'American Idol' Judges Through the Years and Why They Left

A revolving door! When American Idol debuted on Fox in 2002, music manager Randy Jackson, choreographer Paula Abdul and music executive Simon Cowell made up the panel of judges. For the first seven seasons of the show, the trio remained the faces of the series, along with host Ryan Seacrest. (Comedian Brian Dunkleman cohosted the first season only.)

At the start of season 8, the judges’ table expanded, with singer-songwriter and record producer Kara DioGuardi becoming the fourth judge, a seat she kept for two seasons.

However, other changes were underway. Abdul exited ahead of season 9 and was replaced by Ellen DeGeneres for one season. Cowell, for his part, left ahead of season 10. Jackson lasted the longest of the original judges, remaining on the show for 12 years. After he left, many new (huge) artists took a swing at being a judge, including Jennifer Lopez, Steven Tyler, Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj, among others.

“It was a big turning point in my career,” Lopez told Variety in 2019 about her time on the singing competition. “Everybody was like: ‘Don’t do this. Your career will be over, and they won’t offer you any movies. They’ll think you’re a joke as an artist.’ And I was like, ‘The truth is, I’m not getting offered a whole bunch of movies, so what are they not going to offer me?’”

Ultimately, she added, it allowed the world to get to know a different side of her.

“You can’t hide on reality TV. And they got to see I was a real, caring person who was actually nice,” the Golden Globe nominee said. “I don’t think I had been taken as seriously up until then for what I knew about music. Even though I had several hit albums, I think they put me in this ‘pretty pop’ category.”

Idol remained on the air on Fox for 15 seasons before coming to an end.

“I wasn’t surprised,” Cowell, who also created the series, told Variety in 2016 about hearing that the show was wrapping up. “No one can complain after 15 years. It’s had a fantastic run, great memories. For me, I had the best time of my life. But then, you move on and other things come along.”

After two years off the air, ABC picked up a revival of American Idol, which began airing in March 2018. Seacrest returned as the host while Katy Perry, Luke Bryan and Lionel Richie became the new judges.

Scroll through the gallery below for a rundown of every celeb who has judged, as well as when and why they exited.

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