Will anyone be able to fill Simon Cowell's high-waisted trousers when he leaves American Idol at the end of the current season?
That is the question being asked all across the US media this morning, after the archetypal straight-talking talent show judge announced he was stepping down. (With characteristic media savvy, he dropped the bombshell the day before the ninth series began, practically guaranteeing record viewing figures).
Bookmakers have already started offering odds - with British journalist Piers Morgan the surprise favourite.
Other contenders include Sean "Diddy" Combs, Quincy Jones and Cowell's former American Idol co-host, Paula Abdul.
Some commentators have snarkily commented that TV network Fox's big new signing, also announced yesterday, was being prepped to take over.
That would be former US vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin.
'One of a kind'
American Idol producers will be looking for an established music industry expert with a sideline in withering put-downs.
Cowell's vicious barbs ("you have the personality of a handle" is a personal favourite) carry even more weight in the US, where the other judges prefer a softly-softly "you go, girl" approach to criticism.
With that in mind, it is possible that the quick-witted comediene Ellen DeGeneres, who has just joined the series for its ninth run, may already be being groomed as Cowell's heir.
Ellen DeGeneres has just joined the American Idol line-up
However, Peter Rice, chairman of entertainment at TV network Fox, admitted it would be impossible to completely replace the sarcastic music executive.
"We're not going to find a Simon clone who can do what he does because he's one of a kind," Rice said.
"We have to take our time on that," he continued. "We have to make sure the chemistry of the judges is as good as it can be."
But the real question is whether Idol and The X Factor can peacefully co-exist.
In the UK, Cowell's rival singing contest, which expands the entry criteria to admit over-25s and groups, effectively killed off Pop Idol.
It led to a protracted legal battle, with Idol's creator, Spice Girls impresario Simon Fuller, arguing that the X Factor had blatantly copied his format.
I adore Paula. Whatever happens, I will be working with her in some capacity because I miss her
Simon Cowell hints at a TV reunion with Paula Abdul
The pair ended their spat when Cowell agreed to take a seat on American Idol.
But a repeat looks unlikely in the US.
The Los Angeles Times suggested on Tuesday
that Fuller was planning to quit as chief executive of production company 19 Entertainment, for a job at its parent company CFX entertainment - which has a stake in Elvis Presley's Graceland mansion and the licensing rights to Mohammad Ali's name and image.
However, industry watchers will keep a close eye on the ratings for both X Factor and American Idol when the two go head-to-head next year.
Both will be screened on the Fox network, with X Factor running in the autumn, finishing just in time for Idol to pick up the reality TV baton in the new year.
Fox executives insisted on Monday that Idol would continue for at least three seasons without Cowell.
Simon Fuller managed Annie Lennox and S Club before launching Pop Idol
"I wouldn't put X Factor on if I didn't think it could exist separately," Cowell said.
Nonetheless, Idol's ratings have fallen in recent years after a peak of 30m viewers in 2005 - although it is still the highest-rated programme in the States.
And Cowell may have another ace up his sleeve - bringing pop star Paula Abdul with him to the X Factor.
"I adore Paula," he told reporters on Monday. "Whatever happens, I will be working with her in some capacity because I miss her."
UK viewers may also have raised an eyebrow at the timing of X Factor's US launch - which will clash with the show's slot on ITV.
Cowell could, like Len Goodman and Bruno Tonioli - who judge on both Strictly Come Dancing and its US counterpart - divide his time between the two shows, clocking up frequent flyer miles as he goes.
However, that would damage the X Factor's unique twist, whereby the judges mentor their acts.
The alternative, of course, would be for Cowell to pack up his acerbic wit and quit the UK altogether.
At the end-of-series press conference for the X Factor last month, he told journalists: "Where we stand is we have no deal [for] next year."
Although that seems unlikely, it could be the cause of a few stress headaches at ITV this morning.
American Idol premieres in the US on Tuesday night, and in the UK on Thursday, 14 January at 2000 GMT on ITV2.
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