American Idol: Every One Of The Judges RankedPublished on April 4, 2018. Updated June 15, 2020
When American Idol first launched in June 2002, it catapulted to the top of TV ratings and soon became one of the most successful television shows in the history of American television. American Idol became the launching board for several similar reality competition series, and its success was unprecedented for many seasons before interest started to wane, the original judges had departed, and it eventually came to an end in April 2016. In March 2018, the former FOX series was rebooted by ABC, with three new judges bringing the total American Idol judges up to 14! Some were loved, some were hated, and some were in between, so take a look back at all 14 judges ranked from worst to best:
14. Nicki Minaj
Season 12 of American Idol aired from January 16, 2013, to May 16, 2013, and saw one of the biggest judge shakeups of the show’s history which included the addition of Nicki Minaj, Mariah Carey, and Keith Urban to judge alongside American Idol veteran Randy Jackson. For many, the addition of Minaj was a “stunt-casting” in an effort to renew interest in the fading show, but instead, it only drove viewers away even more. Between Minaj’s feud with fellow judge Mariah Carey and her inability to critique contestants with useful feedback showed that the judging chair was not for her.
13. Ellen DeGeneres
Ellen DeGeneres is one of the most personable and easy-to-watch people on TV, and while she might be good at a lot of things, being a judge on American Idol was not one of them. The beloved talk show host joined the judging table in season nine following the exit of longtime judge Paula Abdul, and it was not the best decision. With no background at all in music, DeGeneres really had no constructive criticism that would help any of the singers and knew going in she was there to simply represent the viewers at home. Unfortunately, a judge needs to offer something which DeGeneres just could not do, and she left after only season saying the show just “didn’t feel like the right fit,” which was the best decision for herself, for viewers and for contestants.
12. Mariah Carey
Mariah Carey arrived at American Idol for season 12 along with two other new judges: Keith Urban and Nicki Minaj. It didn’t take long before the entire show was overshadowed by Carey and her feud with fellow judge Nicki Minaj. The most criticism that season 12 of American Idol saw was actually against the judging panel, but it can’t be denied that Carey did have some knowledge to share when she chose to. In the end, however, Carey was not shy to say how awful she found her American Idol experience to be, and in return, she was not loved on the show.
11. Katy Perry
When it was announced that ABC had bought the rights to American Idol and was bringing the show back after only two years since it ended, there was an immediate search for star power to bring to the judging panel. After a lot of negotiations and a massive deal later, pop superstar Katy Perry signed on as one of three judges for the “new” American Idol. Since the show has only been back for a short time now, it is difficult to determine Perry’s effectiveness as a judge, but she hasn’t received the best feedback from viewers so far. It seems Perry has a hard time saying anything negative or in fact saying “no” to anyone and seems to be way too over-the-top when it comes to her reaction to some of the contestants. Most fans of reality competitions such as American Idol love having the celebrity factor, but want the focus to be on the contestants; however, Perry seems to be stealing the spotlight.
10. Kara DioGuardi
Kara DioGuardi’s turn as a judge on the singing series was so unmemorable that many forget she was even on it! DioGuardi joined a very established and respected panel when she became the fourth judge in season eight alongside Paula Abdul, Simon Cowell, and Randy Jackson. She immediately didn’t have the same charisma as the other judges and didn’t have the same chemistry with them because they had been establishing their relationship for seven seasons already. DioGuardi became best known for her very awkward performance in a bikini during the season eight finale which was unfortunate because she had some very valuable insight into the music industry, especially when it comes to behind the scenes success.
9. Luke Bryan
Country superstar Luke Bryan was one of three celebrities hired on to the judging table when American Idol returned to TV in March of 2018 so it has been difficult to tell how effective of a judge he is. Naturally, Bryan’s charm has gone a long way both with contestants and viewers, making him immediately one of the most likable coaches the show has seen. While Bryan has been as helpful as possible in his critiques, much like Katy Perry, he seems to have a hard time being negative which is sometimes necessary when in the judging chair. He has all the makings to be a well-rounded judge, but for right now he is too soft.
8. Keith Urban
Before Luke Bryan, Keith Urban was American Idol’s resident country star and one thing is for sure, most viewers absolutely loved him. Urban became an American Idol judge during the disastrous season 12 which saw Urban and Randy Jackson trying to keep the focus (and the peace) between Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey’s feud. His care for the contestants really shone through as he went above and beyond to try to get the best out of every single one of them. While Urban was a great support, he was also deemed a little boring at times and needed just a bit more charisma and a harder edge to make him a great judge.
