“Quick question for you: What’s a hiatus?”
That’s what Jennifer Lopez asked this reporter, during an interview about her famously crowded slate. She’s now gearing up for the series finale of Fox’s “American Idol” and the NBC drama “Shades of Blue,” on which she stars and serves as an exec producer, and which wraps up its first season tonight. Not to mention she recently kicked off her Las Vegas residency.
But no, she won’t be taking a hiatus anytime soon.
“The great thing about Vegas is that it’s only 40 shows a year,” Lopez says, not sarcastically. “They are spread out enough so I am able to pursue other projects simultaneously. I am always working on new music. Whenever I have time, I go to the studio and record or collaborate with other artists [or] producers.” Lopez’s production company Nuyorican also has five films in development with major studios, plus several TV projects in the works.
She also finds time for other creative collaborations, such as shooting a segment of “Carpool Karaoke” with late-night host James Corden, which went viral this week, reaching 13 million viewers and counting, thanks to an impromptu text to Leonardo DiCaprio.
It’s a testament to Lopez’s star power that this season, she’s been a staple on two broadcast networks simultaneously, a true rarity in the industry. “The truth is, when we were shooting ‘Shades,’ we didn’t know when we would air, and certainly didn’t anticipate the same night [as ‘Idol’],” she says. “But as it turned out, both projects were able to stand alone and shine. Audiences can go from the excitement of finding our last ‘American Idol’ to the intense thrill of Harlee’s moral crisis and journey,” she says, referring to her character in the NBC drama.
NBC executives were happy to accommodate their star, even housing a rehearsal studio for her on their L.A. lot so she could prep in between obligations for “Shades,” which landed an early second season renewal.
“She’s not the diva in the trailer,” says NBC president of entertainment Jennifer Salke. “I had not worked with her and I didn’t really know what that would be like, except I guessed she would be really busy and probably pretty thinly spread across all her obligations. She’s the first one in and the last one to leave.”
Salke notes that Lopez has made it a priority to publicize the show and interact with viewers. “She was live-tweeting in her trailer,” Salke says, “so we would go over there and she’s got a ponytail, no makeup, a couple of friends, her kids, sometimes her boyfriend and everyone’s just hanging out, eating pizza. She eats! She’s like Jenny from the block!”
That hands-on commitment was on display this year at the Television Critics Association press tour in Pasadena, Calif. The tour coincided with the debut of her residency in Vegas, but Lopez flew back and forth overnight from Vegas to be there in person two days in a row for both NBC’s and Fox’s panels.
“We’ve all worked with a lot of very famous people over the years and a lot of them are very professional, but Jennifer adds that real work ethic to her professionalism,” says “American Idol” exec producer Trish Kinane. The exec recalls that Lopez flew to New York City to shoot “Shades of Blue,” while she was on the road for “Idol” auditions and taking costume design meetings for her Vegas show during “Idol” lunch breaks. “She would get on a plane, film for a few hours in the middle of the night, get into the hotel with hair and makeup and then turn up to ‘Idol.’ She must have been completely exhausted, but she didn’t show it.”
Kinane says it’s her commitment to the kids that’s kept her coming back to “Idol” through the final season. “She doesn’t need to and she definitely wouldn’t if she didn’t want to,” she says. “She just feels for these kids. She’s really moved by their talent.”
That’s not to say she’s not afraid of dishing out some tough love when necessary. “That’s the other side of Jennifer Lopez: She worked hard to get to where she is, and she wants them to be the best they can be,” Kinane says, adding that Lopez is one of the best judges the singing competition has ever seen because she’s “not fake.”
Salke, too, praises Lopez’s work ethic. “You don’t get a sense that she’s like, ‘Oh they’re lucky to have me.’ She’s a woman among women, working every day and rolling up her sleeves,” says Salke. “I don’t know anyone who works harder. I also saw her with her kids and she’s this really warm, accessible, incredible mother, so she seem stop be scoring in every area of her life, which I’m really impressed with.”
As for the unprecedented nature of Lopez’s dual starring roles, Fox got in on the joke on social media, posting a photo of Lopez on Twitter with the caption, “She’s stunning in this shade of blue.”
— American Idol (@AmericanIdol) January 7, 2016
Salke recalls that she was sitting with Lopez and Ryan Seacrest (who’s an EP on “Shades of Blue,” in addition to hosting “Idol”) in her trailer when that tweet popped up. The exec says that cross-promotional tweeting was not intentional, but was welcomed by NBC brass.
“I don’t think we saw it as a detriment in any way,” Salke says of sharing Lopez with another network. “The only issues were scheduling. She’s a huge star any way so I don’t know what effects it had, but it certainly put her name out there where it felt like she was really everywhere.”
Lopez says simply the experience was one that served her well. “While it’s challenging and exhausting at times, it’s also deeply rewarding.”