Some say departing "American Idol" judge Simon Cowell is "irreplaceable," but critics sure are having fun predicting who might fill the acid-tongue music mogul's chair next year. The short-list of would-successors includes unemployed comedians, iconic celebrities, and suitably surly industry insiders. (Watch talk show host Wendy Williams give her surprising pick.) Here, a comprehensive guide to the pros and cons of the top six "next big Cowells." What do you think?
THE WISE GUYS:
Selling points: NBC's former "Late Night" host is newly unemployed, says Buzz Brady at Irish Central. He's also a music aficionado: he once "devoted a full week of shows to U2" and "loves to play air guitar."
Stumbling blocks: Coco lacks Cowell's "killer punch" and British accent, says Tom Jicha at the Sun Sentinel. And giving up his role as funny frontman — in favor of sneering at "comically bad" amateurs — might not appeal to the stand-up star.
Selling points: This "catty" blogger mastered callous criticism long ago, says James Montgomery at MTV. Celeb-basher Hilton's also got experience: he served as a judge at last year's Miss USA pageant.
Stumbling blocks: Dedicated fashionista Hilton has "zero musical knowledge," says Courtney Howe at Celebrity Cafe. Another problem: His tendency to launch personal vendettas against those (like Carrie Prejean, the anti-gay-marriage beauty queen) whose beliefs conflict with his own.
Other comic contenders: Ellen DeGeneres, Jamie Foxx, Rosie O'Donnell
Selling points: "Her Madgesty" is famously "outspoken" and "cantankerous," notes Michael Slezak at EW.com, and has proven star power. "Idol" would ensure she kept "her pop-cultural relevancy well into her 60s."
Stumbling blocks: Madonna might not want to slow down just yet, says Maddy Wyatt at Limewire. "Our Lady of Perpetual Motion" is touring the world promoting her new album, "Hard Candy." Though she knows the industry inside-out, could she "sit behind a desk" long enough?
LA TOYA JACKSON
Selling points: Michael Jackson's older sister has plenty of reality TV experience, says Theresa at Right TV. Although she turned down "Dancing With the Stars" after her brother died, she has appeared on the one-season "Armed & Famous" and "UK Celebrity Big Brother."
Stumbling blocks: Jackson's said she'd like to give the Idol audience "a chance...to know the real me." But what could viewers learn, says Ree Hines at MSNBC, that they "haven't already gleaned from her two Playboy pictorials, Playboy video, and numerous tell-all interviews"?
Other musical contenders: Elton John, Lady Gaga, Ben Folds, Quentin Tarantino, Pharrell Williams, Kanye West, P. Diddy, Amy Winehouse, various members of "Jersey Shore"
THE INDUSTRY INSIDERS:
Selling Points: Like Cowell, the host of "America's Got Talent" has a lifetime of industry experience, acerbic wit, and a British accent, says Angela Henderson at the Huntington Herald Dispatch. He was the top pick in one poll of 1000 Americans (followed by Quincy Jones and Diddy).
Stumbling blocks: Morgan's artfully "cagey" about whether he'd leave "Talent" for "Idol", says Idolwatch at Sodahead. And his stinging criticisms might be too harsh even for "Idol" audiences. As the BBC puts it, Cowell is the "man people love to hate," and Morgan is "the man people just hate."
Selling points: Mariah Carey's ex-husband spent 15 years as chief of Sony music, says Gil Kaufman at MTV. He's got a proven track record of nurturing major talents (Michael Jackson) and "helped launch the careers" of John Mellencamp, George Michael, and Jessica Simpson.
Stumbling blocks: As respected as Mottola is, the industry mogul's "camera readiness" remains "unknown," says Nikki Finke at Deadline Hollywood. He's also unknown outside the industry — a problem if "Idol" execs need a "high-profile" figure to give the show some familiar "gravitas."
Other corporate contenders: Linda Perry, Guy Oseary, Jimmy Iovine, Rodney Jerkins