Season nine of Fox's "American Idol" is underway with the audition episodes currently airing but the big news is that judge Simon Cowell will be leaving the judges' table at the end of this season to focus on bringing his British series "X Factor" to Fox. While there's much speculation about whether "Idol" can survive without the upfront, direct Cowell, fellow judge Randy Jackson talked recently about the rumors that are always swirling around the popular show. "There are so many rumors and speculation about everything going on. The thing that I've just been saying is that we have an exciting, very different season nine going on to the show. I think it's the best talent show that there is and I'm just looking forward to the season because the rumors just get so wild and crazy, you just don't know what to believe."
While the show unexpectedly lost longtime judge Paula Abdul last summer, Jackson is clearly still feeling a void. "The whole thing started with me, Ryan, Simon and her, so she's one of our best friends and she still is. I miss that. We look down the table sometimes and go, wait a minute, where's Paula? I expect to hear something from my left ear and I go, wait a minute, that doesn't sound like Paula. So it's going to take a little getting used to, but we're really sad about that."
What of the rumors that Simon will ask Paula to be one of the "X Factor" judges? Jackson didn't have the lowdown but he only wanted to express good wishes for his former co-judge. "Look, she's one of my dear friends, so I wish her the best in the world. I know that she's going to be back in something in a huge way because she's mad talented. The thing that I always say about this genre or about anything in the music entertainment side is expect the unexpected. You never know."
While everyone involved has been clear that bringing daytime talk show host/comedian Ellen DeGeneres to the show happened independently of Abdul's exit, Jackson didn't hide his excitement over having her join the "American Idol" crew. "Welcoming Ellen to the fold is a good look. She's funny. She's charismatic. She's really cool. She's my home girl from Louisiana like me... so it's going to be a very interesting, funny, different season 'Idol' season nine."
Jackson added that working with Ellen is not comparable to a stranger suddenly stepping into the show's mix. "We've had a relationship for a long time," he said. "I've known her for quite some time, so has Ryan Seacrest. So we're really good friends with her. I think we're going to have a very funny, interesting season ahead of us. There will be a lot of laughs."
One prediction Jackson could make - watch out for a feel unlike earlier seasons of show when he sits down next to judge Kara DioGuardi, Ellen and Simon. "It's definitely going to be a different dynamic, I mean completely different people. Ellen is different than Paula. She's going to interact with Simon and interact with me and Kara very differently. It's going to be a very interesting, wild, crazy, exciting season, I think.
Since Ellen wasn't going to be joining the audition process until Hollywood week, a group of guest judges were brought in to help pick those potential singers who could walk away with the 'American Idol' title. How did the guest judges measure up? "They all brought something different to the table. The first few you're going to see starts in Boston with Victoria Beckham. People know her fame from the Spice Girls. They probably know more of it as being Mrs. David Beckham. These are all performers in their own right that have achieved high acclaim and massive success in the entertainment field. I think they all brought something different."
With other guest judges ranging from singers Mary J. Blige to actors with singing backgrounds like Neil Patrick Harris and Kristin Chenoweth, how did the wannabe contestants respond to the different judges during the audition process? "I think Simon has said he thought that people were a little bit more in the 'Fear Factor' zone of Mary J. Blige just because of her presence. She's like that kind of demanding artist. I think Shania [Twain] brought something different, I think Katy Perry and Avril Lavigne brought something really different and unique. I think surprisingly for some people, they probably would be surprised at what Joe Jonas' input was and also Neil Patrick Harris and Kristen Chenoweth. So they all gave a different perspective."
Regardless of who is at the judges' table, Jackson groused about the contestants who have no chance of getting a 'golden ticket' but only want a bit of TV exposure. "I am growing a little impatient with that because you know, look, you've watched the show. You know what the show is. You see every year somebody great wins the show, the top three or four or five or top ten people are all usually great singers and you just wonder what are they seeing that I'm not seeing? It's like we're not on the same page here, so, yes, I am getting a little impatient with that."
As for the singers who can actually sing, Jackson's one minor complaint is that the guys have been dominating the show the last few years. "I think there's some really talented girls that showed up this time. I also think that what changes the show from year to year are the contestants that we get." Jackson stressed that, as always, he was surprised at who showed up at the auditions. "This year, you would have thought there would have been a lot more theatrical, a lot more Adam Lambert or Kris Allen types that would have showed up for the auditions but that's not what happened at all this time. Usually whoever wins or comes in one and two, that next season of auditions you have a lot of those kinds of people. It's almost like there was a signal to everyone at home that was like them, now it's time to try out for 'American Idol,' but it didn't happen like that this time. So I think we have a very interesting, unique cast that's really only unique to this season nine. I think it's going to be really, really exciting and very different."
Speaking of Adam Lambert, who has made quite a splash since he came in second place last May, what does Jackson think of his post-'Idol' career? "Adam is a giant personality. He's unbelievably talented. The American Music Award thing, I guess, was something that he wanted to do and try. An artist is really left up to their own ideas of how they want to do things and whatever. I think he's a big personality. He's a far bigger personality than Kris but I think they're both equally talented. Kris obviously won for a reason. You've got Allison [Iraheta]; she has her record out, too. I wish them all well and the best. They're all immensely talented, Danny Gokey, we had a lot of talented kids this season."
Regardless of whatever rumor is floating around or what controversy is coming from past and present contestants, Jackson brought the point of it all back to the obvious, including his place in it. "I think 'Idol' is the best show of its kind ever. I think it can go on for quite a long time. I don't know when the end for that is. I haven't really thought about my end for it. I'm contracted for a couple more seasons. So it's really hard to predict, but I think the show can really go on for a long time. I think it's the best certainly music reality show that's ever been a music TV show."
But he couldn't help think again about some of the horrendous auditions he has been having to sit through. "I often sit there sometimes and think somebody is playing a trick on me. Somebody is trying to drive me out of my mind."
"American Idol" airs Tuesday and Wednesday nights on FOX.