Fox is having its usual smash with "American Idol," with this season's latest offering beating the Winter Olympics in the ratings. Paula Abdul walked off in a money dispute, Ellen DeGeneres is unexpectedly flat, and the show overall is starting to sag, but it's still just about the best thing on TV. Now there's a buzz about the best judge, Simon Cowell, leaving after this season.
Cowell is constantly booed and attacked as the nasty judge, the one who crushes young singers' dreams with his patented cutting remarks. It's also true that he is painfully honest.
Almost every "Idol" watcher looks forward to hearing Cowell offer those blunt and honest opinions every bit as much -- or even more than -- the actual performances. The other night, he responded to boos after one stinging analysis by shooting back at the audience, "I'm only saying what you're thinking." That's instantly a classic line, and very true.
It's common now to hear viewers suggest they might just stop watching the show once Cowell is gone, that the quality of the judging just will not be the same. That is definitely true if one believes the rumors circulating about the sewer where Fox is fishing for Simon Cowell replacements.
First, news reports surfaced that Fox was considering the has-been satellite radio shock jock Howard Stern to be a judge. "Yeah, I would do that show for $100 million," he said on his XM/Sirius radio program. "I can't imagine anyone else but me replacing him. ... How else are they going to make that show work?"
This Stern idea would go over like a lead balloon with parents who like "Idol" as family entertainment.
Most recently, Stern told "American Idol" Season Three winner Fantasia Barrino that she wasn't succeeding in the music business because she didn't sexually arouse teenage boys: "Hey, Fantasia, you're not getting little boys (aroused). Nobody's (masturbating) to you. You look like you stepped out of a cartoon."
A few weeks ago, Stern (age 55) wondered out loud which Disney teen favorite would provide better oral sex: Miley Cyrus (age 17) or Taylor Swift (20). Stern and his friend "Pittsburgh Pete" marveled over Cyrus' "natural" breasts. The comments spilled out on a YouTube video, but Stern supporters got it yanked.