Mariah Carey will join American Idol as a judge next season, Fox announced on Monday, bringing her star power to the show that remains a ratings leader in the US but has seen its viewership and pop culture status diminish.
"I am so excited to be joining Idol," said Carey, addressing the Television Critics Association via Fox entertainment chief Kevin Reilly's mobile phone, which he put on speaker for the hotel ballroom meeting.
She couldn't be on hand with the group because "this kind of all just happened really quickly", Carey said in her brief remarks. "I can't wait to get started in the fall. .... and I will see you in January."
The show, which saw judges Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez exit at the end of last season, will be back on the air in the US for season 12 in January.
Reilly called Carey "the biggest recording artist that any of these (talent) shows has ever had", adding that she was the "artist that many of these contestants have tried to emulate, have tried some of the songs, have tried to hit the notes".
Playing the drama up, Reilly dialled Carey's number and put her on speaker.
"Hi Mariah. How are you? It's Kevin," he said. "We do have the deal, don't we?"
"Yes!" Carey replied.
Reilly said he was "thrilled" to confirm reports that Carey was being courted by Fox and said the deal was freshly signed within the past few hours.
The exit of Tyler and Lopez left original judge Randy Jackson and started a guessing game about potential replacements, with Carey at the top of the list.
As one of music's best-selling singers, she could provide the clout American Idol needs to compete in an increasingly crowded talent show field. Besides Fox sibling The X Factor, which recently added Britney Spears and Demi Lovato as judges, there's NBC's The Voice, which boasts Christina Aguilera among its big names.
"Not being the only game in town now, we need to keep things fresh," Reilly said. The search is on for a third judge, and he promised another impressive pick. It could a star or someone like music executive and Idol mentor Jimmy Iovine, who wasn't a household name when he joined, Reilly said. But, he added, after 12 seasons "we need to have something to talk about".
"We have the biggest names in the business, like Mariah Carey, interested in doing this ... so for the next couple of weeks it will be a matter of picking the right one, with the right chemistry, making the deal, and finalising this," he said.
Jackson's value to the show was enhanced by Carey's signing, although Fox has yet to say whether he'll judge next season. Ryan Seacrest will be back as host.
"I can't confirm and don't want to talk about anyone" else on the show, Reilly said. But he added that Jackson "has been working with Mariah and is in fact her co-manager, and Randy was very instrumental in doing this deal".
The series ended the 2011-12 season as the leading entertainment show and No.2 overall, just behind NBC's top-rated Sunday Night Football.
But the advertiser-favoured young adult audience has been steadily shrinking, and the show's cachet hasn't been helped by a run of champions who have failed to achieve the career sizzle of past competitors Jennifer Hudson, Carrie Underwood or Kelly Clarkson.