OFFBEAT: With Simon Cowell exiting 'American Idol,' who will be the next judge?

Off Beat with Philip Potempa
2010-02-22T00:00:00Z OFFBEAT: With Simon Cowell exiting 'American Idol,' who will be the next judge?By Philip Potempa - philip.potempa@nwi.com, (219) 852-4327 nwitimes.com

The faces are changing at Fox Network's "American Idol."

And I'm not just talking about the revolving door of contestants being chopped down to that magic handful of select few who get to bask in fame's spotlight.

Now, it's the judges who are playing musical chairs.

And with "Mr. Nasty" Simon Cowell calling it quits after this season, there's a prime seat just waiting to be filled.

Since there's already plenty of buzz about the show's host Ryan Seacrest staking his claim to move to Cowell's bigger and more spacious dressing room trailer, my money's on Seacrest as a potential replacement to finally get his turn at the judges' table.

On the subject of judging, I've done plenty of contest judging over the years, with food often as the tasty talent favorite.

During my 15 years at The Times, I've judged homemade ice cream contests, pie bake-offs, brownie, cookie, fudge and cupcake competitions, chili contests, barbecue rib contests, salsa contests, cooking with pumpkin competitions and strawberry recipe contests.

Add to that list Halloween costume contests and variety show competitions, as well as rib-eating and pie-eating challenges, and my range of critiques spans a wide variety of interest areas.

My judging invitations in the past have included serving on the judging panel to pick the new Gary Steelhead Cheerleaders to being a "celebrity judge" for a number of years at the annual Colgate Country Show Down Country Music Competition at the Porter County and Lake County summer 4-H fairs.

This month, I'm adding a new judging badge to my resume.

While at a performance at Governors State University's Center for Performing Arts, in University Park, Ill., the theater space executive director Burt Dikelsky told me all about a future special performance 4 p.m. March 14 featuring Neil Berg. He will present brilliantly revived arrangements of Broadway classics, as well as thrilling numbers from Broadway's newest hit shows.

The show is called "Neil Berg's 100 Years of Broadway," and will include the actual stars of shows such as "The Phantom of the Opera," "Les Miserables," "CATS," "Jesus Christ Superstar," and "Jekyll & Hyde," among others.

And better yet, (this is where my judging duties come in), anyone interested was invited to submit their own auditions for a chance to perform in the show with this company of Broadway stars.

For the exclusive "Singing with the Stars" auditions, I'm joined by fellow judges Jim Howley, chairman of the GSU Division of Liberal Arts, arts writer and patron Mort Maimon, Vanessa Newby, director of Student Life at GSU, and Betty Mohr, theater columnist for The Daily SouthtownStar newspaper.

The first round of auditions were held last Thursday and during the three hours of performances, the judges were serenaded from the GSU stage with such song classic renditions as students and staff member contestants doing Judy Garland's "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," Robert Goulet's "The Impossible Dream," Barbra Streisand's "Don't Rain on My Parade" and Frank Sinatra's "Fly Me to the Moon," in addition to selections like "Bring Me Home" from "Les Mis" and "Seasons of Love" from "Rent."

Among those performing for last week were Katie Moler and Terri Boles, both of Park Forest, Ill., Keith Briggs of Glenwood, Ill., Charlotte Smith of Blue Island, Ill., Ayita Woods, of Country Club Hills, Ill., Laritha Johnson of Chicago, Vanyette Exton of Hazelcrest, Ill., Deirdre Webb and Fredi Parks, both of Richton Park, Ill., Monique Burey-Ballard of University Park, Ill., Kimi Robaczewski of Arlington Heights, Ill. and Linda Presley of Orland Park, Ill.

The judges' scoring results will be released today and the finalists selected will perform before the judges again at 4 p.m. Thursday at the GSU Center for Performing Arts and then the winner announced. This final round of competition is free and open to the public to watch the process.

For more details, call the box office at (708) 235-2222 or visit centertickets.net.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer. He can be reached at philip.potempa@nwi.com or 219.852.4327.

Today's Celebrity Birthdays

Announcer Don Pardo is 92. Singer Dorothy McGuire of The McGuire Sisters is 84. Actor Paul Dooley is 82. Director Jonathan Demme is 66. Actor John Ashton is 62. Actress Julie Walters and basketball legend Julius "Dr. J" Erving are 60. Actress Ellen Greene ("Pushing Daisies") is 59. Actor Kyle MacLachlan is 51. Comedian Rachel Dratch is 44. Actress Jeri Ryan is 42. Actor Thomas Jane is 41. Actress Lea Solanga and actor Jose Solano ("Baywatch") are 39. Actress Drew Barrymore is 35. Singer James Blunt is 33. Singer Tom Higgenson of Plain White T's is 31. Former child actor Miko Hughes ("Pet Cemetery") is 24. Actor Daniel E. Smith ("John Q.") is 20.

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