What Makes the Perfect Judging Panels on TV

American Idol‘s 2002 premiere sparked a major evolution in the realm of reality television. It introduced the world to the unbelievable entertainment value offered by a sub-genre of reality TV: the competition show. Now, almost every network is chock-full of these competitions, from Food Network’s Food Network Star to CW’s recently ended but wildly successful America’s Next Top Model to NBC’s gimmicky and entertaining The Voice.

These competition shows have proven to be ratings juggernauts for networks: On top of opening the door for talent competitions, during its first few seasons, American Idol brought in a massive 25 to 30 million viewers per episode for FOX, according to The Daily Beast. Other reality talent competitions have garnered similarly impressive ratings for their respective networks. What exactly is it about them that makes them so. much. fun. to watch?

Is it the talent? Sure. The drama is an important factor, too. However, many would argue that it’s the judges who make or break these shows’ incredible successes.

Why Judges Matter

During its heyday, American Idol was helmed by perhaps the most well-respected judging panel in competition show history: Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson. Its judging panel has changed several times over the years, and each change is followed by a firestorm of media analysis and often a ratings drop. Typically, the most successful seasons of reality shows are judged by a panel of people the viewers know and respect.

The Voice has seen rating ups and downs every time it has switched from the original four coaches: Adam Levine, Blake Shelton, Christina Aguilera and Cee Lo Green. On the other hand, fans of Dancing With the Stars seem to like being able to count on the relative consistency of the show’s judges, including Carrie Ann Inaba, Len Goodman and Bruno Tonioli.

What We Look for in Our Reality Show Judges

So, we know judges are important to a show’s success. But what exactly is it that makes a judging panel successful? Chemistry is one of the main factors. Adam Levine and Blake Shelton’s “bromance” has been the subject of hundreds of editorials throughout The Voice’s lifespan. It’s arguably one of the reasons the show’s ratings have stayed as high as they have. Likewise, Tyra Banks’ chemistry (or lack thereof) with some of her fellow model judges throughout America’s Next Top Model’s 22 seasons noticeably colored fans’ perceptions of the show.

However, what we’re really looking for in our judges is the right combination of people who can bring expertise, excitement, celebrity and even a few harsh comments to the table. With that in mind, here’s the perfect judging panel:

  • The mean one: These are the Simon Cowells and Howard Sterns of the genre. They’re not afraid to give harsh criticism even if it elicits a chorus of “boos” from the audience.
  • The expert: We trust the advice given by Tyra Banks, Michael Kors (of Project Runway) and even Pharrell Williams from The Voice’s later seasons. Why? Their expertise in their respective fields means they have pretty stellar insight.
  • The cool perspective or celebrity: When judging panels include a big-name celebrity (like Britney Spears or Adam Levine) or someone who provides a unique perspective, it makes the entire show all the more exciting.

One thing is certain: judges are the bread and butter of these reality competition shows. They can make or break the viewer’s enjoyment.