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Top 10 Reality TV Judges

VO: Rebecca Brayton
Script Written by Q.V. Hough. These authoritative figures are all about real talk and a whole lotta sass. Join as we count down our picks for the Top 10 Reality TV Judges. For this list, we’re focusing specifically on judges in the Reality TV genre, and all the mainstays that sometimes make contestants quiver while also making them better at their respective crafts. Special thanks to our users mac121mr0, viliguns, Kasel Lasam, Nicole Calleja, Jake Roth, duncantheturtle202, Tasnim Jahan, Evan Kohnstam and James Vincent Amodei for submitting the idea on our Interactive Suggestion Tool at WatchMojo.comsuggest

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Top 10 Reality TV Judges

These authoritative figures are all about real talk and a whole lotta sass. Join as we count down our picks for the Top 10 Reality TV Judges.

For this list, we’re focusing specifically on judges in the Reality TV genre, and all the mainstays that sometimes make contestants quiver while also making them better at their respective crafts.

#10: Michael Kors
“Project Runway” (2004-)

He’s been referenced in cinema, and he’s been referenced in song, but it was on Lifetime’s “Project Runway” that Michael Kors truly made an imprint on pop culture. As one of the original judges, the fashion designer appeared in 121 episodes, and his feedback was entertaining to say the least. Capable of pulling out the most creative metaphors, Kors always had the right words to humiliate contestants while inspiring them at the same time. That’s called tough love. After all, there’s fine line between looking like a hooker or a grandmother.

#9: Cheryl Cole
“The X Factor” (2004-)

Known simply as “Cheryl,” there’s nothing simple about this former Girls Aloud member turned judge. Without even saying a word on “The X Factor,” Cheryl influences pop culture in the UK with her stylish clothing game, and she’s a sweetheart to boot. Replacing Sharon Osbourne for the fifth season, she’s one of a select few individuals to truly impress Simon Cowell, and her intellectual acumen resulted in two consecutive wins for her admiring contestants. Everybody loves Cheryl, whether it’s out of jealousy or pure admiration.

#8: Tyra Banks
“America’s Next Top Model” (2003-)

Supermodel. Business Mogul. America’s fiercest female judge. As the creator of “America’s Next Top Model” and innovator in the fashion industry during the digital age, Tyra Banks has remained a staple of reality TV thanks to her raw takes and motherly approach to her contestants. Some tremble at the very sight of her, and some manage to retain a lasting business relationship, but ultimately “America’s Next Top Model” is a Tyra Banks joint, and she’s not afraid to open up a can of whoop-ass on those who don’t respect the business, or better yet, the brand.

#7: Howie Mandel
“America’s Got Talent” (2006-)

While some reality TV judges thrive on maintaining a devilish persona, Howie Mandel takes a different approach, as he relies on comedy and poignant advice to enrich the careers of potential superstars. He’s well versed in performance art, which makes him an ideal candidate not only for “America’s Got Talent,” but for any primetime reality show. As one of the second wave of judges alongside Howard Stern, Mandel carries the most weight of his panel, and his background as a comedian, actor and TV host naturally lends an authoritative feel to his words of wisdom.

#6: Tom Colicchio
“Top Chef” (2006-)

This man keeps a little dirt under his chin but keeps the dirt off his shoulders in the kitchen through his cool and collected interactions with aspiring chefs. Tom Colicchio has the resume to make anyone a household name, and as one of the original “Top Chef” judges, his opinions can motivate or simply crush the culinary contestants. Always fully in command of the room and firm with his words, Colicchio knows exactly how to motivate and operate without being a complete jerk, along with his fellow original “Top Chef” colleague, Gail Simmons.

#5: Randy Jackson
“American Idol” (2002-)

Yoooo dawg…here’s a man that was relatively unknown to mainstream America when he first appeared on the original season of “American Idol,” yet he’d long been working with the biggest acts in the business. For 12 seasons, Randy Jackson served as the anchor of the series, offering up insider anecdotes with a genuine disposition while never EVER showing the slightest bit of anger. He’s just a cool cat, someone capable of quickly transforming contestants on a variety of fronts. With Simon Cowell as the quintessential “baddie” of “American Idol, and Paula Adbul as the sweetheart, Randy Jackson kept everybody grounded, and most importantly, he made everybody better.

#4: Nigel Lythgoe
“So You Think You Can Dance” (2005-)

One of the most esteemed modern pro dancers to come out of the UK, this Brit took his talents to the U.S. in order to produce “American Idol,” but it was on the acclaimed FOX dance series that Nigel Lythgoe found even more success. Previously known as “Nasty Nigel” for his work on the British series “Popstars,” he’s able to walk the line between harsh mentor and supportive friend, all in the name of live television, and certainly for the art of dance. Above all, it’s the intellect and bravado that keep contestants on their toes while they tremble with anticipation before Lythgoe offers up his verdict - much like his female counterpart and fellow judge Mary Murphy.

#3: Blake Shelton
“The Voice” (2011-)

He’s an unfiltered Oklahoman with a knack for appealing to the most unlikely of contestants. Maybe it’s that country charm or perhaps it’s the country twang, but there’s nothing fake about Blake Shelton’s televised persona as one of the original judges on “The Voice.” He flirts a little bit and keeps everybody on edge, yet he retains a father figure presence that always makes the contestants feel at home. And given Adam Levine’s steady presence on the NBC hit show, Shelton’s comedic banter with his fellow judge contributes to his commercial appeal.

#2: Gordon Ramsay
“Hell’s Kitchen” (2005-); “MasterChef” (2010-)

Do NOT (bleep) with this man or he will make you cry. After all, nobody wants a cook that takes a soft approach in the kitchen, well at least not Gordon Ramsay - and even if contestants almost reach perfection with their meals, that still means they FAILED, according to this Scotland-born chef. His insults are creative, and sometimes nonsensical, and well, perhaps it’s not the best idea to froth from the mouth all over one’s own food. But hey – to each their own. Sometimes it takes a few well-placed insults to bring out the best in people.

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions:
- Steve Austin
“WWE Tough Enough” (2011-)
- Donald Trump
“The Apprentice” (2004-)
- Len Goodman
“Dancing with the Stars” (2005-)

#1: Simon Cowell
Various (2001-)

Maybe it’s this man’s perpetual globetrotting that makes him so incredibly snarky and arrogant. Then again, Simon Cowell has an extensive background in the music industry, which makes his knowledge extremely beneficial to contestants and makes the occasional nod of approval so effective. Given the years and years of watching brutal and sometimes disturbing auditions, this man has earned the right to admonish those who choose style over substance while wasting everybody’s time. Always a gentleman, albeit in a snobbish way, Simon Cowell knows when to entertain and when to lift the spirits of competitors.

Do you agree with our list? Who is your favorite reality TV judge? For more mind-blowing Top 10s published daily, be sure to subscribe to

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