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Can ‘Idol’ Survive Without Paula?

The jury's still out on Judge Paula.

American Idol followers say Paula Abdul's abrupt departure leaves a big hole as the show loses both her cheerleading and her antics. But a few say the loss, especially with the addition of a judge last season, may not have a substantial effect on TV's top-rated show.

Former Idol executive producer Nigel Lythgoe says Abdul can't be replaced in terms of the panel's chemistry, but no judge - not even tart-tongued Simon Cowell - is indispensable. "It's a format that has been huge all over the world without Randy, Paula or Simon. I don't think any individual dictates whether the show will be successful," says Lythgoe, co-creator and judge on Fox's So You Think You Can Dance.

Idol now has no one to fill the role of competitor comforter, Newsday pop music writer Glenn Gamboa says. Her performance background, unique to the panel, helped her sympathize with singers. "She's basically the heart of that show (in) nurturing the talent and making sure contestants get emotionally backed up," Gamboa says.

Even her oft-ridiculed odd behavior, including once evaluating a singer's performance before he had sung, was a plus. "Her nuttiness was an essential part of what the show was about and how you could get people talking about it," says Gene Sculatti, who has served on USA TODAY's Idol coaching panel.

Lythgoe, who says the four-judge panel is too crowded, says newcomer Kara DioGuardi will have to find her own chemistry with Cowell and Randy Jackson without trying to be the new Paula.

Shari Anne Brill of ad buyer Carat USA says the loss won't have much of an effect on the show's ratings, which have been in gradual decline, common to long-running series. "Whatever erosion takes place is the natural erosion of the show," Brill says.

Opinions also differed on whether Abdul's Twitter announcement Tuesday could be a negotiating ploy. Scott Sternberg, executive producer of her reality series, Hey Paula, was surprised she'd leave the No. 1 show but doesn't think she or Fox would have made announcements unless a decision was made. "She might be looking at other (projects)," he says.

Even though the judges start contestant auditions Friday, Lythgoe says nothing's undoable until the show goes on the air in January. But if the dancer and choreographer is free, "I'd love her to come on So You Think You Can Dance.

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