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When it comes to "American Idol" judges, it's really time to stop accepting substitutes. There's Simon Cowell and then there are all of the other people who have occupied seats and "Idol" Coke cups. Cowell departed "Idol" to launch "The X Factor" and the show never found a replacement capable of equalling the humor, cruelty and warmth that made Cowell and his too-tight t-shirts so iconic. Well, "The X Factor" hasn't been a success, but FOX has humored and enabled Cowell's constant efforts to retool the show, despite ratings that suggested America just didn't much care. It's not like we'd expect Cowell to take a discount to return, but a huge pile of money plus a FOX guilt trip -- i.e. "We haven't been able to develop a success fall show for years because we keep wasting three hours per week on your vanity project -- ought to be enough to get Cowell back. Has "X Factor" diluted the Cowell brand? Yes, but if he came back to "Idol" with something to prove, we'd welcome him.
- Dan Fienberg