How about we just call it like it is: Jennifer Lopez's recent admission to the BBC that she's "on the fence" about returning to "American Idol" next season is likely nothing more than a ploy for a pay hike. Lopez's current salary: a reported $12 million. How high could her demand ultimately go? Another $23 million, if the Simon Cowell budget is your barometer.
That's right, Idol's top-earning judge for eight years running commanded $35 million per season at the end of his tenure, or about $642,201 per hour, using season 9's total airtime. And while Lopez is a proven entity with some box office cachet and a current hit on the Billboard charts (thanks, in large part, to its premiere and multiple plugs on 'Idol'), is her contribution to the show really worth that much?
Let's consider: The Bronx beauty has the crabby Brit beat in the looks department, as viewers tuned in just to see what Lopez was wearing or how her hair was done, but when it came to commenting on the performances, it took all season for her to work up the courage to be anything less than fawning. Were it not for Casey Abrams's surprise peck and the occasional cooing "baby" that she would bestow on a contestant, and, dare we say, J Lo sometimes bordered on dull.
With that in mind, who's really getting more out of this relationship? True, Fox was able to avert a season 10 ratings disaster by enlisting Lopez for a year on the panel (judge Steven Tyler is signed on through season 11), and the numbers stayed flat, but after nine months of work plus that hefty paycheck, J Lo also walked away with a resurrected career and a radio smash ("On the Floor") on her hands - her first in nearly a decade.
One has to wonder: was Lopez's 'Idol' commitment contingent on her having new product to promote? If that was the case, who could blame her? The exposure alone is priceless, but having an agenda is not lost on some viewers and even certain ex-contestants.
Just before last month's 'Idol' finale, season 5 second runner-up Elliott Yamin offered his view of the new judges: "I feel like Jennifer and Steven might not be back because their goal was to really promote things they have coming out," he said. "Paula [Abdul] did that too, with the song and video she put out, but it seems like they're doing it more than ever this season." (Worth noting: Tyler, who released a book and a solo single this year, is headed back into the studio with his band Aerosmith to work on a new album and don't be surprised if its release date is slated for Spring 2012.)
For its part in promoting Lopez, Fox is left in a precarious predicament similar to what the network faced last summer when the question of the judges was very much still up in the air -- a stressful exercise that doesn't call for a repeat. But if Lopez holds out too much longer, that's exactly what all could be in for.
When asked about her plans, Lopez told the BBC: "I loved ['Idol'] but I have a lot other things happening, and it's going to come down to me making a choice of what I want to do for the next year … we're not really at the breaking point of 'You have to make a decision right now!' "
This then leads us to another unanswered question posed by a salty Brit: "How soon is now?"