By now, we're all aware that Simon Cowell is reloading. After largely firing blanks on the first season of "The X Factor," he cleared the chamber — casting off judges Paula Abdul and Nicole Scherzinger (not to mention host Steve Jones) — and is now in the process of lining up a collection of high-profile, hollow-point replacements with which to take down the competition.
Of course, just who Cowell ends up nabbing seems to be a matter of some speculation: His $15 million deal with Britney Spears appeared to be a near certainty, but in the weeks since it was first reported, there's been no movement. And now come rumors that he's courting the likes of Demi Lovato, Miley Cyrus and Avril Lavigne to join the "X Factor" team. Are those names just part of a shrewd ploy from Cowell to get Spears to relent on her reported contract demands and insistences on "various perks"? Or is he truly determined to assemble an all-star lineup for the "Factor"? Really, your guess is as good as ours.
Needless to say, we're not sure who will be joining the "X Factor" panel when the show returns later this year (though we suspect Fox may shed some light on the matter at an upfront event for ad buyers on May 14). So, in the meantime, we're just going to take a look at all of the potential judges, comparing their strengths and weaknesses in an attempt to help Cowell put together a potential Murderer's Row. Because we want the "X Factor" to succeed ... lord knows we don't have enough singing competitions on TV at the moment.
Here's our no-holds-barred scouting report for each of the "X Factor" hopefuls:
Strengths: Spears would instantly become the most famous judge on any U.S. singing competition (sorry Xtina!), therefore automatically raising the profile of a show in desperate need of a good boost. It's the rare combination of both a "career" and a "contemporary" artist, giving the show an answer to "Idol" 's Steven Tyler/ J. Lo combination and the four-headed monster of Aguilera, Adam Levine, Cee Lo and Blake Shelton on "The Voice." As a bonus, she would also fill the "rambling" slot vacated by Abdul, not to mention the "thousand-mile stare" void left when Scherzinger got the boot.
Weaknesses: It's Britney: Live TV may not exactly suit her.
Strengths: At just 19 years old, Lovato would give Cowell an in-road to the younger, Disney-fied demographic he so desperately craves. Can definitely sing (check her terrific tear-jerker "Skyscraper" for proof), which automatically puts her ahead of something like 90 percent of her singing-competition contemporaries. Has the kind of harrowing backstory that would automatically shut down any hard-luck contestants looking for a few pity points.
Weaknesses: Older viewers might confuse her with Selena Gomez. Could also forget where she is, accidentally reenact that one episode of "Sonny with a Chance" when she's framed for stealing a necklace and subsequently fires a cheese cannon.
Strengths: An established star (with a slightly checkered past), which would give "X Factor" the kind of constant tabloid attention it failed to generate in season one. Has proven on songs like "The Climb" and her recent cover of Bob Dylan's "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go" that she's actually got a great voice, which, like Lovato, puts her in rarefied air. Could also use the show as a way of launching the next phase of her career, which would be mutually beneficial and might just spawn something like the certified "Voice" smash "Moves Like Jagger."
Weaknesses: May currently be better known for her paparazzi coverage than her actual music. Might take another hit of salvia and confuse every male contestant with Liam.
Strengths: Has been at it for a while now, has more genuine hits than anyone except Spears. She's also got previous judging experience and seems to be genuinely concerned with her artistic integrity. And although her Goodbye Lullaby album didn't match the commercial heights of her previous efforts, you can't fault her for aiming high.
Weaknesses: Preternaturally appears to be 14 years old. May always wear a hoodie during shows. Is constantly making the "sucking a lemon" face. Doesn't exactly strike us as a people person.
Sound off with your picks for "X Factor" judges in the comments below!