Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj were one-and-done judges on "American Idol," and Randy Jackson left the show this year after a dozen seasons. But at least there will be one familiar face on "Idol" next year: It has just been announced that Keith Urban, who joined the panel alongside Mariah and Nicki in Season 12, will indeed be coming back to "Idol."
"I will confirm that Keith is returning to show," Kevin Reilly, Chairman of Entertainment for the Fox Broadcasting Company, revealed at Fox's Television Critics Association panel on Thursday morning. "Keith did a great job last year. Fans really loved him. Keith's a really funny guy. He didn't get to shine last year."
This announcement might come as a surprise to fans who've been following "Idol" gossip — that Keith would be fired from the show (as Mariah and Nicki rumoredly were); that the panel would be replaced with all "Idol" alums like Kelly Clarkson, Jennifer Hudson, and Adam Lambert; that Jennifer Lopez might return; that will.i.am or Pharrell Williams might come on board; that Fox might go with lesser-known names like alt-country darling Grace Potter or uber-producer Dr. Luke. And all of that is still up for discussion. ("All of the names you read about have been considered," Reilly told reporters, though he added, "There is no deal with [Jennifer Lopez] or anyone else.")
But for now, the return of Keith makes sense.
Let's face it, Keith appeals to "Idol's" core demo. And he's basically "Idol's" answer to "The Voice's" Blake Shelton. He's a good-looking, likable, guitar-playing country boy. He's a WGWG! His country music background is especially a plus, since some of "Idol's" biggest success stories and fan favorites — Carrie Underwood, Scotty McCreery, Kellie Pickler, Bucky Covington, this year's Kree Harrison, and even Kelly Clarkson (whose duet with Jason Aldean was a huge crossover hit) — have been country singers. So, there's that.
But Keith has two other things going for him. He has musical expertise, which is definitely needed for Season 13, especially with veteran studio musician Randy gone and the rather musically clueless J.Lo possibly returning. (On "Ellen" earlier this year, Keith joked that he'd been hired to be Randy's Season 13 replacement.) And Keith also has enthusiasm for the job, a crucial element necessary for inter-judge chemistry, and something we certainly didn't get from past judges like the checked-out Mariah or Steven Tyler. Backstage at last season's finale, Keith made it clear that he loved being on "Idol," gushing that he "literally enjoyed coming to work every day. And that's a rarity."
As for whom Keith will be working with every day of Season 13, Reilly promisingly stated at Thursday's TCAs: "We want judges that are good…[let's] refocus the attention on contestants. Marketing skewed it this year, and that took away [from the contestants]."
I couldn't agree with that statement more, so let's hope "Idol's" other Season 13 castings make as much sense as Keith's.