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EntertainmentColumnistsVerne Gay

'American Idol' search for new judges sees many names in the mix

Jennifer Lopez performs her new single

Jennifer Lopez performs her new single "Dance Again" on "American Idol" in May. Photo Credit: Fox

Time to play the "American Idol" name game.

It's easy. Just pick a name, then wait for a gossip site to report your selection as a "possible" replacement for judges Jennifer Lopez, Randy Jackson or Steven Tyler.

In just under two days, these names have been floated by E!: Adam Lambert,, Fergie, Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus and Nicki Minaj. (Lambert told a British radio station Monday that he'd been unaware of the reports, but called it "a beautiful rumor" and said he would "jump at the chance" if he were approached.)

TMZ Tuesday added Jerry Lewis and Charlie Sheen to the "Idol" judging mix, though conceded that its tipster, producer Nigel Lythgoe, may have been kidding.

A spokesman for "Idol" declined to comment.

Now, some clarity. You have a judging panel with an aggregate salary in the $30-million-plus range -- and this for a season that saw declines in both ratings and ad revenue.

Fox and production company FremantleMedia -- under new management, with Cecile Frot-Coutaz just appointed chief executive -- want Lopez back, but suspect she'll want Britney Spears "X Factor" money (reportedly about $15 million, though some guesstimates have gone wildly higher). Tyler and Jackson aren't looking to take haircuts, which means if the three were to be signed right now, the network and production partners could conceivably be looking at a nut of around $40 million to $50 million.

That's quite a nut for: "Man, that was just a brilliant adaptation of 'Alone'/'When a Man Loves a Woman'/'Against All Odds.' Viewers have got to get you through to the next round."

Fox/Fremantle want to keep salary levels even or -- best-case scenario -- slash them. So what do you do? Begin the process. Get the rumors out there. Make Jackson and Tyler, even Lopez, sweat. Float a list of names -- Hey, why not Justin Bieber?

In other words, play the name game. It costs nothing, after all.

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