7. Lionel Richie
Along with Katy Perry and Luke Bryan, music legend Lionel Richie signed on to be the third judge when American Idol made its comeback in 2018, and it is clear he was a great choice. Richie’s feedback is invaluable and he takes the time to scrutinize all of the good and the bad in a contestant before offering his opinions. Richie is one of the most genuine judges the show has seen, and while it certainly seems he will end up being one of the show’s greatest judges, his tenure has been too short to tell how great he will really be.
6. Randy Jackson
When it comes to the three original judges, Randy Jackson lasted the longest as he hung on from seasons one to twelve, and then returned as a mentor. As a judge, Randy was critical and to the point without being too harsh, and brought some serious credibility to the show. While he was well-liked by many, his common phrases of “dawg” and “it was too pitchy” became much too redundant and audiences tired of the same thing from him season after season. Jackson was a good judge but ended up being outshone by some of the others.
5. Steven Tyler
Musical advice from any star is valuable because obviously they found the key to success, but it is a completely different playing field when the advice comes from a complete rock music icon. Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler surprised absolutely everyone when he signed on to be a judge for seasons 10 and 11. There is no doubt that Steven Tyler is a unique personality, and while some things he said or did were downright awkward, once he figured out what he was doing he was a completely enjoyable coach. When he wasn’t saying something strange he was actually offering something insightful and proved to be truly caring about how well a contestant performed and how to make them better. Despite the entertainment value of seeing the living legend in a completely different platform, it was clear to everyone (Tyler included) that American Idol was not the place for him, but for most, his time as a judge was a highlight of the show.
4. Harry Connick Jr.
Harry Connick Jr. is a man of many talents and thanks to his acting gigs and TV hosting role, many forget that his true passion lies with music. He reminded everyone just how much he knows about music, however, when he joined American Idol in season 13 as a judge. After a long absence of anyone who was tough, Connick Jr. took the role seriously and had no problem letting contestants know when they just weren’t good enough but was also absolutely charming and hilarious so it didn’t come across as harshly as it did years before when Simon Cowell was on the show. While some viewers felt that Connick Jr. was too critical when it came to his very detailed criticisms, his knowledge for those actually wanting to succeed in the industry was extremely helpful. Many viewers felt that Harry Connick Jr. was what kept American Idol afloat through seasons 13 and 14 when it was already a sinking ship.
3. Paula Abdul
Paula Abdul was one of the longest-running judges on the show and was one of the original three alongside Simon Cowell and Randy Jackson. The singing/dancing superstar judged from season one to eight as the soft side to Cowell’s cutthroat nature and Jackson’s heavy criticisms. Although some viewers got tired of her over-the-top antics and questioning whether or not she truly was drunk, looking back, she was a major reason why American Idol was in its prime during her run as a judge.
2. Jennifer Lopez
Following the departure of Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul, it was clear that things in the American Idol camp were chaotic as they desperately wanted to keep the same chemistry that worked and that fans loved when it came to the judging panel. Of all the combinations, they found what they were looking for in a very unlikely trio with Harry Connick Jr., Keith Urban and Jennifer Lopez. Many were skeptic about Lopez joining the show, only to discover she was one of the best judges to grace the table. After her first stint in seasons 10 and 11, Lopez couldn’t reach an agreement to stay, but American Idol producers knew she was something to bring new life to the show and got her back for season 13, 14, and 15. Lopez proved she really is down-to-earth but was also extremely graceful and articulate and could be negative if she needed to be but without being demeaning. Most importantly, she had great advice and quickly became a fan-favorite judge out of everyone who tried their hand at the job.
1. Simon Cowell
Looking back at American Idol in retrospect is the best thing that could have happened to Simon Cowell. During his tenure as a judge from seasons one to nine, Cowell was slammed for being cruel and harsh, but now fans realize that his attitude is exactly what the show needed. American Idol did so unbelievably well thanks in large part to Cowell, despite the criticism, and his chemistry with Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson. Cowell has also proved he is unparalleled in spotting true talent, and never wavered from being harsh because he knew the music industry is cutthroat and coddling contestants was not going to help.