'X Factor' shake-up: Paula Abdul, Nicole Scherzinger out

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UPDATED: Paula Abdul is leaving Fox’s The X Factor.

So is fellow judge Nicole Scherzinger.

And so is host Steve Jones.

Sources near the show confirm all three stars will not return for X Factor‘s second season next fall, though Fox has only officially acknowledged the departure of Jones and Scherzinger. The stunning X Factor exodus marks a dramatic day of network reality-show bloodletting.

The events cap weeks of speculation about whether Scherzinger and Jones will continue on the show. Abdul’s future with the series has been speculated about too, but less so — especially given her longtime friendship and working history with Factor judge and executive producer Simon Cowell.

The departures will leave Cowell and record producer L.A. Reid, both judges on the show, as the only returning on-air talent.

Fox and Cowell are determined to make changes to the series after a first season that performed solidly, but fell short of what many felt was the show’s high potential given its ratings dominance in the U.K. (Factor delivered about 12.6 million viewers and a 4.4 average rating among adults 18-49 for its Wednesday episodes). The performances of Scherzinger and Jones were particularly panned by critics.

“I won’t be hosting next seasons X Factor which is a shame but I cant complain as I’ve had a great time,” Jones wrote on Twitter. “Good luck to everyone on the show.”

E! News quoted a source close to Scherzinger claiming it was the singer’s idea to leave the show: “She wants to focus on her music career. She’s spoken to Simon [Cowell] and he’s given her his blessing. X Factor took a lot more of her time than she ever expected. She didn’t have any time really to work on her music.”

Earlier this month, Fox entertainment president Kevin Reilly made it pretty clear Jones’ days were numbered when asked about the host at the network’s press tour presentation. “There will be some changes … as we know [hosting] is a much harder job than meets the eye,” he said. “I think everybody has come to see the value of Ryan Seacrest. Whether Steve is the guy or not, it comes under the heading of growth in general.”

Yet the “growth” raises big questions: Who will replace the departing talent? NBC’s midseason competition The Voice raised the bar for reality-competition judges, casting fresher talent like Cee Lo Green and Christina Aguilera. The Voice crew arguably made X Factor‘s judging panel seem stodgy by comparison when it rolled out last fall. Perhaps that’s all the more reason for the shake-up. In any case, one thing is for sure: The X Factor headlines have only just begun.

Fox and reps for Abdul declined to comment.

UPDATE II: Abdul, Cowell and Fox all break their silence, release statements: “We love Paula”

Here’s a moment that some have deemed X Factor‘s lowest point — the ill-advised and seemingly heartless dismissal of 13-year-old Rachel Crow:

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