million) will now be the show's only comfortingly familiar face needn't worry. TMZ also reports that Randy--who manages new judge Mariah Carey, and was instrumental in orchestrating her $18 million "Idol" deal--will stay on the show in a more Iovine-esque "mentoring" role. That is vaguely reassuring, I suppose...but let's hope that doesn't mean that mentor Jimmy Iovine is leaving the show, since he's been "Idol's" closest thing to a truly competent, honest voice of reason since Simon Cowell quit two years ago.
That point brings me to the ongoing and obvious debate over whether or not Randy Jackson was ever such a fabulous judge in the first place, and if this change is a good or bad thing for "Idol." It can be argued--and it has been argued, by me, many times in the past--that Randy was often a useless judge, reducing his critiques to catchphrases and soundbites ("dawg," "in it to win it," "for me for you for me," "she's gotta have it!") and obnoxious celebrity name-dropping, rather than drawing on his years of actual experience working and playing with everyone from Carlos Santana and Jerry Garcia to grand divas like Whitney Houston, Celine Dion, Fergie, Aretha Franklin, Madonna, and of course Mariah. Knowing the impressive background Randy had as a record label executive, artist manager, and session musician, it was at times downright frustrating for me to sit back and watch him just play the fool for laughs (or for ratings).
But still. At least Randy did have behind-the-scenes experience, something that cannot be said for Mariah or for most of the other colorful characters, from Nicki Minaj to Nick Jonas, who've been lining up waiting to snag Randy's empty judging seat. I've long advocated that "Idol" needs an industry expert on the panel--someone who's there to help the contestants, not someone who's in it to further his or her own singing career--and so I believe Randy's demotion of sorts is yet another departure from the star-making purpose that "Idol" had when Randy started on the show way back in 2002. Because come on, we all know Fox will end up replacing Randy with someone like, oh, I don't know, Charlie Sheen or Justin Bieber, instead of a Rick Rubin/Quincy Jones type. (Personally, I'd love for Jimmy Iovine to take Randy's spot on the panel, but he has repeatedly said he doesn't want the job anyway. Sigh.)
However, maybe it will be a good thing for Randy to work hands-on with the Season 12 kids. He's clearly a musician at heart, and maybe, with the pressure of live television off and him no longer having to be "on" all the time, Randy--who has actually produced excellent albums for "Idol" alums like Brooke White and Casey Abrams--can finally start doling out some genuinely sage advice in his new mentor role. Hey, stranger things have happened.
This story isn't over, of course. E! News reports that "negotiations are still in progress, and nothing has been decided yet. If he chooses to stay, Randy is mulling over what he would like his role to be on the show. This will all be resolved hopefully very soon." Additionally, TMZ reports that "Idol" will once again expand to a four-judge format next season. This means, assuming that Randy is stepping down and rumored judges Nicki Minaj and Keith Urban take those second and third seats, there still will be one more seat to fill--probably with yet another big-name celebrity who won't be any more effectual than Season 9's Ellen DeGeneres and will make everyone long for the days of Randy's old silly quips.
I admit I just hope that Randy will still be part of the show in some way. He may be a buffoon sometimes, but he's part of the "Idol" family, and I wouldn't want this perennial television staple to change too much, dawg. For me for you for me.