Paying Katy Perry Top Dollar Doesn’t Make Sense for ‘American Idol’

Katy Perry

In a TV industry where salary parity between male and female talent remains an ongoing concern, it was worth cheering Katy Perry when she publicly noted last week she was getting “paid like more than like pretty much any guy that’s been on” “American Idol.”

But the massive payday Perry is getting isn’t necessarily a confidence-builder in ABC’s risky 2018 reboot of Fox’s once indomitable TV franchise. $25 million is the figure being reported, what Variety learned from sources could amount to more than half the budget “Idol” has for talent. That may have become a sticking point in the negotiations to bring back Ryan Seacrest to host the show. He was reportedly made an offer of $10 million.

Putting aside for a moment Seacrest’s relative cost to Perry, consider this simpler question: Is she really such a draw to merit top dollar?

At first blush, the skepticism might seem foolish. She’s Katy Perry, dammit! A bonafide icon with the record sales, concert revenues and social-media footprint to make her one of the most popular musical acts on the planet. Why shouldn’t she be worth every penny ABC is prepared to fork over?

Well, pop royalty doesn’t necessarily translate to TV stardom. Enjoying an artist’s songs and finding their public persona engaging is one thing; being a compelling judge on a reality TV contest is quite another. “Idol” rival “The Voice” on NBC is proof enough of that mixed track record, where even the buzziest of the lot, like Miley Cyrus, make less than half of what Perry is about to pull down.

For all her success in the music industry, Perry doesn’t necessarily possess the personality that pops in a very specific context, which is essentially telling amateur singers what she really thinks about the quality of their performances.

Does she have the opinionated flair of a Simon Cowell, inarguably the most successful judge this show–really any reality show–has ever boasted?

When you think of Perry’s style, she’ll be probably be her sassy, charming self but nothing that’s going to have the public hang on her every word like they once did a featured attraction like Cowell.

Disclaimer: You might assume that I don’t get Katy Perry but I’m a big fan of hers who has listened to all her albums and would take my whole family to see her in concert. But that doesn’t mean she’ll be great on “Idol.”

When you think about the performers who share the same rarefied air as Perry in the truly elite levels of the pop hierarchy, there’s more than a few names that might be better matches for “Idol,” artists who are better known for being more outspoken, who have more of a mystique. Think about someone as unpredictable and explosive as Kanye West, for example. Or even a figure from an older era that could be a stronger lure among the demos likelier to watch TV than stare at their phones, like a Madonna.

But even some of the contemporaries Perry probably looks to as competition, like Lady Gaga, Rihanna or her arch rival Taylor Swift, would be a better fit for “Idol.” Yes, Perry is a better option than some of the other  names that have circulated as  potential “Idol” judges, including Bruno Mars, Chris Martin and Mark Ronson, but you could have probably gotten all three of them together for less than $25 million.

To some degree, you have to wonder why Perry, who has been approached to join the “Idol” judges panel in the past, is willing to do this. The money is nice, sure, but this feels more like the kind of move a chart-topper makes when they are worried about the future of their career.

Nevertheless, Perry shouldn’t be underestimated. You don’t get as far as she has in the music business without being the shrewd strategist she no doubt is. Perhaps “Idol” will be the place she adds new layers to a persona without making what would be a mistake that could seriously hurt her career. There’s no use trying to be something she’s not and playing to the cameras in a way that would come across as inauthentic.

Even the way Perry ignited a little mini-controversy with the statements about her salary may demonstrate a capability to stir the pot that she hasn’t really indulged in much in the past. It’s rare to hear talent gloat like that. Maybe she’s displaying a knack for creating the kind of drama that will actually fuel interest in “Idol.”

As for Seacrest, his own value to the show may not be worth that of Perry but the calculations that must be going on at Disney as to how much he is truly worth must be headache-inducing. At a basic level, he has been so synonymous with “Idol” since the beginning that it’s hard to imagine the show without him.

But just as the show’s producers should be asking whether Seacrest is really the right choice, maybe Seacrest himself is asking whether “Idol” is the right choice for him. The show put him on the map but he must be wondering how it will reflect on him if he ends up attached to a revival attempt that ends up crashing and burning, a high-profile failure.

Having just signed on to another on-air gig opposite Kelly Ripa in daytime TV, it’s not like he lacks for opportunity. But who could blame if he doesn’t entertain the prospect of what it would be like to ride the rocket that could be a resurgent “Idol,” restoring him to a prominence in pop culture he hasn’t enjoyed in years.

But perhaps what “Idol” needs to do to reinvent itself with seeming impossible quickness is for ABC to make the kind of radical departures from what the franchise used to be, and going with the same host could amount to a fatal flaw. It’s a sign of a show trying to mine a nostalgia it has yet to really earn.

In our reboot-crazy culture, there seems to be an unwritten rule that a popular franchise has to lie fallow for years, maybe even decades, before nostalgia works its reanimating magic and audiences are ready to get reacquainted. It’s hard to think of a precedent for any kind of entertainment property to be brought back as quickly as ABC proposes to revive “Idol.”

Nigel Lythgoe warned Variety weeks before ABC officially announced the return of “American Idol” that it’s “too soon” to bring the series back since its ending in April 2016. How can we miss you, “Idol,” if you haven’t really gone away?

But maybe Disney’s TV brass, namely division chief Ben Sherwood and ABC president Channing Dungey, see something others don’t. Even if you don’t, you still have to admire such a counterintuitive risk.

But if the network knows what needs to be done to make “Idol” viable after years of immense popularity ended with seasons of unmistakable audience fatigue, they’re not saying yet. All we know of is Perry, and given the high price being paid for her questionable value, it’s worth wondering if “Idol” is on the best path toward a successful return.