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By Jill Serjeant
LOS ANGELES, July 29 (Reuters) - “American Idol” judge Ellen DeGeneres unexpectedly quit the top-rated television singing show on Thursday after just a year in the job, saying it was not the right fit for her.
The popular U.S. talk show host and comedian, whose addition to the panel had largely disappointed viewers, said the workload was more than she expected and she found it hard to hurt the feelings of contestants.
“A couple months ago, I let (TV network) Fox and the ‘American Idol’ producers know that this didn’t feel like the right fit for me,” DeGeneres said in a statement.
“It was a difficult decision to make, but my work schedule became more than I bargained for. I also realized this season that while I love discovering, supporting and nurturing young talent, it was hard for me to judge people and sometimes hurt their feelings,” she added.
DeGeneres, who signed a five year contract with “Idol” in 2009, is the second judge to quit the show this year. Abrasive British judge Simon Cowell left in May to launch his own talent show in late 2011.
Cowell’s replacement has not yet been announced and rumors have flown around the Internet this week that a wholesale revamp of the show and the judges may be underway for the 10th season starting in January.
“We love Ellen and understand and support her decision to bow out of IDOL,” said Peter Rice, chairman of entertainment, Fox Networks Group. “We were fortunate to receive the humor, energy and love for talent that she brought to the show.”
DeGeneres was hired last summer to replace the volatile but popular Paula Abdul, who quit in a contract renewal dispute. DeGeneres was expected to bring humor and new viewers to the show, but the choice was widely criticized because she lacked music industry credentials. TV critics and many fans also felt she lacked chemistry.
Viewership for “American Idol” also continued to slip this year, falling to an average 24.1 million viewers overall, from a high of 30.8 million in 2006.
The surprise departure of DeGeneres leaves producers with just two judges -- Randy Jackson and Kara DioGuardi -- one month before auditions in front of the panel begin in September for the 10th season.
Singers ranging from Jessica Simpson and Justin Timberlake to Chris Isaak and Sir Elton John have been rumored to be contenders for a judging spot.
Fox has declined to confirm or deny any of the names.
Reporting by Jill Serjeant; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte