When Paula Abdul reportedly turned down her final contract offer from "American Idol," two questions immediately emerged. What else can she do that earns her that much money for half a year of work? And who would replace her as the designated foil for Simon Cowell's barbs?
That second question has led to a lot of speculation and conjecture, which keeps the show in the news even during its off-season, which makes everyone at 19 Entertainment and Fox very happy. At the moment, it appears that the show's producers are planning to keep the judging fraternity a foursome, with another woman replacing Paula. Guest judges will fill that spot for auditions, with a permanent replacement named in time for the start of the next season in January.
Paula's particular blend of sympathy and loopiness is irreplaceable, but there are still a number of women who could fill her soundbite quota. Don't expect a decision to be made anytime soon, as the show almost certainly wants to keep the hype going as long as it can. But some names are already being discussed.
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Victoria ‘Posh Spice’ Beckham
The sales pitch: Who knows better about what it takes to become a manufactured pop star than Posh Spice? The Spice Girls were an early find for Simon Fuller and 19 Entertainment, becoming one of the most successful acts of their musical generation.
Since the band’s 15 minutes of fame expired, Posh has stayed in the news as a solo artist, reality TV performer, and fashionista. She'll tell you what she wants, what she really, really wants, is to be a superstar, and “Idol” is set up to give her just the attention she needs. She's already joined the show as one of the guest judges for the audition rounds, and her performance there could serve as her own audition for a permanent spot.
The downside: Husband and soccer star David Beckham is already unpopular in Los Angeles given his recent altercation with a fan. If she doesn't work out on "Idol," the backlash could make the Beckhams the least popular California act since, well, the current budget crisis. Also, she’d be a second British judge on the show, one more than the currently accepted limits on reality TV.
The conclusion: A great choice as a guest judge, but an unlikely pick to replace Paula permanently. But she’s among the most likely to say yes if asked.
The sales pitch: Perry would be a great choice to get some of Paula’s enthusiasm in a pop-relevant package. Unlike Abdul, whose hit records of the 1980s are getting dangerously close to the “Idol” contestant age limits, Perry is an actual current pop star. Whoever wins this season will be both her colleague and her competitor, which would add a new layer of drama to the proceedings. She’s performed “Waking Up in Vegas” on the show wearing a cape embroidered with Adam Lambert’s name, so she’s not afraid of making her opinions on the contestants known. And she'd be a huge hit with the younger viewers, helping to expand the show's reach and relevance.
The downside: What’s in it for Perry? Unlike Paula, who had nothing but time on her hands when "Idol" came calling, Perry has a pop career to think about. Being a full-time judge takes time away from her own musical career at its high point, which won’t make her people happy.
The conclusion: The guest-judge slot meets her needs perfectly, but it’s doubtful that she’d be the pick to replace Paula. Call her back in a couple of years.
The sales pitch: Where to start? She’s had musical success in rap, soul, jazz and hip-hop. She’s been an award-winning actor, and a CoverGirl model, as well as a successful businesswoman. Everything she touches seems to turn to gold. She's savvy enough to see the opportunity that the "Idol" stage could provide to her brand name and portfolio of interests, so the job might actually pique her interest. Plus, who wouldn't want to see Queen Latifah and Simon Cowell spar? She might be the rare judge who could shut Simon up when he gets carried away.
The downside: She'd have to see the benefit for her, and she'd have to have the time in her schedule to commit to "Idol." Also, how’s Simon going to feel about a fellow judge who may exceed his own star power?
The conclusion: If “Idol” can get her, they should jump at the chance. But odds aren’t great that they can.
The sales pitch: Anyone doubting that the United States loves a good second chance story never saw Lil’ Kim on “Dancing with the Stars.” She was surprisingly delightful there this year, coming in fifth place with partner Derek Hough and becoming a favorite of both judges and fans. Her musical chops as a rap, hip-hop and R&B artist are strong enough that she'd have credibility on the podium. And because she held her own in bantering with Bruno, Len and Carrie Ann on the “"DWTS" stage, she's well-prepared to do the same as part of an "Idol" foursome.
The downside: Well, there's the matter of those 10 months she spent in jail on conspiracy and perjury charges, stemming from a friend’s involvement in a shooting outside a Manhattan studio. "American Idol" has been squeamish about controversy in the past. Will they afraid of Kim's rap sheet?
The conclusion: Don't count her out. It would be a pick that could give the show the revitalization it's looking for.
Craig Berman is a writer in Washington, D.C.