It was the worst-kept secret in Hollywood, when Simon Cowell finally confirmed this week that Britney Spears will be taking Paula Abdul's seat on the X-Factor judges' panel. The press had been rumbling for weeks that the Toxic popster would be signing a $15 million deal to mentor one of the categories in this year's sophomore season of the floundering show. Even so, many people suspected that this was just another example of Simon's ability to make something out of nothing - like last year's convoluted Cheryl Cole saga, which managed to make Mahabharat look like a five-minute short. Since it was first revealed that Nicole Scherzinger, Paula Abdul and Steve Jones wouldn't be returning, pretty much everyone who's ever even visited an HMV was rumoured to be in the running for a place on the panel. So many people will have, quite rightly, assumed that this was just more mindless conjecture in the absence of anything concrete.
So seeing Britney Jean Spears standing alongside Cowell and co, dead-eyed and snapping her gum like she was waiting to clock off from a late shift at the local KFC, still came as a genuine surprise. She might have countless sales records under her increasingly strained belt, but eyebrows have to be raised at her ability to counsel and mentor young hopefuls. Her fiance Jason Trawick was recently made her co-conservator, giving him joint control (along with her father) over her personal affairs. Food, clothes, personal appearances - the whole shebang. Given that Britney still needs such control to be exerted over her own life, makes her appointment as an X-Factor judge seem cruelly cynical.
Perhaps if Britney herself seemed more interested in coaching would-be singers, this wouldn't be quite such an unpleasant twist. But fans of the X-Factor will remember her embarrassing appearance on the UK show, when she managed to appear as utterly disinterested in the format as my dog when he watches me eating tofu. After stomping around the stage like a child protesting an early bedtime, she struggled to understand Dermot's questions about the contestants' own performances. It was quite clear that she had no idea about any of it, and having already struggled to mime on her feet, her ability to think on them became all too apparent.
Not to worry though, there's another new judge to take the pressure off Britney's damaged shoulders. Nineteen year-old Demi Lovato was ushered in as the other new signing. Contracted for the bargain price of $1 million, she's the free toilet bag that comes with a fifty-quid bottle of eau de toilette. Despite her tender years, Demi has forged a pretty successful career - even if she remains largely unknown outside of the US. Another Disney starlet who shot to fame alongside the Jonas Brothers, Demi has released several albums and can at least cut it as a live singer. Unfortunately, she's also had her fair share of personal drama, including an extended stint in rehab last year for drug abuse, self harm and eating disorders. Personally, I can't think of a safer pair of hands for a bunch of naive wannabes.
So what the hell is Simon Cowell thinking? Maybe he's planning a reality TV restaging of Salò. Or perhaps he's trying to take the heat away from the increasing publc perception that his modern day gladatorial TV concepts are unnecessarily cruel to their contestants. By selecting judges whose own mental wellbeing seems to hang by a thread, he can distract us from worrying about the performers and focus on the celebrity car-crash instead. After all, we might get upset at the sight of members of the public being played for fools, but we have no such qualms when it comes to torturing the rich and famous. Why else do you think that Survivor was quickly replaced by I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here?
When asked by TMZ whether he was worried about Britney's ability to cope with the pressures of live TV, Simon answered, "Not at all." It's up to you to decide whether that's a vote of confidence in her favour, or a telling insight into Simon's true aspirations for season two. Best hide the hair clippers and golf umbrellas though, just to be on the safe side.