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American Idol: Randy Jackson is out. What's next for hit TV show?

David Clark ScottThe Christian Science Monitor

After 11 seasons on American Idol, the Last Judge Standing, Randy Jackson, is vacating his seat, reports TMZ. He'll stick around as a mentor, but not as a judge. 

That means the show's original three judges - Paula Abdul, Simon Cowell, and now Mr. Jackson – have left American Idol.

How much does it matter who the judges are? After all, the show has cycled through plenty of them over the years.

One could make the case that Jackson's exit could benefit the show. Many longtime fans could fairly well predict by now what he would say. Fresh judges, fresh insights?

In any case, American Idol may be ready for a major makeover. Last year's season finale, with Jessica Sanchez vs. Phil Phillips, had the smallest audience of any American Idol finale; even smaller than the first American Idol finale which aired in the slower summer months. Season 11's finale got just 21.5 million viewers. The biggest viewership for an American Idol finale was 38.1 million in 2003.

American Idol remains a cash cow for Fox. It pulls in about $500,000 for a 30-second commercial, and it remains one of the biggest draws on TV, despite a decline in audience in recent years. But few blame the cast of judges as responsible for the decline. Most observers say the ebb is a result of a combination of audience atigue and the rise of copy cat competition, especially, the arrival of Simon Cowell's "X-Factor" and NBC's "The Voice."

Advertisers note a decline in the coveted demographic audience of 18-49 year olds. This past year, American Idol had an average of 7.5 million in that demographic. "The Voice," is now nipping at the heels of Idol with 7.2 million viewers in that demographic on a typical night, notes The New York Times.

With Randy, Jennifer Lopez, and Steven Tyler all exiting this year, who will judge the contestants? Who's going to be sitting through the American Idol auditions, choosing the next cast, and taking Randy's seat at the judges' table?

So far, only singer-songwriter Mariah Carey has signed on for Season 12. Niki Minaj and country signer Keith Urban are close to signing contracts, says Billboard. And Nick Jonas, of the Jonas Brothers, could become the fourth judge. If this is the panel, it would certainly represent an eclectic mix of experience and music genres.

But the question remains: Will new judges alone create enough buzz, drama, or insight to breath new life into the American Idol franchise?