Talent Recap

Show Me the Money: Why Do Celebrities Agree to Judge Talent Shows?

American Idol JudgesABC/Eric McCandless

Reading Time: 3 minutes

When American Idol first hit airwaves in 2002, viewers quickly became enamored with the show that thrusted unknown singers into superstardom. From the audition process that entertained and moved us, to the live shows that had us rooting and calling to vote for our favorite contestants, American Idol was pure pandemonium. The secret to the success of the show was not only the talent that came from it, but from the judges who offered their insight, opinions, and harsh criticism. Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul, and Randy Jackson were monumental in how American Idol achieved legendary status. But how did they get started on the hit show?

Decades after the premiere of American Idol, there have been dozens of talent competition shows that are now pop culture mainstays. As years have gone by, we’ve see some of pop culture’s biggest stars coming on board talent shows.  

When American Idol first premiered the biggest star on the show at the time was Paula Abdul. The entertainer was a pop sensation during the late 80s and early 90s after being discovered by Janet Jackson. By the time the new millennium came around, Abdul’s star had dimmed from the glory days of her career.

Simon Cowell and Randy Jackson were known more so by music insiders as hit makers and managers. Qualified in their own ways, each of the judges were not huge celebrity names at the time, but each judge did have a hand in already helping and discovering talent. By the time the original three judges left the show, viewers became fixated on them just as much as the singers.


How Do Celebs Become Judges?

There are no specific qualifications that would lead to a celebrity getting hired other than being just that: a celebrity. With broadcast cable now competing with streaming services, the risk of bringing onboard virtually unknowns and older pop stars no longer pays off. Now shows such as The Voice, American Idol, America’s Got Talent, and others are looking for the biggest name that will bring the most visibility and dominate fan interest. 

There is no easy way to say this, but over the last decade stars who have signed on to judge talent competition shows were generally in need of a career boost. These stars are not so much past their prime, but in need of an audience to remember that they are still around. These celebrities are using talent shows as a new marketing platform to hawk their new music, tour or other ventures.

Unlike Abdul who I am sure had already accepted where her career was before she joined Idol. What makes Abdul’s decision stand out was that she joined not knowing how much Idol would catapult her back into the spotlight. For Cowell and Jackson, they had no idea their careers would reach the levels that it reached. 

Not every celebrity who joins is hoping fans remember them. Ariana Grande’s decision to join Season 21 of The Voice shows that once again the judging design is evolving. Grande is currently one of the biggest pop stars in the world and does not need to join a competition show in hopes that her fans would support her new music. She is still charting and winning grammys. She is still very much in demand. 

Yes, a star like Jennifer Lopez may care about the singers who are putting everything on the line to achieve their dreams, although the success rate after winning these shows in recent years is low. When you look on paper which judges helped turn aspiring singers into huge music stars, you will see the original three, Cowell, Abdul, and Jackson. 

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