Is Jennifer Lopez a Simon/Paula hybrid?

Curator's Note

What if Simon Cowell was a woman? He would likely have been labeled a ball breaker, an angry spinster, a cold and calculating she-demon. Alas, as a tell-it-like it is man, he got to say things that a female judge would never get away with without being labeled as PMS-ing, neurotic, or downright mean.

And what if Paula Abdul were a man?  Abdul plays into a plethora of female stereotypes: ditzy, emotional, nurturing, inarticulate. Perched as she was between Randy (the ultra-cool dog) and Simon (the cold, calculating Brit), she tended to come off as a bubble-headed, smiley faced, tear-stained cheerleader. Saying things like  “I want to squeeze you,” Abdul was the “nice” judge on the panel. If she were male, she would have been raked across the coals for such niceness.

This season, commentators have weighed in that the panel is now too nice. For example, “It’s Time for American Idol Judges to Get Mean” argues the judges need to remember the show is a competition. Noting Lopez “has a smidge of Paula Abdul in her, as we saw when she broke down eliminating Chris Medina,” Berman argues that “It’s a kinder, gentler ‘Idol,’ this season, but that doesn’t mean it will be better.”

With mean-macho Cowell and syrupy sweet Abdul absent, the panel is certainly less stereotypically gendered in ways.

I was in hopes Lopez would show some of the Diva-side she is rumored to have, and be a bit tougher on contestants. Instead, far too much focus has been directed at Lopez’s appearance (as when she was named People’s most beautiful woman) and far too little focus has been placed on actual judging.

With “I love you” as her tag-line, Lopez is more Abdul than Cowell. If her “hybrid” mixing had a bit more  bite, she would be a better, less stereotypically feminine judge –  one that could also dole out necessary criticism AND tears. As is, her teary breakdown after telling Medina he was cut from the competition has not been counter-balanced with any incisive critique.

Come on JLo, surely back on the block you needed to be able to throw down tongue-lashings when necessary?

Next time around, I hope JLo will deliver less love, fewer tears, and more of what the job title calls for – judging.


The season 10 audition rounds led me to believe that Jennifer and Steven were going to be able to be honest without being cruel (like Simon) or condescending (like Kara), but I was disappointed by the judges lack of constructive critiques once the voting-rounds began. However, I recently watched a video interview TVLine’s Michael Slezak conducted with finalist Stefano Langone and he said it was the youth of many contestants that caused the judges’ critiques to be so soft. He (and Haley) received some of the harsher criticism but he said that was because producers knew the could handle it.I tend to think there is at least some truth to that considering the way 16 year old Lauren was reduced to tears the one time she was in the bottom three.

It also seems the producers were handling JLo and Steven Tyler with kid gloves. The first “live episodes” were actually pre-taped.(Lythgoe tweeted that this was done because of the new judging panel) And the remaining episodes were put on a seven-second delay reportedly because of Steven’s spontaneous use expletives. Additionally, there were times throughout the season when the judges’ teleprompter (with written critiques) was captured on screen. It has been standard practice for years for the judges to watch the rehearsals and make notes to reference on air, but it seems that all three judges said little of substance, that which they did say was significantly pre-planned. In my opinion it was clear that Lythgoe wanted Lauren and Scotty in the finale from the beginning of the season so perhaps what the judges said (or did not say) did in fact serve the show as intended.

Like Natalie has stated, I hope that next year, should JLo return, she will step up and give constructive criticism (I hope the other judges will too). But I do not want to see the kind of cruelty Simon is famous for doling out. But on the other hand, his style does serve a purpose. Jennifer Hudson recently told Jimmy Fallon that she was able to ignore tabloid negativity because Simon had prepared her for real-world, harsh criticism. I guess the bottom line is judges should not offer platitudes they should offer useful critiques.

I do think that S.Ty combines many qualities of both Simon and Paula (including--and I am self-indulgently quoting my own writing here--Simon's wandering eye and Paula's wandering mind). I also like to say that Simon was teaching America to judge, and Paula was America's conscience--reminding us of the value of compassion, and that you are supposed to react to cruelty with outrage. One viewer I interviewed told me that he likes to watch Idol with his kids, because it offers what he feels are both positive and negative examples of behavior: if someone criticizes you harshly, do you cuss and throw a glass of water at him, or do you humbly respect his opinion and use it to help you grow? And if you see someone being cruel to another person, do you snicker and roll your eyes or do you stand up for that person? Life lessons, there. 

The lack of criticism as the season went on was difficult to process. Ultimately, it begged the question, "Why does the judging panel exist?"  Perhaps, this was part of the concern Simon expressed upon learning who the new judging panel was.  Would people who are still primarily performers be able to offer that kind of critique?  Is there too much risk to their image?  Given that they both performed multiple times, it's clear they've used the show as much as the show has used  them.  However, Maria noted, criticism doesn't have to be as biting as Simon's was.

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