Mariah Carey joins 'American Idol'

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Paula Abdul, Jennifer Lopez and now … Mariah Carey.

Fox just made it official: Carey is the latest successful pop diva to join American Idol. The 42-year-old will join the judges table for season 12.

As reported in this week’s issue of EW, Carey has been the leading contender to join the panel this summer, which has seen a flurry of celebrity names floated in the press as possible candidates. Sources conflict on Carey’s salary, putting the number between $15 and $18 million. Either way, Carey is likely taking home more than Lopez’ first year ($12 million) and second year ($15 million) salary on the show. Lopez, sources say, was holding out for $20 million to return for a third round.

“It’s the biggest recording artist than any of these [singing competition] shows have ever had,” Fox entertainment president Kevin Reilly told critics at their press tour in Beverly Hills on Monday. “It’s an artist many contestants have tried to emulate, tried to hit the songs, hit the notes. [The deal] only concluded only hours ago.”

The move comes on the heels of Steven Tyler exiting the hit singing competition, and Fox being unable to convince Lopez to sign on for a third round. Lopez was holding out for a raise beyond her $15 million second-year salary and took to the media to proclaim that she was almost certainly leaving the show. If there was a slight chance of Lopez staying before, it vanished once Fox signed Carey — Fox won’t pay for two high-priced female vocalists.

“I think I can say it’s 100 percent that Jennifer won’t be back on the show,” Reilly said, adding after the panel: “We were waiting for the Mariah deal [to announce Lopez was leaving] … once Jennifer declared she was comfortable moving on, we made the decision.”

Earlier in the morning, Idol executive producer Nigel Lythgoe (who’s not involved in the judges talks) expressed hope that Lopez would change her mind. “I was really upset to hear of Steven leaving us and the possibility of Jennifer leaving us. She did say ’99 percent.’ Strange thing to say, ’99 percent.’ You’re either leaving or not leaving. I’m hoping she’s not leaving.” Lythgoe is involved in his own negotiations to return to the show and insiders expect he’ll stay on board.

Despite some reports to the contrary, veteran judge Randy Jackson (who, as it so happens, is Carey’s manager and was involved in her negotiations) is now expected to stay on board, though nothing has yet been announced. “We have a close relationship with Randy, he’s a very important part of the television show,” Reilly said. “Within the next week or so we’ll confirm that.”

Either way, Fox is expected to now focus on its search for another male judge. One dark horse (and attractively low budget) candidate is former American Idol contestant Adam Lambert. Reilly notes there are plenty of possible candidates including some “nobodies,” but suspects the new judge will be “something to talk about.” Reilly expects to have the rest of the panel firmed up within the next two weeks.

Fox’s decision to shake up Idol was effectively made months ago. In recent years, changing Idol‘s panel has typically resulted in a ratings spike, at least at the start of the season. For this year’s 11th season, Fox decided to leave the panel unchanged from the previous year and the series suffered the largest ratings drop in the show’s history. Though the show’s audience was still huge, averaging 18 million viewers per week, ratings were down 23 percent.

“I think change is going to be a part of the show going forward,” Reilly said. “We’re 12 years old, we got to keep it fresh … the audience wants to see some discovery of something new on the bench so we’re going to keep playing with the formula.”

What do you think? Will Mariah Carey improve Idol‘s ratings?

UPDATE: Simon Cowell says ‘Idol’ may be difficult for Mariah Carey

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