What’s up, dawg?  American Idol judge Randy Jackson told reporters in a press conference today that he misses Paula Abdul on the panel of the hit FOX reality show — but praised her replacement, new judge Ellen DeGeneres. “The Paula thing is really near and dear to my heart,” Randy admitted of his pal, who left the show after last season. “She’s one of my best friends.

“I talked to her a couple of days ago,” he continued. “We speak all the time. The whole thing started with me, Ryan [Seacrest], Simon [Cowell], and her so… she’s one of our best friends and still is. I miss that.”

Randy said sometimes he and fellow judge Simon will forget Paula is not sitting at the same judging table.

“We look down the table sometimes and go, wait a minute, where’s Paula? I expect to hear something in my left ear and I go, wait a minute! That doesn’t sound like Paula. It’s going to take a little getting used to.  e’re really sad about that but welcoming Ellen to the fold is a good look. She’s funny, she’s charismatic, she’s really cool. She’s my home girl from Louisiana, like me. It’s going to be a very funny, interesting, different season of Idol.”

Randy added of the comedienne, “I’ve known her for quite some time, so does [host] Ryan. We’re really good friends with her so I think we’re going to have a very funny season ahead of us. There will be a lot of laughs.”

The longtime Idol judge said Ellen will bring a lot to the table as she’s “a diehard music fan.and a performer herself. She knows about that.” Also, Randy said, “She’ll give the home viewer a voice to be on the judges’ panel.”

When asked if Paula leaving was a distraction, Randy said, “certainly not for me.” And he stressed that people should pay most attention to the contestants, not the judges. “It’s about finding the next superstar talent.”

Of the rumor that Mr. Nasty, Simon, might leave Idol after this season, Randy (who is contracted for a couple of more Idol seasons himself) said, “Until I hear it from him, I’m not going to believe it. Rumors get so wild.”

The buzz is that Simon might start a U.S. version of his hit UK show X Factor. And rumor also has it, Paula might be asked to judge on the new show. Responding to that, Randy said only that wherever she lands career-wise, “I wish her the best in the world.”

Of guest judge Victoria Beckham, who participated in Idol‘s Boston auditions which will air this Tuesday, Randy dished, “She was actually really cool. I gave her the nickname Lady V, so hopefully she goes out into the world and uses that.”

The audition city shows were a lot of fun, Randy said, and he predicts a strong season for the ladies on Idol this time after two seasons of male domination.

As far as the city shows, which start airing next week, Randy laughed, “I thought Orlando was really strange.”

The best talent pool?  “Atlanta was one of the standouts for me,” Randy said.

By Carole Glines

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