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'American Idol': Ellen DeGeneres, the new one

Let's talk Ellen.
Let's not talk the contestants - none of them seems particularly memorable so far anyway.

 But Ellen ... possibly the most important change to "Idol" in nine seasons. This has been her first live week, and our first chance to really, really, really see her goods. See what she's like at the table, with contestants, the audience, and of course with Simon.

 And so far - I gotta tell ya - this has not been a memorable first week.

 Now, now, I know what you're gonna say. It's too early. She's gotta get her groove on. She's gotta get comfortable. She's gotta learn the ropes and the style of other judges. And all of that's true.

 But what seems especially evident to me after two nights is this - Ellen's not there, mentally or almost physically. The Ellen we all know and love is not there. She's been kidnapped by aliens and replaced by a rather meek, bland and uninteresting person named ... Ellen. Even the way she's stuck behind that table - after years of seeing her on a comfy chair - seems awkward.

 This is Ellen DeGeneres - one of funniest people on television, a great talent, the next Oprah. But the alien Ellen displays none of that. She is reduced. She is dull. She is intimidated. I just don't get it.

 These are all impressions, and impressions can change, and I do hope in time they do.

 Here would be my suggestions:

1) Use language and humor. Too often she says "I liked that song choice," or "I love the tone of your voice." Yup, Ellen was going to be the "nice" judge, and so far she's delivered on that score. But "nice" can be dull and not always helpful to contestants either. Ellen needs to reach deep into her rhetorical bag and pull out lines, quips, colorful phrases that we'll remember the next day. I actually liked her observation about bananas to Alex Lambert – you know, some voices just aren’t quite ripe yet, etc. More of this, Ellen.  More of this…

2) Passion! Yes, passion.
She must show passion. There's seems to be none. Much of her demeanor seems to be a figurative shrug of the shoulders - she seems deeply committed to no one on stage. I'm not saying she has to get up and swing like Paula, or clap like a wacko, or act silly ... But passion is vital in lieu of a real grounding in music. And - by the way - she's up against judges who have done this show for years now; they've got the music lingo down to an art. If she can't compete - yet - on that playing field, then she can bring to the table the genuine strengths she already has - which is rhetorical speed, humor and a human naturalness that got her into this big tent in the first place.

3) Stick it to Simon. By this, I don't mean be obnoxious, or tiresome or argumentative. But there's no reason, as best I can tell, to not disagree with him now and then. Nothing too pointed - but at least funny, or sharp or insightful. He clearly doesn't like her - that's been obvious from the moment 19 Entertainment announced her, and SiCo didn't even have the grace or good manners to issue a standard "oh she's a wonderful choice, etc."  She could in fact slay Simon with kindness. And don't forget Ellen - he's gone in a few short months. This is your gig now. Not his. He's on the way out. You're in. Act like it. Be assertive. Be strong. Be Ellen...  

That’s my line so far. I’m a big Ellen fan. I want her to do well here. I hope she does…

Photo: "American Idol" judges, from left, Simon Cowell, Ellen DeGeneres, Kara DioGuardi</a> and Randy Jackson (Fox Photo)

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