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Why Jennifer Lopez on 'American Idol' could be a good thing

September 14, 2010 |  5:06 pm

Lopez So Jenny from the block is joining "American Idol” after all?

After the singer-actress’ initial deal with Fox’s singing juggernaut was said to have crashed and burned -- the word in the blogosphere is that her demands reached (gasp) diva proportions -- Jennifer Lopez has reportedly finalized a $12-million deal to sit at the judge’s table, which is only a quarter of the way occupied (Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler is supposedly joining and the panel will revert to three judges) for the show’s upcoming 10th season.

Now, we know what you’re thinking.

The mere thought of the singer-actress-fashionista joining the ranks has brought more than a few sighs of “Why?” among some "Idol" fans. But Lopez can actually be an asset to the show, which suffered a great deal last season.

It’s essential to offer full disclosure here. This particular Pop & Hiss writer is an unabashed hard-core fan of Lopez (I even find ways to defend “Gigli” and “Brave,” her biggest commercial failures in film and music, respectively). But make no mistake, I’m not blinded by the skepticism that has plagued much, if not all, of her career -- especially when it comes to her music endeavors.

Despite the show’s attempt to start showcasing more singer-songwriters in past seasons -- even allowing them to play live instruments onstage -- the house that Kelly Clarkson built will always be about finding the next big mainstream star to cash in on -- sorry, Crystal Bowersox -- and sadly, part of that comes with branding and packaging your pop star for the big leagues.

It has always been painful watching contestants such as Bowersox, Jason Castro, Bo Bice and even Taylor Hicks go from just being humble musicians to manufactured artists who ultimately become yet another face in the “Where’s Waldo?” world of “Idol” contestants never to be seen or heard from again (Sorry, Bowersox, let’s hope that doesn’t become your fate).

This is where Lopez enters the picture.

Granted, I’m a fan, but I would never for a moment say her voice is in the ballpark of pop greats such as Beyoncé or Lady Gaga --  but what she offers, what made her stick out and dominate the charts, was a total package. That has always been her strength -- she had the catchiest hooks, the edgiest looks and the best videos (we can all admit that “Waiting for Tonight” played at our respective millennium celebrations).

Ultimately, in a competition such as “American Idol,” that’s what matters -- even if voters choose to ignore that in favor of a contestant with a better back story. Lopez has always been about the package, much like former judge Paula Abdul (though Lopez is, you know, a bit more eloquent in her delivery, as she proved in her stint as mentor a few years back), and hopefully that shows. That was supposed to be Ellen DeGeneres' forte last season: judging the acts on how they presented themselves.

Earlier this summer, Times writer Patrick Goldstein even asked on his Big Picture blog whether Lopez could breathe life into the show. Goldstein thought that “she always made great TV material, but not as another lukewarm enabler for 'Idol's' amateur cavalcade of talent.”

While it’s tough to predict whether Lopez, or even Tyler, can save the competition, she'll hopefully use the wits that paid off early in her career to judge the new crop of talent. She never pretended to be a powerhouse vocalist, but she always held her own. And in today's world of pop, where over-the-top images reign supreme (Ke$ha is surprisingly still around), Lopez offers a unique perspective for the contestants. With J.Lo on board, she can offer nice tidbits on stage presence, putting together a good look -- and hey, she can even offer a thing or two about singing. She is, after all, a pop idol, the very thing the show is searching for.

-- Gerrick D. Kennedy


Photo: Jennifer Lopez performs at the 2010 World Music Awards in May. Credit: Luca Littardi / World Music Awards.