Simon Cowell is no stranger to rebooting judging panels.
After axing X Factor season one judges Paula Abdul and Nicole Sherzinger, keeping Epic Records chairman L.A. Reid, last January, Cowell now faces vacant seats from Britney Spears and the aforementioned Reid as he looks ahead to season three.
Reid announced his exit from the program just one week ahead of the season two finale, which saw one of his own mentees, country man Tate Stevens, nab the $5 million prize. Meanwhile, Spears made her exodus official in early January after reports had speculated that she would not be asked back for another shot, citing a lackluster performance on screen. Both judges said they would be returning to focus on their day jobs: music.
It remains unclear whether season two judge Demi Lovato will stay put for another season, but we sure hope she will. Here’s why:
Lovato may have beat viewers over the head with her self-proclamations of being “young” and “awesome,” (while Cowell was “old” and “crusty”) but as the youngest panelist at 20 years old, Lovato did bring a fresh perspective to the panel – all aged over 30.
Her bantering – make that bickering – with Cowell provided fodder not only for the viewing audience, but for the covering press and the contestants as well. Arguably, the best zingers of the competition (aside from Spears’ quizzical “I just didn’t get it” to CeCe Frey, perhaps her best contribution of the entire season,) came from the mouths of Lovato and Cowell -- oftentimes in the midst of an argument.
Cowell has said numerous times that even amid declining ratings for his program, the goal was to gain a much younger-skewing audience, and on that front, succeed they did. While plenty of Khloe Kardashian and Spears fans tuned in -- most of whom are likely to be over 18 -- it was undoubtedly Ms. Lovato’s loyal Lovatics carrying the tween audience. Even in studio tapings, the former Disney star was the subject of constant and deafening screams, and countless signs. Her fanatical followers stayed glued to Lovato’s every move and offered words of praise and encouragement via social media.
And while Lovato was the first mentor knocked out of the competition, with all four of her young adult acts sent home early, could it be that she was done a disservice with her category?
It quickly became obvious that Lovato not only embraced her competitors, but was the most actively involved judge on the panel. Each week, viewers watched as she worked with her mentees and developed a personal relationship with each and we watched as she sobbed into Frey’s arms upon her elimination. But how could she be expected to guide the careers of young artists that would ultimately emerge to be her own marketplace competition, while simultaneously attempting to navigate her own path?
Give her the kids category, formerly coached by Spears, and we have no doubt that her talents will be put to great use. Don’t forget, Lovato was a child star, too.
So who could fill the voids left by Spears and Reid?
When signing Spears, Cowell was reportedly hoping to cash in on some wild and zany behavior during live tapings. Instead, he wound up paying a reported $15 million for robot-like critiques (“amazing,” was her signature,) and some hilarious facial expressions.
So how do you top a Grammy-winning pop princess with a past? How about a Grammy, Golden Globe, Emmy and Academy Award-winning diva?
Cher is no stranger to the music and entertainment scene and as of late, the music icon is said to be recording a new album, putting her in prime position for the publicity circuit. And if you follow her on Twitter, you know how outspoken, comical and eccentric she can be.
She may be older than the demographic Cowell’s going for (“Who’s Cher?” we can hear the tween’s asking), but then again, that's what Lovato's for.
Cher has the chops and the accolades to dole out advice to aspiring pop stars. To wit: the singer has notched a No. 1 hit single on the Billboard charts during each of the past six decades. Career longevity, much? She has years of television experience already under her belt and while Spears reportedly negotiates a Las Vegas residency, Cher has already dazzled audiences during her 1979-1982 stint at Caesar's and her 2008-2011 run at The Colosseum.
As far as industry cred is concerned, Cowell needs some backup. Yes, as he infamously reminded us during a particularly heated on-air exchange, he has sold more than 30 million records. But, still. Who can fill in for Reid as a fellow TV-friendly exec?
Steve Lillywhite jumps to mind, though Cowell is not likely to put another Brit on the show. A five-time Grammy-winning producer and CBE (Commander of British Empire), Lillywhite has worked with the likes of U2, Matchbox 20, The Counting Crowes, among numerous others (hello, groups). Most recently, Lillywhite worked on The Dave Matthews Band's Away from the World, The Killers’ Battle Born and The Rolling Stones’ GRRR!. His credits also include mixing the opening ceremony music at the 2012 London Olympics.
In addition to his music chops, Lillywhite was blessed with a quick wit to boot, and rumor has it that Lillywhite has been gunning for a gig on reality TV. Follow him on Twitter (@sillywhite) here.
But if Cowell is seeking a more familiar face, Ne-Yo could be a perfect fit. The Grammy Award-winning Def Jam recording artist has five studio albums to his name (including 2012’s R.E.D.), and since January of 2012 has served as Senior Vice President of A&R at Motown, serving as a producer and mentor to the label’s artists.
A modern-day recording artist and industry exec rolled into one -- what more could aspiring talent want in a mentor?
What do you think of THR’s X Factor picks? Who would you like to see seated at the judges’ panel? Tell us in the comments below.
Email: Sophie.Schillaci@THR.com; Twitter: @SophieSchillaci
With reporting by Shirley Halperin and Michele Amabile Angermiller.
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