THE TELEVISION behemoth known as "American Idol" storms into its ninth season Tuesday night and everyone is wondering: How much will the show miss Paula Abdul?
But the more essential question might be: How much will it miss Adam Lambert?
Abdul, of course, left the "American Idol" judges panel last summer in a huff, taking her sweet and kooky demeanor with her. She was replaced by comedian Ellen DeGeneres, who won't join the festivities until Hollywood Week in February, but more on that later.
For now, the show's overlords should be worried sick about how they're going to replace Lambert, the charismatic glam-rocker cited by "Rolling Stone" last season as the performer who "single-handedly saved the 'Idol' franchise."
OK, so that slobbery proclamation is a bit of a reach. "American Idol," after all, was prime time's ratings champ long before Lambert arrived and likely will be again. But what can't be disputed is that Lambert brought a seismic jolt to an aging "Idol" exactly when it needed one — when the show's formula and stock archetypes were starting to feel stale.
Although he ultimately was beaten out by low-key Kris Allen, Lambert was a game-changer, dominating "Idol" and the buzz surrounding it like no contestant before him. Even viewers who previously turned a cold shoulder to the show tuned in each week specifically to see what kind of thrilling twist he would bring to an otherwise familiar song.
So who'll step in and provide that kind of energy and spark? Who's going to fill that void? Now that we've experienced full-blown Adamania, will anything that arrives in its wake feel like one big case of the blahs?
At least it sounds like we won't be plagued by a bunch of Lambert clones. In a recent interview posted on Billboard. com, "Idol" judge Randy Jackson said he expected to see "a trillion Adam Lamberts" show up during the audition process. But that didn't happen.
"This is a whole different bunch," he said.
That comes as a big relief. Although Lambert's electrifying presence kept us enthused (and often amused), the last thing we need is a parade of shrieking, eyeliner-wearing pretenders. We prefer something original — if "Idol" still has the ability to provide that in Year 9.
Which brings us back to Ellen. How will she fit in? How will she affect the chemistry on the judges' panel? Will she bring something fresh — or fail to bring much at all, as rookie Kara DioGuardi did last season?
Love or hate Paula, she played a vital role. Her sugary sweetness tempered Simon Cowell's abrasive attitude, and they played well off one another. And although Paula could get on your nerves, most longtime "Idol" fans had a real soft spot for her. Ellen, it seems, has a great many hearts to win over.
All that said, we watch "Idol" not for the judges, but for the fresh crop of singers who arrive each year with dreamy visions of stardom. So, if Ellen can deliver some sharp insights and a little humor, it might not take very long before we forget all about Ms. Abdul.
And if the show can deliver another singer who bursts off our screens the way Lambert did, the switch in judges will matter even less.
singing a Different tune
"American Idol" is introducing a few changes for Season 9. Here's the rundown: