All 14 of the 'American Idol' Judges, Ranked

From Katy Perry to Simon Cowell

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Over the years, we’ve seen quite a few transitions take place with American Idol judges. First, it was Paula Abdul, Simon Cowell and Randy Jackson who made up the ultimate trio. Then, things started to shift when songwriter Kara DioGuardi joined the panel in season eight. While discussing the change, Executive Producer Ken Warwick told CNN, "She's very strong-willed, and we needed that with Simon around."

Fast-forward to the present day, and we've seen a total of 14 stars—from comedians to Grammy-winning icons— make their way to the judging panel. And now, with season 22 fast approaching, fans are excited to see their new favorite trio (Katy PerryLuke Bryan and Lionel Richie) return as judges on February 18, 2024.

We'll be counting down the days, but for now, here's a full ranking of all the American Idol judges.

american idol judges mariah carey
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14. Mariah Carey 

  • Seasons: 12
  • Where is she now? Back in the studio. In an interview with Good Morning America in November 2023, she confirmed that she’s working on new music.

The five-time Grammy winner and Queen of Christmas is easily one of the most influential people in the music industry. However, it turns out that offering constructive criticism to contestants on Idol wasn’t her strong suit. While chatting with Australia’s KIIS-FM in 2015, the singer admitted that it was a challenge for her to come up with responses after each audition. Per Fox News, she said, “It’s just, ‘Let’s make up things to say to people.’ If it’s a good performance, just leave it at that…Just say it’s good.”

Furthermore, her contributions were often overshadowed by her publicized feud with fellow judge, Nicki Minaj. And she has been quite vocal about how much she disliked the experience. In an interview with Hot 97, she said, "Honestly, I hated it. It was like hell. Going to work every day in hell with Satan."

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13. Ellen DeGeneres

  • Seasons: 9
  • Where is she now? After her stint on Idol, she hosted The Ellen DeGeneres Show until 2022. Later that year, she debuted her docu-style series, About Time For Yourself…with Ellen, on her YouTube channel.

She scored a whopping 33 Daytime Emmy Awards for her talk show, hosted major award shows (including the Grammys) and even tried her hand at acting. However, DeGeneres doesn’t have much experience with music, which is why many were surprised to learn that the comedian would replace Paula Abdul as a judge on season nine. 

DeGeneres served as a judge for just one season, and while she added plenty of humor, she typically offered little to no advice that could help the contestants. According to the Los Angeles Times, she said, “[American Idol] didn’t feel like the right fit for me…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.”

american idol judges kara
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12. Kara DioGuardi 

  • Seasons: 8, 9
  • Where is she now? She’s currently the Co-CEO and founder of Arthouse Entertainment Publishing & Records and Briidge App.

In 2009, DioGuardi joined the original trio as the fourth American Idol judge, and it’s safe to say that fans didn’t take too well to seeing a successful formula get tampered with. Worse yet, most of DioGuardi’s feedback revolved around the contestants’ personalities and appearance, and she caused quite a stir by upstaging former contestant Katrina Darrell (aka Bikini Girl) in season eight.

While discussing her time on the show, she told People, “Being on Idol changed my thinking. Being around the other judges really inspires me. I feel like the sky is the limit. I am just a songwriter who is lucky enough to be on American Idol.”

american idol judges steven tyler
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11. Steven Tyler 

  • Seasons: 10, 11
  • Where is he now? As of now, Tyler is taking a break from performing due to a vocal cord injury. Following his recovery, he will likely resume Aerosmith's farewell tour in 2024.

Thanks to the veteran rockstar's eccentric personality and enthusiasm, his addition to the show was initially seen as a major plus. But when it came to his critiques of the Idol contestants' performances, fans noticed that he didn't have much to say, aside from complimenting their appearance and stage presence.

