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'Idol' judge job poses opportunities, risks

Goodbye, Simon Cowell. Goodbye, Ellen DeGeneres. Hello, Judge to Be Named Later. Being an "Idol" judge presents almost as many risks as it does opportunities.
/ Source: Reuters

Goodbye, Simon Cowell. Goodbye, Ellen DeGeneres. Hello, Judge to Be Named Later.

Amid the past week's flurry of rumors about who would fill the two vacant judge slots on "American Idol" -- Jennifer Lopez, Steven Tyler, Harry Connick Jr. and Chris Isaak among the names mentioned -- one fact remained unspoken: Being an "Idol" judge presents almost as many risks as it does opportunities.

The paycheck is outstanding -- according to the Hollywood Reporter, Cowell earned $36 million per year -- and with Nielsen Media Research's tally of more than 20 million viewers twice per week for the Fox show, the promotional platform is unequaled on TV.

But signing on to a TV institution -- especially one in flux -- is a loaded proposition both professionally and personally.

"Here's the thing about TV: The good news is, it makes you real famous," Crush Management founder Jonathan Daniel says. "The bad news is, it makes you real famous. You're much more famous on television than you are as a musician -- the fame of it could be distracting. Look at how huge Bret Michaels is from his TV stuff -- more so than when he was the lead singer of Poison."

The two leading candidates for the job appear to be Tyler and Lopez.

"Jennifer Lopez is an entertainer first, so it makes a lot of sense," Daniel says. "Steven Tyler is not an obvious choice -- but he's an awesome personality and maybe this, in his mind, is something where he can be real outspoken and interesting."

"Steven Tyler is a step in the craziest dimension," a senior major-label executive says. "It's quite good for J. Lo. -- her record career is probably pretty much over now, anyway."

Lopez is clearly at a turning point in her career -- earlier this year she was dropped by Sony's Epic Records and recently signed to Def Jam. Her last song to chart on the Billboard Hot 100 was "Do It Well," which reached No. 31 in 2007; the track is from the album "Brave," which has sold just 166,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

Her most recent film release, "The Back-Up Plan," made an underwhelming $37.4 million at the box office, according to Moreover, Lopez now faces a music market that is often challenging for 40-something female pop stars.

Tyler's on a U.S. tour with Aerosmith that wraps August 14, but in light of the sniping within the band -- including threats of litigation -- that has been aired for months, he too seems ready for a change in direction. Indeed, guitarist Joe Perry told the Boston Herald that the band was blindsided by the news that Tyler might be an "Idol" judge.

Although there's a question as to whether young fans would embrace a 60-something rocker as an "Idol" judge, the show could potentially provide the charismatic Aerosmith frontman and his band a way to convert those viewers into a new generation of listeners not familiar with "Sweet Emotion" or "Walk This Way." Besides, at this point in his career, there would appear to be little risk for Tyler of appearing to be "selling out."

"For people who think Steven Tyler and Aerosmith should keep the legacy of 'Seasons of Wither,' it's too late for that," Daniel says.

The time commitment of "Idol" forces all other endeavors to the back burner for several months of the year, and extracurricular music projects of "Idol" judges have been hit-and-miss during their time on the show.

Randy Jackson's 2008 album, "Randy Jackson's Music Club Vol. 1," has sold a lackluster 35,000 units in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Paula Abdul's single from that album, "Dance Like There's No Tomorrow," has sold 407,000 track downloads, but her follow-up stand-alone single, "I'm Just Here for the Music," has sold only 80,000 downloads, according to SoundScan.