"I wanted to be a singer and a songwriter. I love music and singing, and like a lot of young girls who are lonely, I sat at home and wrote songs and poetry, and that's something I could do," she says. "And then it turned out I was better at being funny."
DeGeneres, who replaces Paula Abdul and joins the Idol judges' panel Feb. 9 in the Hollywood round, has said she would bring a people's point of view to the panel.
"The only reason I said that is that people said, 'You have no music experience.' The whole thing about American Idol is that the people who pick the Idol are the people. They call in and they vote and they're the ones actually choosing. I doubt many of those people have music backgrounds. They just know what's appealing," she says.
Beyond that, "I'm a huge fan of the show. I've been a fan since Season 1. I watch and have opinions, and now I'll actually be heard instead of sitting in my living room talking to the TV." The stand-up comedian also plans to keep talking about Idol on her popular weekday talk show, which could amplify buzz for both programs.
Observers also say she is likely to be a beneficiary when Oprah Winfrey ends her show in 2011. DeGeneres sees that possibility: "Lately, I've been doing really well in the ratings, and that's great. But in some markets where we're up against each other, there's definitely a little bit of viewership taken away. So, because I've been told by people that they struggle because they like both of us, maybe we'll have some more viewers when she's not on."
DeGeneres, 51, is a fan of such Idol performers as Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood and Chris Daughtry. "I'm a huge Kellie Pickler fan. I think she's adorable. She's got a personality, and I look back at her audition tape, and she had it in the audition. You could just see there was something special about her."
Since DeGeneres missed the early auditions — guest judges sat in — she has been watching the singers' performances so she has some knowledge of them when she joins the show. "It's spotting that star talent early on that's the interesting thing, because you don't want to let anybody slip through and not give them that chance."
That DeGeneres loves the show and understands the process is important for her as a new arrival, fellow judge Simon Cowell says. And the comic performer brings another valuable trait, too: "She has the instincts as to what a star is. She's been one for a number of years," he says.
DeGeneres' musical opinions aren't restricted to Idol. When asked what she's listening to, she mentions Jay-Z and Sirius radio's XMU channel, which features alternative and college bands.
"There hasn't been any new music lately that I've really appreciated. All pop music is starting to sound the same," she says.
If DeGeneres lacks the musical expertise of her fellow panelists, she has something they don't: long experience as a solo artist. And that's something else she shares with the young singers who take the Idol stage.
"I know what it's like to be a performer," she says. "I know what it's like to try to please people as a stand-up and being alone, so I do care about how those statements and criticisms come across."
Source: USA Today