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.