While he described the gig as "over-the-top fun," he told Rolling Stone that being a judge and mentor on the series wasn't his true passion. He said, "After some long, hard thoughts, I've decided it's time for me to let go of my mistress American Idol before she boils my rabbit. I strayed from my first love, Aerosmith, and I’m back."

american idol judges luke bryan
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10. Luke Bryan

  • Seasons: 16-22
  • Where is he now? Aside from working on Idol, Bryan is doing live shows in North America until October 2024.

He's a charming, kind-hearted soul who went as far as offering a contestant his own cowboy boots after noticing his shoes had holes in them. And while we love that he's quick to dish out compliments with a smile, it can feel like he's being a bit too easy on the contestants.

While discussing his Idol gig, he told People, “I’m there to get involved in the emotion of the show. And sometimes what you’re trying to say is not going to land perfectly. But for the most part, I know when I sit down behind that desk at American Idol, me and Lionel and Katy are doing our best and coming from a place of love and compassion.” 

american idol judges nicki minaj
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9. Nicki Minaj

  • Seasons: 12
  • Where is she now? She released Pink Friday 2 in December 2023, and will start her Pink Friday 2 World Tour in March 2024.

Minaj balanced her unfiltered commentary with plenty of encouragement, making her one of the most down-to-earth judges on Idol. However, we can't ignore the fact that some of her feedback had nothing to do with singing. For instance, when Naomi Morris auditioned in season 12, Minaj simply complimented her outfit and recommended that she add some fake lashes to elevate her look.

Even so, Minaj became a fan favorite because of her blunt honesty. She told The Hollywood Reporter, "I know that sometimes when I speak really in a blunt way, people take that as me not loving and caring about these people but I really do. I feel like they're family to me, but I think that I'm not doing them a service if I blow smoke up their a**, I just refuse to do that."

american idol judges lionel richie
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8. Lionel Richie

  • Seasons: 16-22
  • Where is he now? In addition to judging on Idol, Richie is currently doing live shows in Las Vegas until October 2024.

The soul legend knows how to command a room with his wisdom and compassion, and there have been instances where he offered some helpful advice, thanks to his decades-long career. Still, his feedback often falls into the emotional pep talk category—whether he's assuring them that they're destined to be stars or telling them that their voices are perfect.

Overall, though, the Grammy winner is making a positive impact, and it's because he can relate to the artists. He told Live Nation, "Being a judge on American Idol has given me the greatest joy in the world, because I've been there, done that. It's not one of those things where I'm imagining what they're feeling. I know exactly what they're feeling, and what we try to do is encourage."

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7. Keith Urban 

  • Seasons: 12-15
  • Where is he now? Urban dropped his latest song, "I Told You So," in November 2023, and he's currently on tour until October 2024.

It was always a treat to see the Grammy winner offer solid feedback in a genuine and thoughtful way. So, understandably, contestants were easily won over by his charm and sincerity—especially in Nashville.

The country star was thrilled to return to Idol as a mentor in 2023. He told People, "To be able to come in as a mentor, and play as well, is incredible. That was home for me for several seasons, and the mentoring part is probably one of the things I always enjoyed the most, getting to work with the artist one-on-one."

american idol judges randy jackson
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6. Randy Jackson

  • Seasons: 1-12
  • Where is he now? He currently serves as bandleader on the revival of Name That Tune.

The Grammy-winning musician is known for his go-to phrases (like "dawg" and "he's in it to win it"), but his honesty and easygoing demeanor make him one of the most memorable judges on the show.

While speaking with Yahoo! Music about his time on the show, he said, "This is a tough, hard, mean, give-zero-Fs business. Being honest with someone—if you're terrible, you're terrible. Wouldn't you want to know that? Maybe me saying you're terrible is going to help you get your thing together. Maybe you're gonna go back to the drawing board, like, 'No, I'm gonna defeat the Dawg!'"

american idol judges katy perry
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5. Katy Perry 

  • Seasons: 16-22
  • Where is she now? In August 2023, Perry revealed that she is working on new music, although she has yet to confirm when her new album will be released.

