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Jennifer Lopez - Turnaround Artist

Over 40, with more bombs than an artillery range, Jennifer Lopez seemed washed up. Then American Idol gave her a second chance, which she’s taken all the way to the top of our Celebrity 100

Published: Jul 2, 2012 06:26:16 AM IST
Updated: Jul 2, 2012 01:08:18 PM IST
Jennifer Lopez - Turnaround Artist
Image: Tony Duran/ Corbis Outline

It’s 9:30 on a Thursday night in Los Angeles, and Jennifer Lopez is on the giant American Idol stage, about to strip off her white terry cloth bathrobe. Practicing for a performance of her upbeat new single, “Dance Again,” which will appear on the following week’s Idol, the 42-year-old reveals a rhinestone body suit gilded in a peacock palette. Casper Smart, her 25-year-old boyfriend and dance partner, puts his hands on her shoulders, hips, thigh and then snaps her around to face him, her caramel hair teased beach-sexy silhouetted against magenta lasers.

“That’ll sell tickets,” whispers Randy Phillips, head of AEG Live, who is producing Lopez’s upcoming tour, as he watches just off-stage. “I don’t mean to be crass, but it’s true.”

Actually, anything Lopez will sell right now. In the last year she graced 46 major magazine covers, topped People’s 2011 Most Beautiful list, signed deals with L’Oréal, Gillette, Fiat and TOUS jewellery, and launched a Jennifer Lopez collection of clothing for Kohl’s. Besides judging Idol, she’s released her first album in four years, Love?, and picked up three movie roles (What to Expect When You’re Expecting, Ice Age: Continental Drift and Parker, which is due out in 2013). In the past 12 months, Forbes estimates, she raked in a whopping $52 million—enough money, when combined with her media omnipresence, to complete a remarkable comeback. Last year, Lopez was number 50 on Forbes’ annual Celebrity 100 list—this year, she’s number one.

“I’m a little bit tired now, I’m not going to lie,” says Lopez. “We’ve been rehearsing, doing Idol, promoting the movie. It’s a lot of stuff. The kids. But I feel really in the zone.”

Even two years ago it was quite the opposite. Her meteoric career—more than 40 million albums sold, paced by Billboard-toppers like “If You Had My Love,” “Ain’t It Funny” and “Jenny From the Block,” and 23 movies, including The Wedding Planner and Maid in Manhattan—had been felled by flop after flop. Her last two albums, Como Ama una Mujer and Brave, both released in 2007, sold fewer than 400,000 units combined, prompting a split with her longtime label, Sony. Jersey Girl, Angel Eyes, Enough and Gigli were box-office disasters of historic nature. The style icon’s initial fashion lines—Just Sweet and Sweetface—shut down in 2008 and 2009, respectively, leaving her only her fragrance brand, Glow.

Jennifer Lopez - Turnaround Artist
Image: Selena: Zuma Press / Newscom; Maid In Manhattan: Newscom; Gigli: Newscom; Kohls: Neilson Barnard / Getty Images; Concert: Kevin Mazur / Getty Images

The downfall can be traced back to 2003, when she also had an ugly, litigious breakup with her manager, Benny Medina, who had worked wonders with Mariah Carey, Sean Combs and Will Smith before discovering the Bronx-born Lopez. That same year she engaged in a too-public hookup with actor Ben Affleck that turned her into a tabloid staple and late-night fodder. (A subsequent marriage to singer Marc Anthony recently ended in divorce.) The J Lo brand had lost its lustre.

That was the state of play three years ago when Lopez turned 40, a milestone that in Hollywood’s double-standard vortex often accelerates a career decline for women. Then American Idol came calling.

TV is almost always a huge career-comedown for a star of Lopez’s one-time wattage, especially since the show’s ratings were slipping, down 20 percent from their high. Linchpin Simon Cowell was out, abandoning what seemed to be a listing ship. When Lopez agreed to become a judge, for one year and $12 million, it reeked of desperation on both sides.

But the risk worked. Last year, when she and Aerosmith rocker Steven Tyler joined the show, ratings popped 4 percent. Idol humanised her. Viewers, who knew only an attention-grabbing siren, met a hardworking, self-made, empathetic single mother, who got emotional when contestants did well and when they failed. “I fell in love with her when I got to meet her,” says Tyler, echoing America at large.

“You know that saying, ‘Wherever she goes, there she is’? She’s got that power. She is a force,” says Jimmy Iovine, the Interscope Records titan who mentors the American Idol cast, as he watches Lopez walking with her boyfriend, holding pinkies, after her practice routine.

A key part of this masterstroke: the return of Medina, her “creative soul mate” and “the most consistent man in my life besides my dad,” as Lopez describes him. Back as her manager, he endorsed the American Idol gambit, spearheaded a move to Def Jam Records and helped engineer her new role as the face of L’Oréal, in addition to the other endorsement deals. “She appeals to such a wide demographic, almost every age range,” says Stacy Jones, chief executive of entertainment marketing agency Hollywood Branded.

Lopez is moving quickly to capitalise on these newly engaged audiences. In January, Lopez’s production company premiered a Spanish-language talent competition (Latino American Idol, anyone?), Q’Viva! The Chosen, on Univision, with a tour of winners to follow. In May, she introduced an 18th scent to her ten-year-old fragrance line, which generates over $100 million in retail sales a year for Coty Inc. and a licensing fee in the $5 million range for Lopez.

In June, she’ll start her first worldwide tour. “Nice timing, eh?” laughs Medina, who has been working feverishly to leverage the J Lo resurgence. Right before our chat he could be overheard on his cellphone asking the person on the other end if Shakira could retweet the just-released video of Lopez’s new single. He pauses: “When the quote is ‘It’s not about the money, it’s about the money.’ ”

And there will be plenty of money to come. Forbes estimates that Lopez will earn $13 million from the tour. And while American Idol’s ratings have again fallen, Lopez’s salary nearly doubled this year to $20 million. Combine that with her fragrances, fashion and films, and there might be enough dollars and attention to keep Lopez on the top of The Celebrity 100 list next year.

(This story appears in the 06 July, 2012 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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  • Aarthi N

    Interesting post. Seems like there's more to this gritty woman than just getting her bottom insured! It isn't easy to make a comeback after such a steady string of failures, and she's managed to do that. The '20 million dollar baby'! :)

    on Jul 3, 2012