LOS ANGELES — “American Idol” is on the brink of an adolescent identity crisis.
Judge Steven Tyler is leaving and taking his naughty rock star vibe with him, fellow judge Jennifer Lopez is dithering about staying, and ratings for the Fox show have declined as TV’s talent show field gets more competitive.
When “American Idol” returns for its 12th season in January, it will have to be a re-engineered version of the once-powerhouse series that turned hopefuls such as Jennifer Hudson into stars and gave network rivals fits.
One big step would be a clean sweep of the judging panel. Aerosmith frontman Tyler got the ball rolling with his announcement Thursday that he was putting rock ‘n’ roll ahead of the show.
“I strayed from my first love, Aerosmith, and I’m back — but instead of begging on my hands and knees, I got two fists in the air and I’m kicking the door open with my band,” Tyler said in a statement. Aerosmith is on a nationwide tour with Tyler and has an album due out in the fall.
Tyler’s departure leaves original judge Randy Jackson and Jennifer Lopez, but their futures are cloudy.
In a phone interview with The Associated Press as the news about Tyler broke, Lopez said she was saddened to hear he was leaving and was weighing her own decision.
“I can’t even imagine anyone else there right now because I’ve just spent two years sitting next to him,” she said. “I love Steven, and we became close during that time.”
Jackson and his “dawg!” exclamations have been a stalwart part of “Idol.” But the show’s multi-year contracts, such as the one Jackson signed, typically include an escape clause that the network can choose to exercise or not.
A call to Jackson’s representative was not returned Wednesday. Fox declined to make an executive available to discuss the show.
Ryan Seacrest, the other original cast member, will provide a stable center. He signed a two-year contract with “American Idol” producers this spring to continue.
The Fox series, which began with Jackson, Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul as judges, has made changes on the panel over the years. Ellen DeGeneres joined one season, and songwriter Kara DioGuardi was added as a fourth judge to work with Jackson, Cowell and Abdul.
“American Idol” is in a vulnerable position, coming off a May finale that drew 21.5 million viewers as Phillip Phillips was crowned the winner.
It was a record low finish and followed a pattern of declining viewership for the once-inevitably top-rated series, not to mention a pattern of “white guys with guitars,” as fans describe the show’s recent string of similar winners.