Watching Britney Spears address the country’s critics at the Television Critics Association’s press tour In Los Angeles, I was struck once again by how much she reminds me of an unlikely forebear: Elvis Presley. Spears, speaking alongside Simon Cowell, Demi Lovato, and LA Reid, looked nervous and self-conscious, fidgeting with a ring on her finger, allowing a Southern drawl to become more pronounced in her voice, and trying to avoid any answer that could be construed as being negative or controversial about the show she was joining as a judge.
Like Elvis, Britney has long underestimated – at least in public – her own intelligence and her own best instincts, and uses an instinctive mixture of politeness, nervousness, and a blank-mask facial expressions in an effort to present herself as humble and mild, everything her music contradicts. Like Elvis, Britney’s early-career enthusiasm and earned confidence has been drained from her by fame, relentless media exposure, and whatever personal difficulties or demons have plagued her.
The result is that, again like Elvis in his post 1960s career, Britney has not merely been underrated or dismissed: She’s been ridiculed as “over,” as hopelessly unhip. (This latter charge arose again on Monday when Spears was asked what music she likes and she said she enjoyed “rap,” her remarks on hiphop sounding like someone who may have heard the Sugarhill Gang a few times.)
But the few clips from the upcoming season of X-Factor suggest that Spears may be sparked by interaction with contestants, and that her avid identification with young performers and passionate performances may make her a worthy, even insightful, judge.
And while obviously I’m not saying that Spears is the artist Presley was, I will suggest that X-Factor judging is something Presley might have done, had a show like this existed when he was in his 30s (Presley died at age 42): Instead of doing an endless round of Las Vegas performances, Presley might have found the glitz of X-Factor just as alluring, with the added appeal of enabling him to sit at a table with a big cup of Coke instead of lumbering through karate moves in a fringed jumpsuit.
In any case, while many of my colleagues at the TCA event came away from the X-Factor press conference consigning Britney to blitzed oblivion, I left the press conference feeling interest and hope for Spears: I want her to come out TCB.