It's time to get a bigger table.
Five months before the new season of American Idol is set to kick off (and apparently trying to steal some of Dancing With the Stars' thunder), producers are shaking things up in a big way, messing with what was until now a winning formula and adding a fourth permanent judge to the table.
"Believe me, it's outta nowhere for me, too," DioGuardi assured shocked viewers on Ryan Seacrest's KIIS-FM radio show this morning.
"I got a call from my agent, saying, you know, they're looking for a fourth judge, and I was like, 'Uh, do you have the wrong number? Why are you calling me?'
"So they met with me, and three days ago I got the call to go to New York—and here I am."
The Grammy nominee's name may not be familiar to Idol viewers, but her sound should be. DioGuardi has strong ties to the behind-the-scenes world of Idol, writing tracks for David Cook, David Archuleta, Carrie Underwood, Clay Aiken, Bo Bice, Katharine McPhee and Taylor Hicks.
She has also more than earned her credentials outside the Idol universe, penning hits for Britney Spears, Jonas Brothers, Gwen Stefani, Christina Aguilera, Celine Dion, Faith Hill, Paris Hilton, Avril Lavigne, Lindsay Lohan, Leona Lewis, Natasha Bedingfield, Santana, Hilary Duff, Simpsons Jessica and Ashlee and just about any other artist who's cracked Billboard's Top 10 in recent years.
And if viewers are wondering where on the judges' scale of causticity she'll fall...
"It's hard for me to not be honest," she said. "I'm known to be very exclamatory...My vibe is to the point, and I can be pretty tough at times, but also nurturing when I need to be."
The Idol brain trust, meanwhile, doesn't seem too concerned with altering the show's chemistry, despite the fact that they have tried and spectacularly failed once before.
"We are turning the heat up on Idol this year and are thrilled to welcome Kara to the judges' table," creator and executive producer Simon Fuller said. "She is a smart, sassy lady, and one of America's most successful songwriters.
"We know she will bring a new level of energy and excitement to the show."
Fellow executive producer Cécile Frot-Coutaz added that the series had intended from the outset to have a four-judge panel, as both its British predecessor Pop Idol and current counterpart X Factor do.
"We've seen from our international series that having a fourth judge creates a dynamic that benefits both the contestants and the viewers."
But not always the judges.
Producers tried once before to add a fourth judge to the Idol mix, hiring New York DJ Angie Martinez to join the second season of the show. She lasted just five days before quitting, after revealing she had never bothered to watch an episode before signing on.
Martinez issued a statement at the time saying it was "too uncomfortable for me to tell someone else to give up on their dream," and producers quickly reverted back to the three-judge panel.
For her part, DioGuardi said she's worried about being the "new kid on the block," warning her fellow judges to "kind of, like, go easy with me a little bit," but said she was nonetheless "just flattered that they asked me to join them."
And lest any haters try to pit her against fellow female judge Abdul, DioGuardi actually credits the onetime pop star with being "one of the first people to believe in" her—she cowrote a song with Abdul for Kylie Minogue when she was first starting out.
"I owe Paula a lot, yeah. I'm gonna give her a big fat kiss when I see her."
As for her other new colleagues, DioGuardi called Jackson, whom she has worked with in the studio, "the most jovial guy with the greatest energy...I'm a big fan of his."
And Cowell, she said, gave her a congratulatory phone call over the weekend. "He was very encouraging and cool and welcomed me...made me feel like I don't need to be so scared."
Since DioGuardi only just joined the panel, she will likely not make her Idol debut until slightly later in the season, having missed out on the majority of the open auditions, which kicked off in San Francisco July 17.
She joins the judges' table for the first time this week with the New York auditions.
(Originally published Aug. 25, 2008, at 7:20 a.m. PT.)