The Emmys might reward the best reality show hosts nowadays, but there is a more important role on many other reality shows. While not every reality show with a host has a judging panel, most of them are a package deal. Often it's the judge (or judges) who make a reality show what it is more than anyone else, including the talent. Though all the judges are there to appraise the talent, not all of them are created equal. Here are the 7 best reality TV judges, in descending order.
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Mary Murphy (So You Think You Can Dance?)
Mary is easily the loudest judge on the list, and stands as proof that just because you are loud doesn't mean you're the best. Mary is a divisive judge, no doubt about it. There are those who love her and those who hate her in the So You Think You Can Dance fandom. Yet for me, the thing that raises Mary above her SYTYCD colleagues is her enthusiasm. Mary's loud but that's because she is excited and that level of excitement and positivity are what makes So You Think You Can Dance enjoyable.
Tyra Banks (America's Next Top Model)
Tyra has the distinction of being the only judge on this list who is also the host of the franchise. Though America's Next Top Model is moving on from Tyra as a host, the show was pretty much defined by Tyra for a very long time. This isn't necessarily always a good thing since Tyra tended to make most of her judging critiques about herself. Yet for sheer entertainment value, there are few judges who are ridiculous and enjoyable as Tyra Banks.
Harry Connick Jr. (American Idol)
Typically, when a reality show is in its third or fourth cycle of reality judges, it is a case of diminishing returns. When a substitute judge is brought in after the original crew has left, it often feels like the second or third string is filling in. In the case of American Idol, the last judging panel of the series was the best one yet.
Jennifer Lopez and Keith Urban both added something special, but it was Harry Connick Jr. who was the cream of the crop. Harry managed to show a deep love for the artists and music while always making sure he didn't hold back on his criticisms without being unnecessary cruel. There's a specific art to being the "tough love" judge but Harry Connick Jr. pulled it off to near perfection on American Idol.
Adam Levine (The Voice)
It's true that Adam Levine's official title on The Voice is "coach." The majority of Adam's job is to mentor the artists on his team. After the Blind Auditions portion of The Voice, the coaches basically do serve as judges, evaluating and giving their opinions of the artists' performances.
Adam Levine is the only coach on The Voice to consistently giving constructive criticism to The Voice hopefuls, no matter if they are on his team or on that of a rival coach. While most of The Voice coaches always feel like they are trying to find the silver lining in a performance (no matter how bad) Adam Levine is the only one who feels like he is giving his complete and honest opinion.
Zac Posen (Project Runaway)
Before Zac Posen joined Project Runaway, Nina Garcia was probably the best judge on the panel. Since Zac Posen moved from guest judge to full-time judge, Nina has been dethroned. All of the Project Runaway judges are good are articulating exactly why they don't like an outfit, but Zac Posen really approaches things from a personal level. Being a designer himself, Zac has an appraising eye and can often point out to the designers where they've gone wrong and how they could fix it. He's one of the few reality TV judges who feels like he is there to equally critique and help the contestants.
Len Goodman (Dancing with the Stars)
There is a reason that Len Goodman is the head judge of Dancing with the Stars. Dancing with the Stars works as a TV show because Len is balanced out by his fellow judges Carrie Ann, Bruno and occasionally Julianne. Len brings a sense of professionalism that Dancing with the Stars really needs.
Maybe it's the accent, maybe it's his years in the dancing profession, but Len's judgement seems to carry more weight than his colleagues'. He's discerning without being cruel or a boring stick in the mud. Len is also one of the few judges who will call out the professional dancers for not doing their jobs correctly. When a Dancing with the Stars pair gets a perfect 10 score from Len it means something and not just because his name rhymes with the number.
Simon Cowell (America's Got Talent, American Idol, The X Factor, etc.)
There is really no one else who could have topped the list. Simon Cowell is basically synonymous in many Americans' minds with reality TV judge and for good reason. It's more than Simon being a part of one of the first big reality competition sensations, American Idol. Simon has the exact right attitude for a reality TV judge.
Simon's entertaining, funny and has enough of a unique personality that he is a character in his own right but he is full of actual meaningful insight. Simon might have a reputation for being the "mean" judge but that's not precisely fair. While he can be brutal in assessments, he is really more honest than anything else. Simon isn't mean for attention, he's mean because he cares about the performances and the contestants. As much as Simon dishes out insults, he also gives advice and the contestants who take that advice often end up succeeding.
But what do you think? Do you agree with this list? What changes would you make? Who are you favorite reality TV judges? Which judges did we overlook?