What 'X Factor' can do for Britney Spears

Tuesday, May 15, 2012 - 12:35pm

Singing competition shows like "American Idol" and "The Voice" don't only make stars, they rehabilitate them.

Just ask Jennifer Lopez, whose seat at the "American Idol" judges' table paved the way for the success of her 2011 album and her recently announced summer tour. Or Maroon 5, who benefited greatly from frontman Adam Levine's spot on "The Voice." Even his fellow "Voice" judge, Christina Aguilera, cashed in on the group's best-selling single "Moves Like Jagger."

But for a megawatt star like Britney Spears, who already experienced a comeback of sorts in 2008 with the release of "Circus" not long after her fall from grace, a judging and mentoring gig on "The X Factor" isn't needed to sell albums.

Unlike her aforementioned reality show judge counterparts, Spears joins the Fox singing competition still riding the success of her seventh studio album, and her worldwide "Femme Fatale Tour." Even the star's personal life appears to be more in order these days.

But the pop princess hasn't exactly been accessible to her fans since she was placed in a conservatorship in 2008. And as stars like Lady Gaga and Beyonce have figured out, there's more to being a singing sensation in 2012 than meets the ear.

Fans want to relate to their favorite artists on a personal level, said Andy Greene, an associate editor at Rolling Stone. Becoming a mainstay on a show like "The X Factor," and showing off her personality each week, could reignite the level of fame Spears experienced in the early 2000s, Greene added.

Referencing the way Lady Gaga uses Twitter to stay connected to her fans, which she often calls her "little monsters," Greene said, "(Gaga) is part of their daily life, while Britney is not. And her handlers are realizing they have to loosen the reins a bit."

Even Beyonce has opened up to her fans since the birth of her daughter, Blue Ivy, joining Twitter and giving an intimate glimpse of her offstage life via her Tumblr page.

Though Spears has used social platforms to share pictures of her two sons and announce her engagement to former manager Jason Trawick, she's come off as a sort of "Stepford" pop star of late, Greene said. "She walks around like a robot. People can't relate to that," he said. "This could prove to be a whole new phase of her career. Britney 4.0."

And lucky for Spears because, with a reported $15 million contract to appear on "X Factor," this move is likely less about the money than it is about rebuilding her image.

"Britney off the cuff doesn't exist," said Phil Gallo, Billboard's senior correspondent for film and TV. "It's really been a while since we've heard her give any kind of expansive commentary."

To that end, there's a risk involved, because "the No. 1 dangerous thing that could happen," Gallo said, "is if the artist doesn't appear genuine. You have to feel like that's Britney saying what Britney wants to say. It can't feel scripted, like she has someone in her ear telling her what to say."

While "The X Factor" played hardball in the ratings game last fall, fluctuating from 8.5 to 12.5 million viewers each week, the singing competition underwhelmed critics thanks to Simon Cowell's prediction that anything less than 20 million in viewers would be unacceptable.

However, with Spears at the judges' table, ratings probably won't be a concern, Gallo said. If the show starts pulling "Idol"-like numbers, he added, "it will be driven by, 'What did Britney say?' 'What is Britney going to say?' Out of the gate, that's what it is."

Greene agrees people will tune in, if only to hear her talk.

"If you were a young person between '98 and '07, you find Britney fascinating," he said. "There's just no way around it ... between her craziness and absence."

Of course, Greene added, Britney's team probably wouldn't let her on live TV if she couldn't handle it.

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