The revolving door swings again at American Idol's judges table.
Aerosmith singer Steven Tyler is exiting TV's top-rated talent show after a two-year stint, and more change might be on the way. Jennifer Lopez, who joined Idol with Tyler when Simon Cowell left for the upstart X Factor, told NBC's Today Thursday she's "thinking that maybe it's time for me to go and do other things that I really love to do."
Tyler, typically, was more obtuse. "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 said in a statement (and a reference to the film Fatal Attraction) released by Fox. "I strayed from my first love, Aerosmith, and I'm back - but instead of begging on my hands and knees, I've got two fists in the air and I'm kicking the door open with my band."
The latest change comes as Idol increasingly shows its age: Ratings were down 23% last season, to 20 million viewers for Wednesday performance shows. And for the first time since 2003, Idol lost its crown as TV's top draw to NBC's Sunday Night Football.
The show has been so profitable - and so critical to the network's top-rated status among young adults - that Chase Carey, chief operating officer at Fox parent News Corp., told Wall Street analysts in May that "we probably didn't do enough" to retool it last season, adding, "Our challenge for next year is to put some fresh energy in."
An executive familiar with the discussions, who requested anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the talks, said Tyler's exit reflected that effort; negotiations continue with Lopez. Even the return of Randy Jackson, the only original judge, is uncertain, and will depend on the mix of replacement candidates, the executive said.
Richard Rushfield, author of American Idol: The Untold Story, says Tyler's first season "gave Idol a shot in the arm when it needed one after Cowell left; it was a real novelty." But "he quickly became a wacky rock-and-roll uncle, and by last season the novelty wore off and he was adding nothing as a judge." With a "mature" panel that's more interested in preening than criticizing, he says, "I think the show needs a total reset at this point."
Idol began its 12th-season auditions June 7 in Los Angeles, but judges don't screen would-be contestants until September, giving producers some breathing room. But host Ryan Seacrest will stick around: He signed a two-year extension in April pegged at $30 million.