Coming into the 2010s, Jennifer Lopez wasn't high on anyone's list of fallen pop stars likely to make a big comeback. Her music career in the tank and her movie career fizzling with each successive flop, J. Lo was entering her 40s in very real danger of becoming a pop-culture footnote, or worse, a punchline. She needed something big to turn things around for her, and quick.
Enter American Idol and all its magnificent healing powers. Cast along with fellow hair-extension abuser Steven Tyler as a judge on the hit reality competition to replace the show's three recent departees—most notably Simon Cowell, the bedrock of Idol for its first nine seasons—Lopez deserves much of the credit for helping the show rebound from its least successful season to date. To the surprise of many, she has excelled at the judge's table, routinely providing the most insightful advice and criticism to the show's contestants (like being the tallest midget, but still) and generally appearing poised, earthy and, yes, gorgeous in the harsh HD spotlight of primetime TV.
For the first time in at least a decade, people seem ready to like Jennifer Lopez again. Not only has she been instrumental in Idol's ratings surge, she has her first top five hit as a recording artist in eight years, and she was just named the World's Most Beautiful Woman by People magazine. J. Lo is officially back, which only reminded us of just how whiplash-inducing her roller-coaster career has been. Here's a look at the many ups (Selena, Idol, That Dress) and downs (bad marriages, the gun incident, Gigli) that Lopez has enjoyed and endured over the past 20 years.
For Part 1: THE FLY GIRL YEARS, click NEXT.
PART I: THE FLY GIRL YEARS
Blowing up In Living Color (1991-1993)
Growing up in the Castle Hill section of the the Bronx, all those subway rides to Manhattan finally pay off when the 22-year-old Jennifer Lopez lands a spot as a Fly Girl on the sketch comedy show In Living Color. Lopez popped and locked with future Dancing With the Stars judge Carrie Anne Inaba and Lady Gaga choreographer Laurieann Gibson. We miss that dark lipstick just as much as she probably misses those shoulder pads.
Marriage to Cuban waiter Ojani Noa. (Feb. 22, 1997)
While stringing together acting roles in the mid '90s, Lopez marries Cuban waiter Ojani Noa on February 22, 1997. The two divorce after less than a year of wedded bliss. The first of her many of failed personal and professional collaborations.
Selena movie released (Mar. 21, 1997)
J. Lo's fledgling acting career hits the big time in 1997 when Greogry Nava chooses her to portray the late Tejano singer Selena. Lopez earns a Golden Globe nomination for her performance, kicking off a promising movie career that includes the critically acclaimed Out of Sight (1998) with George Clooney, and box office successes like The Wedding Planner (2001) and Monster-in-Law (2005).
For Part II: THAT ASS! THAT VOICE? THAT DRESS!!, click NEXT.
PART II: THAT ASS! THAT VOICE? THAT DRESSS!!
The Vanity Fair picture (July 1998)
The first major magazine shoot for an up-and-coming starlet is always highly scrutinized by fans and critics alike. So instead of attempting to fit the conventional Hollywood mold for her debut spread in Vanity Fair, Lopez and photographer Firooz Zahedi choose to embrace her curves, resulting in an iconic shot that pays homage to her derriere.
Debut album On The 6 released (June 1, 1999)
After conquering dancing and acting, Lopez puts her vocals to the test in 1999. Her first album On The 6 debuts at No. 8, sells 112,000 copies in its first week, and remains in the top 20 for 11 weeks, as J. Lo becomes one of the pre-eminent stars of the Latin pop explosion. Lead single "If You Had My Love" tops the Billboard Hot 100, and follow-ups "Waiting for Tonight" and "Feelin' So Good" also become hits. The disc has sold 7 million copies to date.
Relationship with Diddy: Shots fired! (December 27, 1999)
Lopez's two and a half-year romance to the rapper formerly known as P. Diddy becomes her most high-profile relationship to date. Along with accompanying the singer to red-carpet events like the Grammy Awards (see next), the pair find themselves in the middle of an NYPD investigation after a shooting at Club New York in late '99. Diddy is later tried for weapons possession and bribery, while his protege, the Beliezean rapper Shyne, ends up serving jail time and is later deported. Amidst speculation Lopez would have to testify against Diddy, the relationship doesn't make it out of court.
The Dress Heard Round the World (February 23, 2000)
What better way to celebrate your arrival to pop stardom than with an eye-catching low-cut dress? Lopez arrives at the 2000 Grammy Awards as a nominee, and leaves with an infamous fashion moment in the bag, which has been recreated by everyone from designer knock-off stores to South Park's Trey Parker. In a March 2000 article, Entertainment Weekly calls it the "dress heard round the world."
For Part III: THE PEAK, click NEXT!
PART III: THE PEAK
The Wedding Planner (January 26, 2001) and second album J.Lo (January 23, 2001) both debut at number one the same week
Lopez's biggest film, The Wedding Planner, debuts at number one in January 2001, the same week that her sophomore disc J.Lo lands at the top of the Billboard 200, making her the first singer and actress to have a number-one movie and album in same week. The romantic comedy, co-starring Matthew McConaughey, grosses $94 million worldwide, while J.Lo goes platinum four times over and spawns three top-five hits.
The "Love Don't Cost a Thing" video (January 2001)
The first single from her sophomore disc describes J. Lo as a down home girl who just wants to spend time with her often absent boyfriend. In real life, Lopez gets involved with her dancer Cris Judd (prominently featured in the video), who would become her future husband. The two marry on September 29, 2001, split in June 2002 and finalize their divorce by June 2003. Valuable life lesson: Don't put boyfriends in your videos.
