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Why in the World Is Katy Perry Judging American Idol?

Vanity Fair logo Vanity Fair 5/17/2017 Kenzie Bryant
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(Video provided by ETOnline.com)

American Idol, the singing competition about to launch its 16th season on a new network, has announced that Katy Perry will be on its judging panel when the series returns on ABC next winter. The news was revealed at ABC’s upfront presentation Tuesday afternoon, just hours after Perry all but broke it herself during an Ellen appearance.

American Idol certainly needs Perry. ABC raised the 15-year franchise from the dead well before it was cold in its Fox grave, causing consternation both within the network and outside of it—especially after two of Idol’s most starry alumni, Kelly Clarkson and Jennifer Hudson, pointedly signed on to serve as judges on the next season of NBC’s The Voice instead of the undead series that made them famous. Clearly, Idol could use a big name both to shore up its judging panel and justify its quick return—and according to Entertainment Weekly, Idol had actually tried for years to sign Perry. Now that it finally has her, the network is allegedly offering her somewhere between $10 to $15 million. © By Rich Fury/Getty Images.

But it’s a little more difficult to understand why Perry would want to tie herself to Idol. On balance, The Voice has proven a much more fecund ground for artists in their prime—or at least on a steady plateau—than Idol has: think Rihanna, MileyCyrus, Alicia Keys, even Blake Shelton and Adam Levine. Its two-season-a-year structure—“coaches” serve on a rotating basis—has proven attractive to performers who still want to be known primarily for recording albums and touring, rather than appearing on reality shows. The first incarnation of American Idol, on the other hand, was known better for attracting performers closer to the winter of their recording careers, like—gulp—Mariah Carey (sorry, Mimi!) and Jennifer Lopez (this hurts me more than it hurts you!).

Then again, maybe Perry needs American Idol, too. She’s about to release her fifth studio album, which means she’s just about on schedule for a “reinvention” stage—think of Lady Gaga curtailing her more theatrical shades to go full cowgirl for Joanne, debuting singles in dive bars and wearing American flags. (That album was also Gaga’s fifth solo release, not counting her weird Tony Bennett duet phase.) The once milk-covered Miley Cyrus is all wedding rings and virginal white for her new single, “Malibu” (off her upcoming sixth studio album), and it’s clear from an interview inBillboard that she’s got the country music fandom on her mind. (“The fact that ­country music fans are scared of me, that hurts me ...)

And if you’ve been watching, you’ve seen Katy Perry make similar moves as well lately. Her first major appearance after she killed at the 2016 Super Bowl was at the Country Music Awards, doing a duet with Dolly Parton. Later in the year, she performed with Kacey Musgraves on CMT. A residency on Idol would give Perry a solid platform to approach the same sort of demographics Gaga and Cyrus have courted in their country-fried phases, even if the one-time Hillary Clinton booster is still purportedly concentrating on “purposeful pop.”

Her first album in four years, Witness, also comes out on June 9, and her tour revs up in September. Idol will help her market both—and showing up on television every week could also help Perry rehab her image, which has been through the public-relations ringer over the past few months, after a couple of flop songs and revelations that she made not one, but two racially insensitive gaffes. (Plus, that joke about Britney Spears at the Grammys? Not great!) If Perry manages to charm audiences on a regular basis, she stands to fall back into public good graces—whether or not she decides to go full-on country next.

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