As you may have gleaned, I really like great judges on reality TV. While it takes a primed pro like Ryan Seacrest or Cat Deeley to make sure the entire operation runs smoothly, the judges can elevate the quality of a reality competition from vapidly entertaining to thoroughly compelling. Since the always-dubious Britney Spears is poised to super-officially announce her gig as the new panelist on X Factor, it’s time to step up and declare who should really be filling Paula Abdul’s shaky shoes. I’ve got 25 better candidates, ranked and ready for Simon Cowell’s consideration.
25. Katy Perry
Sure, she’s kitschy and a little shallow, but she’s entertainingly goofy and even earnest in interviews. Katy Perry would also be likely to grade the energy and stage presence of contestants, which is always a sorely under-discussed component on these shows.
24. Justin Timberlake
I worry he’d be even less critical than Adam Levine, but JT’s smart interviews indicate he’d perform with improvisational gusto.
23. Sheryl Crow
The sweet songstress is a master of pop, rock, country, and folk. And she knows her music history.
The metallically abdominal-ed superstar seems like an obvious choice. A reality show wouldn’t hamper his credibility as an R&B/dance icon a bit. Why isn’t he more of an option?
21. Adam Lambert
The one-man glitter god is a straightforward commentator and a very sympathetic guy. These damn shows need gays.
The Voice proved that Ne-Yo’s critical skills are pointed and memorable. He’s a young pro, the very picture of what every contestant wants to be.
19. Carole King
I’m a diehard defender of Kara DioGuardi’s run on Idol, and I always believe great songwriters make great judges. Carole’s the queen of songwriting, and her eye for talent — at least according to her cool new autiobiography — indicates she’d be a welcome addition to the panel.
18. Kylie Minogue
Girl is fab, but would she be as unwaveringly un-memorable as her sister Dannii on the UK version of the show? I don’t care. I always need more Kylie.
17. Michael Stipe
This is a selfish choice, but I’d die to see Stipe’s plummy-eyed, mumblecore ennui in such a bombastic format.
16. Natalie Maines
The Dixie Chicks effing rule. And Natalie Maines, the snarling but sensitive frontwoman of the group, is a consummate truth-teller.
15. Gwen Stefani
Gwen is effortlessly fab, and we simply haven’t seen enough of her in years. Rumor has it she’s up for a reality hosting gig, but I’d rather see her on the panel.
14. Miley Cyrus
You laugh, but the girl is pretty great with advice. Remember her Idol stint in season nine? No? Because we need more of that spunk and fun in the judges’ lineup.
13. Stevie Nicks
On Idol, her passion for the young contestants’ potential was startlingly apparent. I want to see her moon pendants in perpetual primetime!
12. Barbra Streisand
An impossible choice, but the decadence and pitch-perfect counseling would be unbelievable.
It’d be swell to see an artist at the peak of her superstardom deign to dignify a reality series, wouldn’t it?
Say what you will about the oft-bilious songstress, but she’s sustained a fabulous career for over a decade, AND she’s drop-dead candid. I’d care about her opinion because it’d be honest, succinct, and not necessarily nice.
9. Alanis Morissette
She proved herself a sympathetic, endearing, and — here’s a word I haven’t used much yet — articulate coach as part of Adam Levine’s team on The Voice. Is it time the Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie upped her critical skills to the big leagues?
Can’t you hear her starting and ending each critique with “honey” and a discombobulated head shake?
7. George Michael
George’s voice is still impeccable, and his wickedness is still inimitable. His recreational habits have garnered far too much press, and I’d like to see the focus return to George’s immense gifts as a musician.
I always forget that Adele is a killer interview. She’ll say raunchy things! And it’s always charming and righteous! The woman is an unassailable star, and a dopey operation like X Factor would exponentially upgrade if she joined.
Shakira is an exceptional talent: She’s a distinct vocalist, a saucy dancer, and one of the best lyricists in pop. Bring me the Shak, dear lord. Forever.
4. Lady Gaga
I enjoyed her happy-clappy, oft-tearful commentary on the last season of So You Think You Can Dance. She’d be unfailingly positive, but she’d do it creatively.
3. Courtney Love
If you’re going to hire a trainwreck, hire the one who writes eviscerating letters to magazine and website editors. She’ll always have something to say. Plus: The woman is a damn legend, and “Celebrity Skin” is one of the best pop singles ever.
Enough with the W.E.s, MDNAs, and any other dubious abbreviation Ms. Ciccone wants me to believe in: I want to see Madonna’s phenomenal talent for self-expression and spicy repartee find a permanent spot in America’s homes. Bring me back the vulgar Madonna of the ’94 Letterman appearance, please.
1. Elton John
Elton has settled into a life of casual SNL hosting gigs, million dollar pianos, and snide/hilarious commentary. Why won’t he join a reality competition, bring that monumental ego we saw in Tantrums and Tiaras, and make Simon Cowell seem like a meek dormouse in comparison? I CRAVE this.
Throw me your selections, AfterEltonians! This post is officially all right for fighting.