Perry is delightfully bubbly and funny, but she also knows how to give constructive feedback without shattering a person's confidence, which makes her one of the most entertaining judges to watch on Idol. (Don't believe us? Just take a moment to revisit some of her best moments.)

While discussing her approach as a judge on the series, she told Refinery 29, "I’m cautious. People come in with their stories. And before they even sing one note, they’ll say something like, 'I’m homeless,' and that will impact the way you perceive them. But if they really can’t sing, the personal story has to come second. I hope that I don’t get turned into 'the bitch' because of that, but I also know that the music industry does not need just another singer."

american idol judges jennifer lopez
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4. Jennifer Lopez

  • Seasons: 10, 11, 13-16
  • Where is she now? The singer dropped her latest single, "Can't Get Enough," in January 2024 and her new musical film, This Is Me…Now, drops in February 2024.

Given that J.Lo has been dominating in the music industry for more than two decades, it comes as no surprise that she offered detailed criticism of the contestants' singing abilities and stage presence. What made her stand out, however, was her kind and authentic approach. Plus, her chemistry with Jackson and Tyler was top-notch.

While chatting with People, J.Lo got candid about how the series affected her public image. She said, "I always felt like people knew who I was, like they could feel my heart. But I realized that, until American Idol, they really didn't, until they saw it in front of them. They really saw, 'Oh, she's a person she loves music, she's super emotional, she cares, all of those things' made me more human to them." 

american idol judges simon
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3. Simon Cowell

  • Seasons: 1-9
  • Where is he now? He serves as a judge on America's Got Talent: Fantasy League.

We know, we know. Cowell's brutal honesty was sharp and, at times, really rude, but it was refreshing to see that he didn't sugar-coat his opinions. He demonstrated a natural eye for talent, and while his words came off as insensitive, they motivated contestants to hone their vocal skills and bounce back even stronger.

While chatting with Oprah magazine about who would replace him after his departure in 2010, he said, "Over the years, judges have been replaced by personalities. That, in the long term, will create problems because you have to be able to spot a star. My advice has always been to find somebody who actually knows what they're talking about and has actually experienced success in the music business."

american idol judges paula
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2. Paula Abdul

  • Seasons: 1-8
  • Where is she now? She served as a guest judge on Dancing with the Stars in the 32nd season, and she's now on the producing team of the Broadway musical, How to Dance in Ohio.

Abdul taught us all a lesson on how to be honest, kind and sincere with her criticism, which turned out to be a fascinating contrast to Cowell's blunt and straightforward approach. This made their disagreements all the more entertaining to watch—but don't worry. As it turns out, there was no rivalry between the judges in real life. In fact, they were good friends.

"The best moments were when we were just laughing hysterically," she said on an episode of Idol. "Through all the ups and downs of our relationship, he actually taught me to be very strong, and for that I'm grateful."

american idol judges harry
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1. Harry Connick Jr.

  • Seasons: 13-15
  • Where is he now? Connick did a brief Australian tour in 2023, and also signed on to be a judge on the revival of Australian Idol.

This might ruffle some feathers, but hear us out. Connick Jr. is not just a musical genius. He's also quite perceptive and he genuinely cares about helping the artists succeed. He offered feedback that was technical and very specific. Plus, he was quick to remind them that it takes a lot more than charisma and stage presence to be a standout artist.

When asked about what he enjoyed most about being a judge and mentor on the series, he told Risen Magazine, "I like people that are serious about wanting to learn. There is a different kind of relationship I have with people that are genuinely interested, than the ones that don’t really care and do their own thing. I like the ones that are interested because there is a respect there."

He added, "If they are serious about becoming an artist, the ones that are smart are going to listen and learn everything that they can...When you find someone that has been there before you and has a little more experience, you ask questions and you listen very closely to what they say."

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nakeisha campbell bio

Associate Editor, News and Entertainment

Nakeisha has been interviewing celebrities and covering all things entertainment for over 8 years, but she has also written on a wide range of topics, like career...