At today's executive session during Fox's portion of the Television Critics Association press tour, Fox entertainment president Kevin Reilly dramatically took out his phone and dialed Mariah Carey, putting her on speaker to tell the assembled journalists that she's joining American Idol as a judge.
Idol is currently up in the air about its judging situation following the departures of Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler, and Carey has been one of the most-discussed replacements. She's worked with Randy Jackson, whose staying or going remains up in the air, she appeals to the same adult contemporary crowd that has been the show's core constituency, and she's exactly the kind of showy, belty singer that Idol contestants most often aspire to be. She doesn't exactly represent an appeal to a young audience, but Idol hasn't traditionally catered to a young audience (the median age of the Idol audience hovers around 50).
The bigger issue for viewers will be what turns out to be Carey's approach to judging. While the original panel was your basic cold-warm-hot equation Paula was nice, Simon was mean, and Randy was in the middle the most recent panel tended to greet every performance by every performer with the same bland praise, meaning that the show couldn't build stories of anyone getting better, coming back, or suffering setbacks, because the judges cheerfully applauded everything equally. The best thing Carey could do might be to recognize that every performance is not just as good as every other one something even Paula Abdul used to manage.
Reilly was otherwise mum about changes to the show (including Jackson's future), saying that they're in negotiations with some huge stars who are interested in judging, but that it's a matter of coming up with the right mix. Idol saw its ratings dip over the last couple of seasons, particularly as competition grows from shows like Fox's own The X Factor (which is also trying to pour it on this year by adding Britney Spears and Demi Lovato as judges) and especially NBC's The Voice. Whether Mariah Carey can help stem the tide remains to be seen.