was wooed to fill the permanent spot on American Idol
's judges' panel, according to Randy Jackson
"I think we reached out a little bit," Jackson told PEOPLE Thursday at the star-studded kick-off of two major community service initiatives -- the Entertainment Industry Foundation's iParticipate
and Cities of Service, a volunteerism campaign launched by a coalition of the country’s mayors -- in Times Square.
"We're all friends with Ellen, and Ryan Seacrest
and I are pretty close with her. She's just mad cool," Jackson said of the talk show host who is filling the seat
on the judges panel left open by Paula Abdul
According to Jackson, DeGeneres will bring something new to the show. "There's so much music industry insider talk with me and Simon Cowell
and Kara DioGuardi
that I didn't think we needed any more of that," he explained. "Ellen hit it right on the head -- I think she could be the voice of the . It's like somebody in the home audience watching and going, 'What would I say about this contestant?' Ellen's going to be saying it for them."
As excited as he was to welcome someone new, Jackson expressed his regret over Abdul's sudden departure.
"She's our dear friend," Jackson told reporters at Thursday's event, where with emcees N.Y.C. Mayor Michael Bloomberg
, Ashton Kutcher
and Tyler Perry
and more than two dozen stars and mayors from across the country, he pledged his commitment to service as a representative for FOX, which will join ABC, CBS, and NBC Oct. 19 to Oct. 25 for a weeklong block of scripted programming highlighting volunteerism.
"Paula started this whole battle with us many seasons ago, before we all knew the show could be hot, and we love her and miss her," Jackson continued. "We were doing the auditions and I was looking across the table and it was like, 'Where's Paula? What's going on?' But you know, things happen, life is full of change sometimes. You know, I'm still sad about that." --Kristen Mascia