'American Idol': Ellen DeGeneres not returning as judge

ellen-degeneres-idol-fox.jpg Ellen DeGeneres is not returning to "American Idol" after her one-season stint on the judges' panel, Zap2it confirms.

DeGeneres says in a statement: "A couple months ago, I let FOX and the 'American Idol' producers know that this didn't feel like the right fit for me."

"I told them I wouldn't leave them in a bind and that I would hold off on doing anything until they were able to figure out where they wanted to take the panel next. It was a difficult decision to make, but my work schedule became more than I bargained for. 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. I loved the experience working on 'Idol' and I am very grateful for the year I had. I am a huge fan of the show and will continue to be."

Fellow departing judge Simon Cowell had this to say, "As I got to know Ellen, I grew to really, really like her. I have huge respect for her because she's always been in control of her own destiny" (via the Hollywood Reporter's Live Feed).

"We love Ellen and understand and support her decision to bow out of 'Idol'," says Peter Rice, Chairman of Entertainment, Fox Networks Group.  "We were fortunate to receive the humor, energy and love for talent that she brought to the show."

"It was a joy to work with Ellen," adds Mike Darnell, President of Alternative Entertainment, Fox Broadcasting Company. "She brought an incredible spirit to 'Idol' and was a great new addition to the team.  While we're saddened by her decision, we are very appreciative that she gave us ample notice so that we could work through it together."

"I loved Ellen's passion for the artists and her nurturing skills," says 'Idol' creator and executive producer Simon Fuller.  "She brought honesty and optimism to our judging panel and I will miss her greatly."

"We will miss Ellen, she has been the consummate professional throughout her time on the show, and she'll always be part of the 'American Idol' family," adds Cecile Frot-Coutaz, 'Idol' executive producer.

The departure of judge Cowell along with Ellen's exit now opens up two spots at the judges' table -- but how many replacement judges will there be? Nigel Lythgoe, who is most likely returning as "Idol" executive producer, tells Zap2it he would start from scratch if he got his way, which may mean a return to the three-judge format.

Cowell's departure from the show has left the entertainment world buzzing about a possible replacement -- Harry Connick Jr., Chris Isaak, Elton John, Justin Timberlake, Bret Michaels  and Jessica Simpson are all names that have been thrown out there. Even Diddy has nominated himself as a possible replacement.

FOX is hoping to make the big Cowell replacement announcement at their Monday, Aug. 2 Summer Press Tour session.

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Photo credit: FOX