Can Britney pass the Paula Abdul test?

Wait, we're supposed to be the one judging the one-time pop princess. She'll try and turn the tables on "X-Factor"

Topics: TV, Britney Spears, Television,

Can Britney pass the Paula Abdul test?Britney Spears (Credit: AP/Evan Agostini)

Rumors have been swirling for weeks that Britney Spears would join Fox’s “X-Factor” as a new judge, and yesterday it became official. At the Fox upfront, the annual presentations underway this week in which the major networks sell their new shows to advertisers, and then ply them with alcohol and vast buffets, Britney and Demi Lovato were introduced as the reality competition’s new judges, joining L.A. Reid and Simon Cowell, who appeared on the show last year. Lovato, the 19-year-old former tween star who has already had her own public difficulties with drugs and eating disorders, excitedly told the crowd she was “psyched” to be joining the show. Spears, in a smokier voice than the one she used to have, also expressed her excitement, capably delivering the line that had been written for her. Spears was onstage for all of two minutes, but it was enough to spark my imagination: What is an entire season of Britney Spears talking going to be like?

Thanks to Paula Abdul, the bar for speaking coherently as a judge has been set remarkably low. Paula was one of the original judges when “American Idol” began 10 years ago, and she made the jump with Cowell to “X Factor” last year, where she continued to vend her particular brand of addled kindness, never saying anything mean or insightful, and often saying it in spacey and strange ways. Spears is, of course, way more famous than Paula Abdul, and if she sits on the panel and says nice, meaningless things to the contestants each and every show, she will have earned her money. (It’s basically what the booted Nicole Scherzinger did all last season of “X Factor,” and just by virtue of being Britney Spears, Britney will be better at it.)

“X Factor” doesn’t need a hyper-articulate ballbuster to do this job and do it well. The time of sharp, critical insight on the singing shows — which initially seemed so crucial to “Idol’s” massive success — has passed. If viewers regularly lament how dull and plodding the judging rounds are now that even Cowell has tempered his honesty, “Idol” remains the biggest show on television with a judging panel that consists of Steven Tyler, Jennifer Lopez and Randy Jackson, a group as likely to insult a singer as call a newborn baby ugly.

But even if all that’s required of Spears is a season’s worth of banal compliments, that will add up to more sustained speaking than Spears has ever publicly done before. Rarely, if ever, has there been a person as famous as Britney Spears who talks so infrequently. Her most famous moments are all gestural — dancing in music videos, performing on the stage at some MTV awards show, shaving her head, bashing a window. Long before her breakdown, she displayed an uncanny tendency to speak in linguistic white noise, to say sentences that contained almost no content, just lots of y’alls and “you knows” and “oh my goshes” and a basic mood of sweetness, excitement, gratitude, eventually disconnect, and more recently, in her conservatorship years, anxiety and discomfort.

If this doesn’t make Spears a perfect judge for “X Factor” it should make her a perfect character for “X Factor.” The drama of Britney — how she will be, what she will say, and how she will hold up — is a story line at least as compelling as the one that will play out with the performers, if not far more so. We’ve been watching her for 13 years, not merely half a TV season. It’s possible “X Factor” will be as good for her career as “Idol” has been for Jennifer Lopez’s, but it’s more likely it will be uncomfortable and upsetting, a full season of watching a zonked-out Spears nervously navigate a live TV show. But we Americans owe Britney Spears a pension and worker’s comp for pain and suffering risked for our entertainment, and I’m happy a major corporation is paying it out (to the tune of $15 million). However “X-Factor” goes for Britney, I can’t wait to see what she says.

Willa Paskin

Willa Paskin is Salon's staff TV writer.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Burger King Japan

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Burger King's black cheeseburger: Made with squid ink and bamboo charcoal, arguably a symbol of meat's destructive effect on the planet. Only available in Japan.

    Elite Daily/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    McDonald's Black Burger: Because the laws of competition say that once Burger King introduces a black cheeseburger, it's only a matter of time before McDonald's follows suit. You still don't have to eat it.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    Domino's Specialty Chicken: It's like regular pizza, except instead of a crust, there's fried chicken. The company's marketing officer calls it "one of the most creative, innovative menu items we have ever had” -- brain power put to good use.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    Arby's Meat Mountain: The viral off-menu product containing eight different types of meat that, on second read, was probably engineered by Arby's all along. Horrific, regardless.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    KFC'S ZINGER DOUBLE DOWN KING: A sandwich made by adding a burger patty to the infamous chicken-instead-of-buns creation can only be described using all caps. NO BUN ALL MEAT. Only available in South Korea.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Waffle Taco: It took two years for Taco Bell to develop this waffle folded in the shape of a taco, the stand-out star of its new breakfast menu.

    Michele Parente/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Krispy Kreme Triple Cheeseburger: Only attendees at the San Diego County Fair were given the opportunity to taste the official version of this donut-hamburger-heart attack combo. The rest of America has reasonable odds of not dropping dead tomorrow.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Quesarito: A burrito wrapped in a quesadilla inside an enigma. Quarantined to one store in Oklahoma City.

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Boston Pizza's Pizza Cake: The people's choice winner of a Canadian pizza chain's contest whose real aim, we'd imagine, is to prove that there's no such thing as "too far." Currently in development.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    7-Eleven's Doritos Loaded: "For something decadent and artificial by design," wrote one impassioned reviewer, "it only tasted of the latter."

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>