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Ellen DeGeneres Leaving 'Idol'

Ellen DeGeneres will not return for a second season on American Idol's judging panel. DeGeneres signed a two-year deal with the program. But in a statement, she cited her commitment to her daytime talk show as well as her unease with having to be mean to aspiring singers as reasons for cutting the gig short.

"A couple months ago, I let Fox and the American Idol producers know that this didn't feel like the right fit for me," said DeGeneres in a statement. "I told them I wouldn't leave them in a bind and that I would hold off on doing anything until they were able to figure out where they wanted to take the panel next. It was a difficult decision to make, but my work schedule became more than I bargained for. I also realized this season that while I love discovering, supporting and nurturing young talent, it was hard for me to judge people and sometimes hurt their feelings. I loved the experience working on Idol and I am very grateful for the year I had. I am a huge fan of the show and will continue to be."

There has been ongoing speculation about who might be tapped to sit behind the Idol judges table since it was announced last summer that Simon Cowell would exit the show at the end of the most recent season. Speculation is now turning to Jennifer Lopez, reported. Other candidates have included, at varying times, Howard Stern, Elton John, Sean Combs, Chris Isaak, Justin Timerblake, Jamie Foxx and most recently Jessica Simpson. There is also speculation that the entire current judges table could be scrapped as part of an overall show makeover that includes the return of former executive producer Nigel Lythgoe, who left Idol in 2008.

At the time, Lythgoe cited his duties on Fox's So You Think You Can Dance, where he is a host and producer. But there was also said to be tension between Lythgoe and Cowell.

DeGeneres' exit from the show is said to be amicable. In the Fox statement, entertainment chairman Peter Rice, and Idol executive producer's Simon Fuller and Cecile Frot-Coutaz expressed gratitude to DeGeneres for her short tenure.

"We love Ellen and understand and support her decision to bow out of Idol," said Rice. "We were fortunate to receive the humor, energy and love for talent that she brought to the show."
"I loved Ellen's passion for the artists and her nurturing skills," said Fuller. "She brought honesty and optimism to our judging panel and I will miss her greatly."

"We will miss Ellen, she has been the consummate professional throughout her time on the show, and she'll always be part of the American Idol family," added Frot-Coutaz.

American Idol is coming off of what was widely considered a lackluster season that finished down 9% year-to-year. And while the show is still the top-rated program on television, it is seen as vulnerable in the wake of Cowell's exit.

Fox executives will present their fall lineup to the media Aug. 1 at the Television Critics Association summer Press Tour and there is speculation that contracts could be finalized in time for an announcement. There could be an announcement about Lythgoe rejoining the show even sooner.

Variety first reported the news Thursday.