Jennifer Lopez Quitting Idol: "I Don't Think That's True," Says Nigel Lythgoe—but Does He Have Backup Plan?

American Idol executive producer says mentor Jimmy Iovine will never join the Fox hit series' judges' panel

By Tierney Bricker May 18, 2012 6:03 PMTags
Jennifer LopezBruja/Juan Sharma,

Is Jennifer Lopez really leaving American Idol?

That's the question on everyone's mind heading into next week's season 11 grand finale, which could very well be Lopez's final appearance on the show as a judge. We just chatted with executive producer Nigel Lythgoe about of Jennifer's possible exit, what it would mean for the show if she did depart and why doing the show is "a major problem for any artist."

Plus, does Nigel already have a replacement in mind for Jennifer?

"I don't believe that's true," Nigel says, despite multiple sources close to Lopez telling us she plans to walk after this season. However, Nigel is quick to point out that her exit from the show would not be something he takes lightly.

"It would mean a great deal to the show . I've said in the past, we've got the world's most beautiful judge, somebody who speaks from her heart. Somebody who I trust their integrity," he explains. "It would mean starting all over again with a new judge and getting them up to speed. It's not easy. It's not easy criticizing people and doing it in a manner that isn't just chopping their knees from underneath them, but hopefully coaching them."

Sources tell E! News that Jennifer's "busy" schedule could force her to leave the show after two seasons. One insider insists that the move isn't an attempt to get a bigger contract once her current one-year deal, estimated to be worth $20 million, expires after a winner is crowned next week.

"This is a major problem for any artist," Nigel says of the rigid filming schedule of Idol. "We gave out dates last night in June for next season and then we got through that whole process, which take something like four months to do. We've got to find dates that suit everybody with the judges because it's not just Jennifer. Don't forget Aerosmith is going on tour, Randy Jackson's got albums to produce and Ryan Seacrest is ruling the world at the moment. It's got to fit everybody and it's difficult."

Nigel says Jennifer is going to have to ask herself some important questions before making the decision to continue with the show. 

"You've got to start making decisions: Do I want to carry on doing this? Do I want to go off and make movies?" he explains. "She's had a wonderful resurgence with being the most beautiful woman in the world, two No. 1 records, she's doing brilliantly. She's going to have to balance everything up."

While Jennifer says she has yet to make any decisions regarding her future with Idol, Nigel isn't looking into any replacements just yet. "I do not have people in mind. I only do that when I'm forced into it." 

One person who definitely wouldn't replace the What to Expect When You're Expecting star? The contestants' mentor Jimmy Iovine

"I'm very happy with our judges. I do think that they speak from the heart. They speak with intelligence. They speak, obviously, with insight. When they don't, or if they screw up, I got Jimmy Iovine on the sidelines to castigate them," he says. "I like that position. A lot of people have suggested that Jimmy comes on as a judge. I would hate that. That wouldn't allow me to ask somebody what they think about the judges. "