photo: Mario Anzuoni/ ReutersWell, after weeks of speculation, E! News and Us Weekly are finally reporting that Britney Spears has officially inked a deal to be an "X Factor" judge. So the bad news is...this show going to be a trainwreck. And the good news is...THIS SHOW IS GOING TO BE A TRAINWRECK!
Let's face it, this development could be awesome. Every reality fan loves a good trainwreck, of course, and the possibilities here for utterly ridiculous television are almost endless. Rubberneckers will undoubtedly tune in to "The X Factor" just to check out what goes down, and I admit I will be among them, popcorn at hand. We all have to remember that the original British version of "The X Factor" really amped up the camp (Jedward singing "Ghostbusters" with proton packs on their backs being but one example of this), but Jedward's antics might look positively tame compared to what Britney could bring. (Even her short-lived "Chaotic" reality series with her future ex-husband Kevin Federline was can't-look-away fascinating.) So set your DVRs now, people.
But then again, for those of us who take our singing competitions seriously...this casting could be a disaster in a flat-out bad way.
First of all, it's worth addressing the obvious burning question here: Is Britney Spears really worth $15 million, which is the salary that E! reports she will make for one season's work? Well, according to an earlier report by TheWrap.com, only $13 million of Britney's salary will go towards paying for her actual judging duties; $2 million will be a "bonus" for Britney performing on the program. But if that's true, even that $2 million seems rather steep. Let's face it, Britney isn't exactly a Melanie Amaro-esque belter when she does make a rare attempt to sing live--she usually delivers the sort of pitchy vocal that, under other circumstances, would only end up on "The X Factor" as part of a bad-audition blooper-reel montage. And most of the time, she actually lip-synchs onstage. So I can only imagine how Season 2's contestants--especially ones who've been the recent target of Simon Cowell's harsh critiques--will feel when Brit Brit gets on the "X Factor" soundstage and, chances are, mimes along to a prerecorded track. Say what you will about Britney's polarizing "X Factor" predecessor, Nicole Scherzinger, but at least Scherzy had some vocal chops.
But let's put Britney's lack of multi-octave vocal range aside. After all, Britney's other predecessor, Paula Abdul, was hardly a powerhouse singer, but that never seemed to hinder her ability to mentor or judge. Perhaps the more crucial issue here is whether or not Britney will be able to deal with being on live national television. According to The Hollywood Reporter, "X Factor" insiders have been "genuinely concerned as to whether Spears will be able to competently handle having to give an opinion in a live setting"--and you know, they should be concerned. I actually suspect that Britney's televised incompetence could make Nicole Scherzinger's flighty indecisiveness on Rachel Crow's notorious elimination night look like nothing.
"Overprotected" singer Britney--who has been living under the conservatorship of her father, Jamie Spears, since her mental breakdown of 2008--is hardly accustomed to working without a net. Just last year, Carson Daly (ironically, now the host of "The Voice") openly complained about strict restrictions placed on a radio interview he'd attempted to set up with the pop star--restrictions presumably requested by her management to prevent her from having to adlib on the air, or to prevent her from saying something she shouldn't, like she did during her infamous 2006 Matt Lauer interview (one of the last candid interviews she ever gave, before electing to conduct most of her interviews via email). Carson claimed that Britney's management not only demanded that their conversation be pretaped, but that the interview be submitted for approval and edited by Britney's own team before it could air. Now, considering that Britney's handlers were that worried about her appearing on a live radio show without special treatment, how can anyone expect her to think on her feet on live TELEVISION? How can she be trusted to make a quick decision on elimination nights, keep up with Simon and L.A. Reid's barbs, or critique a contestant without reading off a script? (Which begs another important question: Can she read a script?) It seems like a recipe for disaster to me. It's no wonder that, according to The Hollywood Reporter, Britney has been undergoing "extensive media training" to prepare for this demanding new job.
It must be noted that Simon has already risked so much with this troubled show, which is why it surprises me that he'd be so willing to take a gamble on Britney. To launch "The X Factor USA" last year, he walked away from a $36 million "American Idol" paycheck (and a rumored "Idol" counter-offer of $100 million); temporarily vacated his judging posts on "Britain's Got Talent" and "The X Factor U.K"; had Sony pony up a $5 million record contract, the biggest cash prize in reality competition history; and foolishly bragged that "The X Factor" would trounce "Idol" in the ratings and regularly draw in 20 million viewers. And then, when that didn't happen, he made drastic changes to the show after just one season, firing not only Nicole and Paula but also host Steve Jones. So there's a lot riding on Season 2--and, specifically, on Britney Spears. Is this one "X Factor" gamble that will pay off? I'm not so sure--I think Simon may be paying way too high a price for a short-term buzz, since even trainwreck-loving viewers won't continue to tune in if his much-hyped new judge can't properly do her job at least part of the time. But I suppose we will find out when "The X Factor" returns to Fox this fall if hiring Britney was a shrewd move, or if Simon will be regretfully saying, "Oops, I did it again."
(A rep for Fox declined to comment at this time.)
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