'American Idol' Judges Through the Years in Honor of the Show's 20th Anniversary

American Idol has turned everyday people into the world's biggest stars since its premiere in 2002 — launching the careers of Grammy Award-winning artists like Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Jennifer Hudson and more. In honor of the singing show's 20th premiere anniversary, here's a look at the judges who've played a role in turning contestants' dreams into reality

Lionel Richie cover
Photo: Eric McCandless/ABC/Getty
01 of 14

Randy Jackson

Randy Jackson Simon Cowell
Kevork Djansezian/Getty

Randy Jackson started on American Idol in 2002, and was one of the original three judges on the panel. Known for his unique vocabulary on the show — "dawg" and "pitchy" — Jackson holds the record as the longest-serving judge in the show's history.

Prior to hosting American Idol, he had a music career of his own — while also serving as an A&R executive at Columbia Records and MCA Records.

Following Idol, Jackson toured with rock band Journey as bassist. He also made his FOX return for the network's reality-reboot of Name that Tune in 2021, where he served as the show's bandleader.

American Idol judge: Seasons 1-12

02 of 14

Simon Cowell

Simon Cowell

Simon Cowell joined Jackson as one of the original three judges on the American Idol panel for its premiere in 2002. Despite his rather harsh and blunt critiques, Cowell was beloved — and helped sculpt the careers of many that graced the stage, both on and off the show.

Prior to his judging stint on American Idol, Cowell saw success as an English record executive, producer and talent scout in the 1980s and 1990s. He also held judging titles on British reality competitions Pop Idol and The X Factor UK.

After Idol, Cowell continued his work in launching the careers of artists and bands, such as One Direction, Fifth Harmony and Leona Lewis. He also has served as a judge on America's Got Talent since 2016.

American Idol judge: Seasons 1-9

03 of 14

Paula Abdul

Paula Abdul American Idol
Eric McCandless/Getty

Paula Abdul completed the trio on the original American Idol judging panel, sitting alongside Cowell and Jackson. She was known for her sweet comments, in contrast to Cowell's often hard critiques.

Prior to American Idol, Abdul was a singer, dancer, and performer in her own right, known for choreographing music videos for Janet Jackson while topping Billboard Hot 100 charts with hit singles "Straight Up" and "Forever Your Girl," among others.

Following Idol, Abdul continued her choreography career, while also appearing as a judge on The X Factor, Live to Dance, So You Think You Can Dance and The Masked Dancer.

American Idol judge: Seasons 1-8

04 of 14

Kara DioGuardi

Kara DioGuardi American Idol
Kevin Winter/American Idol 2009/Getty/FOX

Kara DioGuardi joined the American Idol judging panel as a fourth addition in 2009 for its eighth season. She opened up in her autobiography, A Helluva High Note, about her negative experiences on the show.

Prior to her American Idol stint, DioGuardi was a successful singer, songwriter, producer and executive vice president of talent development at Warner Bros. Records.

Following Idol, she continued her work in music production, expanding her song catalogue to hundreds — while working with artists such as Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears, Kelly Clarkson and more.

DioGuardi also made her Broadway debut as Roxie Hart in Chicago in 2011.

American Idol judge: Seasons 8-9

05 of 14

Ellen DeGeneres

Ellen Degeneres american idol
American Idol Prod/Fox Tv Network/Fremantle Media North America/Kobal/Shutterstock

Ellen DeGeneres joined the American Idol judging panel in 2010, replacing Abdul for the show's ninth season. Known for her comedic comments, she accompanied DioGuardi as the second female on the dais, alongside Jackson and Cowell.

Prior to American Idol, DeGeneres was a stand-up comic, and host of her eponymous daytime talk show since 2003.

Following her one-season stint on Idol, she continued her hosting gig on The Ellen DeGeneres Showwhich is set to wrap in 2022 after its 19-season run.

American Idol judge: Seasons 9

06 of 14

Steven Tyler

Steven Tyler american idol

Steven Tyler joined the American Idol judging panel on season 10, replacing Cowell after his nine-season run. Known for his sense of humor, while also providing solid feedback, the newcomer sat alongside veteran Jackson.

In addition to American Idol, the multitalented musician is the frontman and lead singer of the Boston-based rock band Aerosmith — known for his high-energy performances, on-stage acrobatics and trademark scarves hanging from his microphone stand.

"Dream On" and "Sweet Emotion" are among his catalogue of chart-topping hits. Tyler and the band were set for a European tour in 2022, but cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

American Idol judge: Seasons 10-11

07 of 14

Jennifer Lopez


Jennifer Lopez joined Tyler as a newbie on the American Idol judging panel the same year. She stayed for two back-to-back seasons, took a hiatus, and returned to the show for three more seasons to share her music knowledge with the contestants.

Prior to American Idol, Lopez held a number of acting roles in titles such as 1997's Selena and 1998's Out of Sight — but is most known for her acclaimed music career, with an estimated 55 million records sold worldwide.

Grammy-nominated hits, "Let's Get Loud" and "Waiting for Tonight" are among her long list of smash singles.

