Ellen DeGeneres Joins “American Idol” as Fourth Judge

Fox announced in a press release today that out comedian and talk show host Ellen DeGeneres will be joining their popular singing competition show American Idol next season as the fourth judge.

"I’m thrilled to be the new judge on American Idol," said DeGeneres in a press release. "I’ve watched since the beginning, and I’ve always been a huge fan. So getting this job is a dream come true, and think of all the money I’ll save from not having to text in my vote.”

DeGeneres joins current Idol judges Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson and Kara DioGuardi, replacing departing judge Paula Abdul, who reportedly left the show due to contract disputes.

Creator and executive producer Simon Fuller said, "I could not be more excited to have Ellen join the American Idol family. Ellen has been a fan of the show for many years, and her love of music and understanding of the American public will bring a unique human touch to our judging panel. I can’t wait for this next season to begin.”

Ellen’s Emmy Award-winning syndicated daily talk show, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, averages over 8 million viewers per episode, making it one of the highest-rated daytime TV shows.

American Idol averages between 20 and 30 million American viewers per episode, and is broadcast to over 100 nations outside the U.S. Although ratings have been slipping in recent seasons, the reality series is still one of the most-watched shows on primetime American television.

American Idol has never had an openly gay, lesbian or bisexual contestant. Several contestants have come out after appearing on Idol, however (or been out before the show and de-gayed their public profile during the competition), including Clay Aiken and, perhaps most famously, Adam Lambert, who was the runner-up last season and graced the cover of Entertainment Weekly with the headline "The Most Exciting American Idol Contestant In Years … and Not Just Because He Might Be Gay."

Lambert, left, with Idol winner Kris Allen and host Ryan Seacrest

The show’s ninth season kicks off in January 2010, and will feature appearances by guest judges Victoria Beckham, Mary J. Blige, Kristin Chenoweth, Joe Jonas, Neil Patrick Harris, Avril Lavigne, Katy Perry and Shania Twain.

DeGeneres’s Idol gig will not interfere with The Ellen DeGeneres Show, which began its seventh season this week. "I’m not leaving here," DeGeneres reassured Ellen fans. "I’m going to have a day job and a night job — that is the times we’re living in."

“Hopefully, I’m the people’s point of view because I’m just like you,” DeGeneres went on to add. “I sit at home and I watch it, and … I’m not looking at it in a critical way from the producer’s mind. I’m looking at it as a person who is going to buy the music and is going to relate to that person.”

DeGeneres’s role on Idol makes her one of the world’s most visible lesbians (if she wasn’t already). It also means Ellen will join her wife Portia de Rossi (Better Off Ted), comedian Wanda Sykes (The Wanda Sykes Show and The New Adventures of Old Christine), and political commentator Rachel Maddow (The Rachel Maddow Show) as one of the few out lesbians — real or fictional — on primetime American television this season.

Watch the video of Ellen announcing the news on her show:

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