“American Idol” is still the highest-rated show on TV. However, it’s coming off a season during which the quality of contestants was the worst it’s ever been. The four-judge panel wasn’t exactly working out, either. Simon Cowell physically and mentally checked out at the beginning of the season, and Ellen DeGeneres seemed like something of an odd fit.

So…shit is about to be shaken up. Cowell’s already out the door, DeGeneres abruptly quit earlier this week, and while there’s been no official word yet, it looks like Kara DioGuardi appears to have been let go, leaving Randy Jackson as the only remaining judge from last season.  Official replacement judges haven’t been announced yet, and the rumor mill has come up with names from Chris Isaak to Jessica Simpson to record executive Clive Davis, although the front-runners appear to be singer/actress Jennifer Lopez (who, after all, is the 21st century version of Paula Abdul) and Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler.

This stunt-casting of sorts generally doesn’t end well. It’s the reality show equivalent of the time-honored tradition of bringing in a cute kid to save a sagging sitcom’s ratings. And as shows from “The Brady Bunch” to “Married…With Children” to “Who’s the Boss?” have proven, that gambit doesn’t work. The noble thing would probably be to end the show, but there’s no way Fox is gonna turn their back on all the money that “Idol” generates.

Once a show jumps the shark, it’s incredibly difficult for it to jump back, and I think most people share in the opinion that “Idol” has seen MUCH better days. The show’s going into it’s 10th season, and hasn’t produced a bonafide star (with the potential exception of Adam Lambert) since season 5. While the replacement judges will cause a bit of a stir, it remains to be seen whether a) there’ll be chemistry similar to that of Paula/Simon/Randy and b) whether they’ll be able to hold the public’s interest for an entire season. I think the bigger question is whether the show can once again come up with interesting contestants. “Idol”, like most reality shows, was interesting for as long as it took for potential contestants to “get it” and play for the TV audience more than they were playing to win the competition. THAT’s something the new judges won’t be able to fix.

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