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As Britney Spears' signing on a judge on the U.S. edition of “The X Factor” appears to be moving closer and closer to reality, we have serious doubts that the pop singer could add anything of merit to the program.
Instead, her main draw will be to curiosity seekers who tune in to see if she can form a sentence unaided by others. And guess what? The people who view to see a potential train wreck count just as much in the ratings as those who honestly watch to see the talent competition. And at this point, show founder Simon Cowell, who has not delivered the ratings he bragged his program would, needs a big name to bring in eyeballs. And he’s apparently willing to pay $15 million to Spears to do just that.
Here’s why we have doubts about Spears as a viable draw: While she remains a ubiquitous fixture in the gossip pages as we see pictures of her and her two sons or her and her fiancee out and about, any actual speaking that we’ve heard from Spears in the past few years has been as carefully controlled as a politician’s and about as revealing.
For example, any television interviews for “Femme Fatale” were taped beforehand, so any embarrassing gaffes could be edited out, and her replies consisted of about as much depth as a shallow rain puddle. She answered her questions for Rolling Stone via email so there was no give or take.
Seldom were her answers any longer than two sentences and they were about on a third-grader’s conversational level (In her defense, she wasn’t being asked anything that would necessarily require greater detail or introspection so it's unclear if she's capable of deeper thoughts). After reviewing several of them today, the most interesting thing I discovered about Spears is that she likes vanilla-scented candles.
The 30-year old remains, according to a judge, unable to run her own financial and personal affairs, so any major decisions have to be made in conjunction with her conservator, her father. Earlier this month, Spears went to court to ask that her finance, Jason Trawick, be appointed co-conservator. Her father has been conservator since 2008 after some especially troubling events showed that Spears was not mentally competent to oversee her legal, personal and business decisions.
Spears has toured since the conservatorship has been in place and while her outings tend to consist of her walking about, dancing stiffly, and lipsyncing, there have been no shudder-inducing outbursts or truly cringe-worthy moments that marked much of 2007 for her.
Instead, Spears seems to operate on some kind of auto-pilot now. In interviews, she answers questions, but never seems fully engaged. In concert, she is competent, but not compelling.
While people will tune in to “X Factor” to see if she brings the crazy and answers in complete non-sequiturs that make absolutely no sense, a la Paula Abdul her first few seasons on “American Idol” or Steven Tyler on “Idol” now, that’s not going to happen. Her handlers will never allow that to, for one thing, and, other than her weird, white-trash clad, gum-smacking interview with Matt Lauer a few years ago, she hasn’t really displayed those kind of mindblowing WTH moments in such a setting.
Instead, I predict she’ll be a non-entity...like Jennifer Lopez on “Idol,” but even more so, in terms of giving contestants very mild advice, like “You need to bring more emotion to the song,” or giving them such heartfelt encouragement as “I really felt it when you sang that... “ In other words, dullsville. Lopez's blandness worked for her in that it softened out her hard edges and let people see her as human and compassionate. In some ways, Spears' climb is a tougher one: she needs to show fans that she is capable of deep, instructive thought and insight that she has garnered from spending more than half her life in show business. I'd advise her to start most of her feedback with "One thing I learned years ago..." or "I once made the same mistake of not... "
“The Voice” made fans realize that artists can give constructive advice and can have opinions without being mean or crazy, but the competition among that show's four mentors also helps bring out the daggers and the fun. It’s, quite frankly, hard to imagine Spears being able to survive in that kind of fast-paced environment, so “The X Factor” is definitely a safer spot for her, but "The Voice" has raised the bar on what fans expect from artists on these shows.
I hope for her sake she doesn’t have any crazy moments, as she does seem to be back on an even keel and that’s a very good thing. However, a calm life and demeanor, sadly, never make for great TV.
How do you think she will fare?
Follow Melinda Newman on Twitter @HitFixMelinda