LOS ANGELES - Britney Spears hasn't even taken her seat as the new judge of The X Factor in the U.S., but the pop icon is already getting a lesson in the media glare of live, talent show television.
Spears had barely wrapped up an appearance in New York confirming she is joining the singing contest before the celebrity knives were out, raising the question of how well the singer, who went through a public meltdown in 2007, can handle all the newfound attention.
Her dress, nails, shoes, legs and figure have all come in for scrutiny - most of it negative - in a taste of what may come when the show returns to TV in September for two nights a week over four months.
The New York Daily News ran photos of the Toxic singer's "bloody picked fingernails". It also showed a close-up of her thighs, commenting that she "appeared in a short white mini dress that showed off her famous pop star legs - and what looks to be a bit of cellulite."
Spears, famed for raunchy dance routines and music videos in her heyday, is now 30-years-old and a mother of two. Outside her sell-out global concert tours, she has been largely shielded from the media since a career and personal breakdown in 2007 that resulted in her affairs being handed over to her father.
Mary Fischer at The Stir on website cafemom.com, said the singer was "a hot mess" in the cream dress she wore for her New York appearance on Monday before Fox TV network executives and advertisers.
"She might as well have just thrown on a nightgown or racy piece of lingerie. She would've achieved the same effect (showing off the fact that she's shed a bit of weight and gotten her groove back), but she wouldn't have looked like she was trying so hard," Fischer said.
She suggested Spears should take a tip from Prince William's wife and style icon Kate Middleton who "is the definition of being sexy without revealing too much skin."
DAZZLING RING, LUMPY LEGS
Celebrity magazine Us Weekly was more excited by Britney's three carat diamond engagement ring, estimated to be worth about $90,000, that boyfriend Jason Trawick slid on her finger in December.
But some readers weren't dazzled by the ring and focused on Spears' fashion. Kathleen Tandy commented on the magazine's website that although Britney looked good in the second, purple dress she wore for photos on Monday "she looked like straight-up trailer trash" in the cream outfit.
Britain's Sun newspaper said "Britney looked better than she has in years," when she stepped out in New York. But elsewhere in the tabloid, reporters said her cream mini-dress "hugged her lumpy legs. A pair of tight ankle-strapped heels cut off her pins even more."
Elsewhere, Spears' legs were seen as either toned, bruised, dimpled or fat in hundreds of fevered online debates, where the former pop princess was compared (mostly unfavourably) to the demurely-dressed Demi Lovato, 19, who is also joining "The X Factor."
But the Baby...One More Time singer also had plenty of defenders.
"I don't care for Britney, but seriously what is with all the fat comments? I'd love to see what some of you guys look like or your spouses..." wrote HuffingtonPost.com user Goldie Treasure..
"The only thing that looks kind of weird is her knee, but whatever on that. Christina (Aguilera) and Britney are not little 17 yr old pop princesses anymore they are women in their 30's with kids, cut them some slack."