American Idol judge: Seasons 10-11, 13-15

08 of 14

Mariah Carey

Mariah Carey american idol
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Mariah Carey stepped in for Tyler when he left in season 12, joining Jackson on the American Idol judging panel — alongside two additional newcomers, Keith Urban and Nicki Minaj, in 2012.

Prior to serving as an American Idol judge, Carey made a surprise appearance on the show in season 7 as a guest mentor for the contestants.

Carey has had a wildly accomplished music career since her self-titled, debut album in 1990. The multi-platinum recording artist, known for her extensive vocal range and iconic holiday hit "All I Want for Christmas is You," has sold approximately 200 million albums over two decades.

With five Grammy wins to her name, a few of Carey's most popular songs include "Fantasy," "Always Be My Baby" and "Vision of Love."

American Idol judge: Season 12

09 of 14

Nicki Minaj

Nicki Minaj American Idol
Kevin Winter/Getty

Nicki Minaj joined Carey as a newcomer to the American Idol judging panel for season 12, alongside Urban and Jackson. During her time on the show, she became known for giving contestants nicknames — "Nicki Names" — such as "Finger Lickin' Good," "Secret Squirrel" and "Joe Jumanji" in an attempt to better remember their names.

Prior to American Idol, the singer and rapper released two albums that went platinum, Pink Friday in 2010 and Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded in 2012 — spawning hit-singles "Super Bass" and "Starships," among others.

Since Idol, Minaj continued her work in music — receiving Grammy nominations, topping Billboard Hot 100 charts and collaborating with artists such as Ariana Grande, Katy Perry and Migos.

American Idol judge: Season 12

10 of 14

Keith Urban

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Urban completed the trio of new judges for season 12, alongside Jackson — who marked his final year on the American Idol panel after a 12 season-long run in 2013. Urban was known for his kind critiques and warm personality, providing his expertise to the contestants that auditioned.

Prior to American Idol, Urban sat on the judging panel for the Australian version of the reality singing show The Voice in 2011. He also performed on Idol during the season 8 finale.

Following his time judging on the show, the four-time Grammy Award-winning artist jumped back into his successful career as a country musician.

American Idol judge: Seasons 12-15

11 of 14

Harry Connick Jr.

Harry Connick Jr. american idol
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Harry Connick Jr. entered the show's competitive singing scene when he joined the American Idol judging panel alongside Urban and returning Lopez for season 13. Though Connick Jr. had a sense of humor — his critiques sometimes came off a little harsh.

Prior to holding the title as an official American Idol judge, he served as a mentor on the show in season 9. The New Orleans-born crooner is credited for reviving the big band genre of music through his work in composing the soundtrack to the 1989 film, When Harry Met Sally.

In addition to achieving immense career success in both jazz and big band music — the three-time Grammy winner has a number of acting credits as well, appearing on NBC's Will & Grace and in 1996's Independence Day, among others.

Following his run on Idol, Connick Jr. produced and hosted his eponymous talk show Harry on CBS from 2016-2018. He also played Daddy Warbucks in NBC's Annie Live! in 2021.

American Idol judge: Seasons 13-15

12 of 14

Katy Perry

Katy Perry
Katy Perry. ABC

In 2018, American Idol saw a completely new panel of judges — bringing in Katy Perry, Luke Bryan, and Lionel Richie. Perry has opened up in the past about how the process reminds her of her own musical journey, and how she is inspired by the hopeful contestants who audition.

Prior to officially becoming a judge on American Idol, she served as a guest judge in season 9. The singer released chart-topping hits "I Kissed a Girl," "Teenage Dream," "Roar" and "Dark Horse" before her judging debut.

Perry returned to the dais for American Idol's 20th season, alongside Bryan and Richie, for another exciting competition.

American Idol judge: Seasons 16-present

13 of 14

Lionel Richie

Lionel Ritchie American Idol
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Lionel Richie also returned to the American Idol judging panel for his fifth season since his debut in 2018. Known for his sophisticated and compassionate comments, the music legend always expresses wise words to the contestants.

Prior to American Idol, Richie rose to fame in the 1970s as the co-lead singer of the Commodores. Considered Motown royalty, he trailblazed alongside Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross and Michael Jackson to change the name of American pop.

"Easy," "Sail On," "Three Times a Lady" and "Still" are among the four-time Grammy Award-winner's hits.

American Idol judge: Seasons 16-present

14 of 14

Luke Bryan

American Idol judges : Luke Bryan, Katy Perry and Lionel Richie
Luke Bryan, Katy Perry, and Lionel Richie. Allen Berezovsky/Getty

Joining Perry and Richie in their fifth-season return for American Idol's 20th season was country star Luke Bryan. His friendly face and feedback are comforting to the contestants, and his fun company is enjoyed by his fellow judges.

Prior to American Idol, Bryan made his mark in country music. His first nine albums included 23 number-one hits, and he's won more than 50 awards throughout his acclaimed career.

Among some of his top hits include "Country Girl (Shake It for Me)," "Drink a Beer" and "Drunk on You."

American Idol judge: Seasons 16-present

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