BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. - Mariah Carey has landed a seat in the latest game of musical chairs at Fox's "American Idol."
And what a seat it is.
The opportunity to sit next to Randy Jackson and a Player To Be Named Later and to say kind or cutting things to young men and women who may or may not be able to sing is expected to bring the pop diva at least a bit more than the $12 million the now officially departing Jennifer Lopez was paid in her first season on the show and maybe as much as $17 million, according to Entertainment Weekly.
What Fox hopes to get for its money: a reversal of the show's ratings slide, which seems to also be behind the recent exit of judge Steven Tyler.
And, of course, the network was also looking for what it got on Monday, which was a bright shiny object to dangle before reporters at the Television Critics Association's meetings, where Fox entertainment president Kevin Reilly was making his semiannual appearance.
This is Fox, after all, which, when NBC's PR disaster in late night was grabbing all the headlines in January 2010, brought Simon Cowell before the group to sign his contract for "The X Factor."
For all we knew, he was signing a Chinese takeout menu. It didn't matter: This is show business, and Fox, perhaps more than any other broadcast network, likes to put on a show.
Carey's no Cowell, though, and her big moment, unfortunately, ended up happening via a scratchy speaker-phone connection, which is not necessarily the way you want to hear a woman with a legendary five-octave range.
"With all the speculation about the show, I really can't confirm anything" about "American Idol," Reilly warned reporters as Monday's press conference began.
"Except for one thing, which is that we do in fact have one judge whose deal closed very, very recently. I think it's the biggest recording artist that any of these (singing competition) shows have ever had. It's an artist that many contestants have tried to emulate," he said.
"Because (the deal )was only concluded hours ago, obviously, our new judge couldn't be with us," he added, picking up his cell phone.
After what seemed like a long wait - "be funny if I get the machine" - he finally got to say, "Hi, Mariah."
And Carey, after being put on speaker, got to say, "I am so excited to be joining 'Idol.' "
Others have been excited before her.
Since the heyday of the once-magic trio of Cowell, Jackson and Paula Abdul, "Idol" producers have struggled to shake things up by resetting the judges' table: Ellen DeGeneres, Kara DioGuardi, Tyler, Lopez. Now, Carey.
"Although the show is as vital as ever," and the most recent winner, Phil Phillips, "went to gold faster than any artist in the show, you know, our ratings were down," Reilly said. "Not being the only game in town now, we need to keep things fresh."
After discussions with Lopez and Tyler, "we both decided it was time for a change," he said. "And we have the biggest names in the business, like Mariah Carey, interested in doing this job. So for the next couple of weeks, it's really a matter of just picking the right one that's going to be the right chemistry" with Carey (and Jackson, who's now presumed to be coming back for his 12th season) and making a deal.