Contestants? It's TV talent judges basking in fame, cash

Thu May 17, 2012 1:43pm EDT
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By Jill Serjeant

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Time was when TV talent shows set out to turn wannabes into stars.

These days? Not so much. It's the celebrity judges who are raking in the cash and using TV contests not only as a way to re-launch a fading career, but to further boost a thriving one.

For music stars in an era of weak record sales, the trend spells victory for their bank account, but for fans and the music industry always hungering for a new star, it's a loss. And for TV networks, the once cheap-to-produce shows are ever more expensive, yet they don't always pay off in bigger audiences.

As recent winners of "The Voice" and "American Idol" fade into obscurity, pop princess Britney Spears and ex-Disney Channel teen star Demi Lovato have signed up to judge "The X Factor," while controversial radio DJ Howard Stern is the biggest star on the new season of "America's Got Talent".

Spears and Stern are among the most highly-paid TV judges, each earning a reported $15-$20 million annual salary - a bigger figure than many A-list Hollywood actors command for a movie.

"The whole playing field has shifted from when 'American Idol' started (2002) and the judges were people whose biggest hits were behind them. Now it is seen as a really viable option for current artists," said Melinda Newman, a music blogger for entertainment website

Spears and Stern join a roster of celebrity TV judges that includes Christina Aguilera, Steven Tyler, Sharon Osbourne, Cee Lo Green and Blake Shelton who have seen their fame, record sales and endorsement deals skyrocket since they began sitting in front of the stage rather than on it.

Kelly Clarkson, the first "American Idol" champion and now a Grammy-winning singer with worldwide celebrity, joins the judge club next week on "Duets," which pairs would-be singers with established stars.   Continued...

Singers Britney Spears and Demi Lovato are shown in this combination of file photos made on May 16, 2012. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni/Files