Oh, everyone says this thing's gonna end every year, don't they? But this year it's serious, guys. Famousest judge Simon Cowell is putting down the Coke cup in May, and that absolutely means the end. The show cannot go on.

And lest we forget that Paula Abdul, the drunken, mewling Kitty Hepburn to Cowell's wedge-haired Spencer Tracy, is already gone. Already gone!! So we'll stumble through this bizarre and gurgle-free season, thrown off-balance by the presence of a bona fide star, newest and inexplicablest judge Ellen DeGeneres, and then Simon will sign off and I think we'll be done. Because Idol is such a fixed system, or at least it's supposed to be. The true appeal of watching the sing-off isn't the singing per se, it's the tradition. We need everything the same every year or else what's the point.

Think about Christmas (or the Jewish Hanukkahs). Most of our families probably do the same thing every year, wake up at the same time, eat the same food, observe all the same rites. (Some of you unfortunates might even go to church, which I guess in this analogy is like going to an Idols: Live! concert, which I did once, embarrassingly recently. I am now a devout atheist.) Sure the presents are different each time, but that's not really the point. We'll only really enjoy a small handful of those gifts a few months after the holiday anyway. The *important* thing is the tradition, the cockle-warming ritual. It never changes, and that's why we love it.

Well, it's the same with American Idol. Yes, American Idol is Christmas. Only it's bigger and brighter and louder and it lasts so long (oh God, so long — part of my revered Idol tradition is starting to really hate it about four weeks before the finale). And it's been so blessedly familiar year after year. Oh, sure, one year everyone's talking about Clay and the other guy and then another year everyone's marveling at Fantasia Barrino's fabulous chicken dance of revenge and then last year there was gay Frankenstein. But the singers fade from our minds so quickly, so easily, season after season. They don't really matter. What does matter is that Randy is hooting and braying like King Bowser there on the left. And sandwiched gooily next to him is lolling-headed Perla Abdoo. Finally, there on the right, proud breasted Simon.

Randy says something nonsensical in a man-that-dude's-trying-really-hard-to-be-cool sort of way. Then Paula wrinkles her eyes and weeps or smiles and makes a steeple of her hands and says kind things and Simon rolls his eyes and the studio audience applauds, because everyone on Idol is good and we all love them 'til May. And then Simon says something true and fair but not gumdroppy like Paula's most recent salient comment, so everyone boos but they love to boo and Simon loves to hear them boo and then our host Ryan Seacrest — running away from his baby fat so fast you can smell burnt rubber — chuckles and makes one of his affable gay jokes and we all smile dimly and sink into the couch because we are home.

Now that's all dead! It already started to die last year when they added Cousin Oliver Ozmodiar, an annoying otherlady who is some sort of song writer and just totally mucked up the proceedings. Forget the fact that she just wasn't a terribly interesting critic of the show's VFW meeting hall song stylings. Her real problem was just that she threw off the whole rhythm of the show. She was an interloper, an invader. A grim reaper of change. We should have seen her presence as a precursor to all that awaited us. The shunning of Paula, the adding of Ellen, the bag-packing of Simon. Idol tinkered with its sacred format — "Why don't we do Christmas somewhere warm this year?" — and all was ruined forever.

American Idol with... Randy, Kara DioGuardi, and Ellen DeGeneres? That is not American Idol! That is Top USA Singing Star or The Great American Song Caper. Randy's the most boring judge by far and Kara is annoying and likes to sing at the people who are trying to sing at her. Sure Ryan'll probably be there, and he's a big part of the show, but without Simon to play off (so deft they are with the jokes! a more flirtatious Laurel & Hardy!) what'll he do? I mean, there's a real comedian there at the judges table. It's going to become Ellen DeGeneres Judges a Singing Competition. Is that the show you want, Fox?

Not that Ellen isn't great. Ellen's great, we all love Ellen. Nobody doesn't love Ellen. And she'll probably add a dash of circusy fun to the already circusy fun proceedings. But she probably signed up to get the whole Simon/Randy experience too. She's an avid fan! Now that Simon — the show's face, its driving force, its strange butch lesbian mascot — is gone, she's probably just as bummed and maybe doesn't want to do it after this season either. Who's to say.

Whatever the case, the show America has known and loved for the past three hundred and eleven years will, come May, sing one last warbling note, adjust its awkward white earpiece, hold up the number of fingers that corresponds with the number the voters at home should dial, and, with a weary huff, expire. Some version of Idol will continue on after it, as is the wont of life, but it won't be the same. Nor will Simon's new X Factor show, even if Paula joins him there, as has been foretold in the book of ancients rumored on TMZ.

It won't be the same. It will be weird and foreign and new and with bands. Not just lone hopes hung up on Rupert Murdoch's hippie-pulled wagon of gold. Like, groups of people. Ugh.

I just wish that Paula could be carted out for the show's big 2010 farewell tour. Someone go look under that pile of rags at her house. She's probably under there. Make sure she's OK. No, no. Don't worry about me. I'll be fine.