Before the Season 9 auditions even aired, American Idol had already seen its share of shakeups. Paula Abdul's out, Ellen DeGeneres is in and Simon Cowell announced he's leaving Idol for his new talent show, X-Factor.

Ryan says Simon will be missed. "When his acerbic personality was first exposed to America, it was shocking. But then you realize he does have that inner voice that we all have—what we hear in our head, he says out loud," Ryan says. "I'm glad he says it out loud and not me."

Though their onscreen banter suggests a love-hate relationship, Ryan says he has nothing but respect for Simon. "I will regret this existing in the universe, but he's a terrific individual who's one of the sweetest guys that you're ever going to meet in the business," he says. "Even though he's tough on the show, he's got a really big heart, he's very generous and he's been a good friend of mine. That being said, we love to compete, and we love being competitive."

While Simon is often considered the king of mean, audiences have crowned Ellen the queen of nice. "When we spoke before she started, she was wondering: How is she going to be critical and kind? That's a tough equation because you do have to be honest," he says. "She [owns] herself on that show, and the chemistry's going to continue to be fantastic."

Ryan says Ellen's presence has also taken some pressure off his hosting duties. "She's funny," he says. "I don't have to try to be funny."


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