LOS ANGELES -- Clad in gold pants and a silver-fringed halter top, Jennifer Lopez slinked across the glaring "American Idol" stage recently, crooning the lyrics to her hit single, "On the Floor" as millions of people tuned in at home. It's a stark contrast to two years ago, when Lopez fell on her backside during a performance at the American Music Awards.
Lopez, 41, is back on top after going through a career recession that include a flop record, being dropped by her record label and making a movie, "The Back-Up Plan," that opened to bad reviews and middling box office.
Her new album, "Love?," with her new record company, Island Def Jam, entered the charts at No. 5, and she and husband Marc Anthony recently signed for a new reality show that begins taping in South America in July. She's also voicing the character of Shira in the movie "Ice Age: Continental Drift," due out this summer, and has endorsement deals with L'Oreal, Gillette Venus and Tous jewelry. Not to mention recently being crowned the "World's Most Beautiful Woman" by People magazine.
Every show-business career has its peaks and valleys, but in Lopez's case, it's impossible to ignore that her revival coincides with her new stint as a judge on "American Idol."
And Lopez, who was unavailable for comment, is not the only one experiencing a surge. Fellow judge, aging Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler, has a single out this week along with a new memoir, "Does the Noise in My Head Bother You?," which was No. 2 on Amazon.com.
Reality television long has been a refuge for fading celebrities looking to revive their careers (see Ozzy Osbourne and David Hasselhoff), but few have had such meteoric results as Lopez. As "American Idol" and "Dancing With the Stars" average 20 million viewers per episode, Lopez's success may hint at a cultural shift in the genre, according to some in the industry.
"I think initially lots of celebrities thought reality TV was a bad word," said World of Wonder Productions TV producer Randy Barbato, who produced "Tori & Dean: Storibook Weddings" and "Carnie Wilson: Unstapled." "And I think a lot still do. I think that there was a perception that it was desperate ... that it was a step down in the Hollywood celebrity machine. But, of course, they're all wrong. This is show business."
Deena Katz, senior producer and head of casting for "Dancing With the Stars," said agents and managers have told her that "DWTS" brings more exposure for many of their clients than appearing in a scripted pilot.
For every reality-fueled comeback, however, there are more examples of careers that remain in neutral or worse.
If nothing else, reality TV is boosting its own image. Larry Thompson, who manages Joan Rivers and Hasselhoff among others, said he's seen a concrete change in how his stable of clients view being on reality shows. "I've noticed that there are a few reality elimination shows that have become so popular that celebrities who once wouldn't do those shows are now agreeing to do it because of the level of exposure," he said.