American Idol isn't giving up its diva power: Mariah Carey is joining as Jennifer Lopez departs. Carey will be a judge for Season 12, Fox programming chief Kevin Reilly said Monday, confirming a deal with the pop star to a national gathering of TV critics. Speaking briefly by speakerphone, Carey said: "I am so excited to be joining Idol. I can't wait to get started."
Idol host Ryan Seacrest tweeted a shout-out: "Welcome to the fam @MariahCarey!! When u and @nickcannon need a date night, I'm happy to strap on the double baby bjorn." And Season 6 winner Jordin Sparks tweeted: "I can't wait to watch @mariahcarey as a judge!! I LOVE her!!"
"I think she's going to find it difficult to say no" to contestants, former Idol judge Simon Cowell said later during a TV critics' panel for his X Factor show. "She's sweet."
Steven Tyler, who joined Idol with Lopez in Season 10, also is leaving. And Reilly said the show made sure Lopez wouldn't be back before moving forward with Carey. "They're very, very different personalities," he said.
Reilly wouldn't confirm any other decisions on the Idol judging panel, which also includes Randy Jackson, saying the show's structure now consists of "so many moving parts." Other judges could be announced as early as the coming week.
The addition continues the genre's pursuit of big names to attract viewers. Christina Aguilera is a coach on NBC's The Voice, and Britney Spears will be an X Factor judge and mentor.
With a 23% drop in ratings last season, Idol "had to do something," said David Scardino of the advertising agency RPA. "Even had all the judges re-upped, the losses were to such an extent that they would have had to make some big changes."
Reilly said judges could come and go on Idol more frequently than they have in the past. "I think change is going to be a part of the show going forward. We're 12 years old. We've got to keep it fresh."
Idol's audition process also will expand: Family and friends can now nominate potential contestants without their knowledge, submitting videos or websites that feature them performing. Successful singers will be surprised by a film crew.
And the "American Idol Small Town Audition Bus Tour," a 10-town mobile search, will begin in August, rolling from Idaho Falls, Idaho, to Grand Junction, Colo.
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