Britney Spears on 'X Factor': Crisis Management Experts Assess Her Chance of Success
THR's panel of top strategists responds to concern over the singer's new gig on the Simon Cowell-fronted Fox reality show.
Even before Simon Cowell offically appointed Britney Spears to the judges' panel on The X Factor, the critics began weighing in: they questioned her competence and her ability to string a sentence together, predicting total disaster.
Just ask Howard Stern. Here's the rookie America's Got Talent judge gleeful response to Spears' hiring: "It’s a wonderful decision. Britney still thinks the earth is flat."
In an AGT press conference last week, when the singer's X Factor role was still a rumor, Stern sniped: "I can't imagine… I think we’re going to tune in to see her, to see if she can function through the thing. As far as any real criticism, I think Simon and LA Reid will do that. As far as criticism, I think Britney will sit there and eat a lollipop and wear a sexy outfit. … I'll tune in to see what kind of trainwreck she is, absolutely."
Spears joins co-judges Cowell, record exec Reid and fellow singer-newbie Demi Lovato in X Factor's revamped second season; Cowell fired Paula Abdul and Nicole Scherzinger from the panel earlier this year in an effort to reinvent his pet reality project amid heavy competition from such rivals as The Voice in a TV marketplace saturated with singing shows.
On Monday, the music mogul unveiled new colleagues Spears and Lovato at Fox's upfront presentation to advertisers in New York City, the announcement of which resulted in the TMZ headline: "Simon Cowell -- Not Worried About Britney Spears Melting Down." Smiling for the cameras, Cowell teased: "We'll see."
As THR previously reported, industry insiders and people around the Spears camp have been seriously concerned as to whether she can capably handle having to give an opinion on live television. The 30-year-old mother of two, whose tabloid troubles all but eclipsed her career in recent years, has avoided doing any major interviews since her 2006 one-on-one with Matt Lauer, where she broke down -- while chewing gum -- on camera.
Spears is under the the conservatorship of her father, Jamie Spears, and her fiance, Jason Trawick, fueling more concern: is she really ready for this?
"She's got really smart people around her," said Howard Bragman, Hollywood crisis managment expert and vice chairman of Reputation.com. "I don't think (Spears' manager) Larry (Rudolf) and her team would let her out if she wasn't ready."
Bragman told THR she could prepare by watching past editions of X Factor to get as familiar possible while learning from the judges' on-air mishaps. The key, he said, is to develop her own judging style because viewers respond to originality. Then again, she's got a lot of angles to work with, as a beloved yet controversial performer who's also a mom.
"Don't underestimate someone a little shaky," he said, mentioning Abdul's successful run of "walking the tightrope" on American Idol. "This is a good girl. We want her to succeed."
Legal and communications strategist Mark Fabiani -- who worked with Lance Armstrong during his performance-enhancing drug controversy and Bill and Hillary Clinton circa Whitewater -- said Spears could benefit from low expectations.
"People are eager to give second chances to other people if they seem to be trying hard," he said.
Fabiani also noted the multi-platinum, chart-topping pop superstar's years of experience, performing shows for millions of fans -- most recently, on her Femme Fatale tour. "I wouldn't sell short a person like that, In some ways, it doesn't seem daunting," he said.
Plus, Spears' aura of anything-can-happen unpredictability might be fun to watch. (See: Abdul on Idol, 2002-2009.)
"Part of the fun of these shows is they are seemingly spontaneous," observed Fabiani, noting Spears should practice various media techniques to ensure a smooth debut this fall -- but her feedback need not be scripted, or rehearsed beforehand.
Matt Hiltzik, who's guided Alec Baldwin through his crises, compared training Spears for X Factor to preparing an athlete for a post-retirement life in the public eye. The difference, he said, is that Spears -- like Idol's Jennifer Lopez -- remains immersed in the performing world, and that lends her credibility as a judge.
"She's perfectly capable of doing it," he said. "People should give her a chance. She is a fascinating figure who's lived the life."