Third album This Is Me…Then released (November 19, 2002)
Anticipation for Lopez's music is at an all-time high in 2002, as she follows up J.Lo with her most successful opening week yet, for This Is Me…Then. The album, featuring hits like "Jenny From the Block," "All I Have," and "I'm Glad," moves 314,000 copies in its first week, and goes on to sell 2.5 million copies in the U.S.
For Part IV: FAT BUTT AND PANCAKE HEAD, click NEXT.
PART IV: FAT BUTT AND PANCAKE HEAD
The "Jenny from the Block" video debacle (November 5, 2002)
What do haters dislike more than two ridiculously good-looking people dating one another? Two ridiculously good-looking people flaunting their fabulousness on a yacht. After splitting from second husband Cris Judd in 2002, Lopez begins a romance with Ben Affleck, to the delight of both paparazzi around the world and portmanteau enthusiasts (who would embrace "Bennifer," "Brangelina" and "Tomkat"). In her ode to the old neighborhood, Lopez croons about her down-to-earth persona, even amidst all the fame ("I gotta stay real / To me its like breathing"). The two depict their life in the spotlight in the music video, and Lopez further immortalizes the relationship by penning album track "Dear Ben" for her fiance. Because if you write a song about it, it's sure to last. Didn't Cris Judd teach you anything?
South Park parodies Bennifermania with "Fat Butt and Pancake Head" (April 16, 2003)
With Bennifer reaching a point of media saturation, South Park strikes back with "Fat Butt and Pancake Head," a parody episode in which Cartman performs an ethnic-stereotype ventriloquist act with his hand as "Ms. Lopez," which becomes enormously popular and attracts the affections of the real-life Ben (much to the consternation of the real-life Jen, who is portrayed as a narcissistic super-diva who throws dogs out of limousine windows). The episode is a big hit. The Bennifer backlash officially begins.
The Gigli bomb goes off (August 1, 2003)
As the Bennifer backlash reaches its apex, Jen and Ben appear together in the gangster romantic comedy Gigli. The movie bombs, taking in barely $6 million at the box office, and becomes the most critically hated movie of the young 21st century, winning six Razzies (including Worst Actor, Worst Actress and Worst Picture) and getting dubbed "one of the worst movies I've ever seen" by Richard Roeper. "It's turkey time," invites Lopez to Affleck in the movie's most infamous scene. "Gobble, gobble."
Marriage to second husband, Marc Anthony (June 5, 2004)
After her engagement to Ben Affleck is called off, Lopez reconnects with fellow Latino pop star Marc Anthony while the two record a duet for her upcoming movie Shall We Dance? Anthony, who had recently separated from his wife, is divorced a few months later, and in June 2004, the two marry in a small ceremony. Amazingly, the couple are still together today.
For Part V: J. LOW, click NEXT.
PART V: J. LOW
Lopez in the middle of Sony payola scandal (July 2005)
As Lopez's car alarm of a comeback single "Get Right" peaks at an underwhelming No. 12 on the charts amidst lackluster reviews, her name is mentioned in conjunction with a Sony payola scandal. A leaked memo from Sony advises employees that "in this week's Jennifer Lopez Top 40 Spin Increase of 236 we bought 63 spins at a cost of $3,600," leading writers to conclude that even the modest success of "Get Right" was purchased by the label.
Lopez and Anthony Co-Star in El Cantante (August 3, 2007)
Stubbornly refusing to learn from past mistakes, Jen shows up with her new paramour in a biopic of salsa singer Héctor Lavoe entitled El Cantante. The movie opens at No. 12 at the box office and pulls in a total U.S. gross of under $8 million, and is only marginally better received by critics than Gigli. Later, Lopez memorably tells Latina magazine that she believed her performance as Lavoe's wife Puchi to be Oscar-worthy, blaming the snub on Academy members not seeing the movie.
J. Lo Sues Over "How I Married Jennifer Lopez" (November 2009)
Lopez's ex Ojani Noa has caused numerous problems for her over the years, and she's ended up suing him twice—first in 2006 for trying to publish a book about their marriage, then in 2009 for trying to release a movie about the relationship, entitled "How I Married Jennifer Lopez." The film was said to contain "previously unseen home video footage," which Noa's people insisted was totally not a reference to a J. Lo sex tape. Lopez is successful in both lawsuits, though the injunction against the film was only temporary, meaning the possibility for an eventual release (titled Lopez Tonight?) remains alive.
The Breakup with Sony (Feb. 23, 2010)
With her last hit a half-decade in the rearview and her uninspiring new single "Louboutins" failing to catch on, Jen splits from Sony, with many speculating that it was the label doing the dumping. The breakup leaves the status of Lopez's new album Love?, originally due to be released in early '10, in limbo, though the album is now scheduled to be released later this month on her new label, Island Def Jam.
For Part VI: THE COMEBACK, click NEXT.
PART VI: THE COMEBACK
Lopez Joins American Idol (January 2011)
Jennifer is named as one of the two new judges for season ten of American Idol. Despite worries that the show will be unable to recover from the departure of Simon Cowell, who has left to produce the rival X-Factor program, Jen proves fabulous, and the show is once again a hit. Her new single "On the Floor" gets a world premiere on the program, and is propelled to a top ten debut on the charts, marking her first big hit since the first Bush administration.
People names J. Lo "World's Most Beautiful" famous person (April 13, 2011)
The cherry on top of her recent comeback, the still-lovely-at-41 Lopez gets named People's Most Beautiful Woman, an honor previously won by such glamor heavies as Halle Berry and Beyoncé Knowles. "It's part of my job," J. Lo says of her beauty. "It does take time and it's hard work. HDTV wide-screen is nobody's friend!"
Hey, you made it! What'd we get wrong? Too harsh? Too soft? Fire away, in the comments.