If there’s a case study to be had about how being a judge on a reality show can save someone’s career, look no further than Jennifer Lopez. The singer/actress went from slowly fading from the public eye to catapulting back into pop culture-sphere three years ago — and it’s all thanks to her time on “American Idol” since 2011.
Lopez’s eighth studio album, “A.K.A.” is officially released on Tuesday and she’s in full promotional mode. While various articles point to 2011 as her “comeback” year, that’s really an understatement to how important “American Idol” was getting her career back on track — and creating the $50 million brand that she is today.
That speaks to the larger point about a career reboot thanks to reality television: Perhaps because many people think of reality shows as a desperate way to get buzz, you don’t really hear the harsh truth too often on the positive side of the spectrum: That when it works, it works brilliantly.
Take J-Lo: Back in 2010, she had mostly gone from the public spotlight. Her career was huge in the late ’90s/early 2000s, thanks to hit songs (“Waiting For Tonight,” “Jenny From the Block,” “Love Don’t Cost a Thing”) and selling millions of albums. Plus, she had a second career as a rom-com queen, including “The Wedding Planner. “Maid in Manhattan” and “Monster in Law.” Suddenly, it all stalled — her films started to tank and her songs sputtered on the charts. She left her longtime record label, Sony, and there was confusion about when (or if) her album “Love?” would be released.
Around this time, “American Idol” came calling, with a reported $12 million contract. After months of rumors, it was finally confirmed in September 2010 that J-Lo would be on a panel with Steven Tyler and Randy Jackson in the upcoming 10th season.
Though “Idol” was in a slide at the time, the show still delivered about 23 million viewers per episode — and more than 25 million were watching the night J-Lo debuted her new music video, “On the Floor” featuring Pitbull. The tune was her first in the Top 10 in about seven years; she also performed the song on an “Idol” results show in May.
That kind of national attention proved to be extremely valuable — the song was a smash hit and “Love?” was finally released that spring on a new label. J-Lo was officially back in the forefront of the entertainment world, particularly when she split with her longtime husband, Marc Anthony, in summer 2011. She was back on “Idol” for Season 11 in 2012, her career reignited and brand going strong.
Lopez took a break after the next season to go on tour, and she started more behind-the-scenes projects, including developing ABC Family drama “The Fosters” through her production company; she was also appointed the chief creative officer of the NUVOtv channel. But in 2014, small screen stardom beckoned again (as did, likely, her alleged $17.5 million payday) and she was back on “Idol” with Harry Connick Jr. and Keith Urban for Season 13.
Granted, “Idol” flopped this year, but there’s nothing that gets you more exposure appearing on TV multiple times a week. Lopez has been inescapable in the weeks leading up to her release of her latest album, including performing at the World Cup with the official song of the event, “We Are One.” And now, “A.K.A.” is poised as the biggest album launch this week.
Back in 2010, shortly after J-Lo signed her deal with “Idol,” The Wire ran a story titled “Did Jennifer Lopez Just Save or Ruin Her Career?” We know the answer now. And other reality show judges including Christina Aguilera, Blake Shelton and even Keith Urban can attest to this fact: As much as people like to poke fun, the reality TV route is simply the best way for musicians of any caliber to remain firmly anchored in the spotlight.