Ellen DeGeneres hit the right notes with "American Idol" viewers.
Fans took to the Internet to express their pleasant surprise over the 52-year-old funnylady's debut as the singing competition's fourth judge. DeGeneres assumed her judging panel post for Tuesday's episode chronicling the first round of "Hollywood Week," the cutthroat post-audition phase in which 181 contestants will be narrowed down to 24 semifinalists.
The majority of folks posting about DeGeneres on Twitter praised her performance. Some said they were only tuning in for DeGeneres, but not everyone was a devotee. A denim ensemble worn by Degeneres, also host of "The Ellen Degeneres Show," was mocked by a few tweeters.
When Fox announced that DeGeneres, an Emmy winner with no formal music experience, would be the new judge last September, fans were divided over the unlikely replacement for Paula Abdul, the sugary sweet pop singer who judged "Idol" since it debuted in 2002 then left amid contract negotiations after the eighth season ended last year.
"Ellen completely met my expectations," said Dave Della Terza, founder of VoteForTheWorst.com, which encourages viewers to champion bad — but entertaining — singers. "She was trying way too hard. Her critiques weren't funny because no one wants to see a standup act at the judges' table."
But Andy Dehnart, editor of the popular reality TV blog realityblurred.com and a lecturer at Stetson University, said DeGeneres seemed "more polished and on-point than the people who've been sitting at that table for eight years." DeGeneres is on the judging panel alongside Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson, and Kara DioGuardi.
"Ellen DeGeneres keeps surprising us," he said. "She excels as a talk show host, and if she keeps up what she did tonight, she'll easily establish herself as the best judge."
As expected, DeGeneres' critiques were punctuated with humor, but she didn't hold back the cruelties either. She joked something seemed wrong with a beatboxer's microphone — just before sending him home. An admittedly drowsy DeGeneres later informed one dull singer that the performance "almost put me right out."
DeGeneres and the other judges were wowed by several guitar-playing singers during Tuesday's episode. DioGuardi dubbed quirky 24-year-old musician Andrew Garcia's rendition of "Straight Up" from former judge Abdul "genius" while DeGeneres called 24-year-old sales representative Jannell Wheeler's version of "American Boy" by Estelle "amazing, amazing."
Other guitar players who advanced in the competition included 20-year-old sandwich maker Lilly Scott, who crooned Ella Fitzgerald's "Lullaby Of Birdland," and brawny 26-year-old personal trainer Michael Lynche, who announced his wife was going into labor with their first child before launching into John Mayer's "Waiting on the World to Change."
DeGeneres' addition comes at a time of change for the aging Fox franchise, which is produced by 19 Entertainment and FremantleMedia North America. Cowell is leaving at the end of the current season to judge and executive produce an American version of "The X Factor," a talent show he created in Britain. DeGeneres didn't let Cowell off for the move.
"So this is it, huh?" she whispered to him after joining the panel. "I come on, you leave."
Several names have been bandied about as potential Cowell replacements — Oscar-winning actor-singer Jamie Foxx, shock jock Howard Stern, as well as music executives Tommy Mottola, Guy Oseary, and Jimmy Iovine. But Fox and the show's producers have not announced a replacement for the acerbic British judge.
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