By Lisa de Moraes
Thursday, August 6, 2009
PASADENA, Calif., Aug. 5
"American Idol" principals disentangled themselves from the wreckage the morning after judge Paula Abdul lobbed a grenade into the middle of the show in the form of a tweet saying she wasn't coming back.
Abdul, the former pop choreographer/pop singer who reinvented herself as "Idol's" loopy den mother, walked away from a 30 percent pay raise, according to a source familiar with the negotiations. The source requested anonymity, not wanting to suffer the consequences of becoming the face of The Other Side of the Story to crazed Abdul fans.
Don't believe me? You should have looked at Twitter about the middle of the day Wednesday -- about 12 hours after Abdul tweeted her exit. A save-the-cheerleader movement was the No. 5 trending topic on the list of most tweeted subjects -- tweets were coming in at the rate of about 10 per 30 seconds at one point in support of the former L.A. Lakers Girl.
While a 30 percent raise sounds miraculous in this economy, it would have netted her a lot less than some of the other "Idol" characters are making.
And with Denver auditions set to start Friday, Abdul's news caused quite the sensation: "Everybody is sort of wondering what happened, but it's not a publicity stunt," 'Idol' host Ryan Seacrest said Wednesday morning on his KIIS-FM Los Angeles radio show, referring to Paula's tweet. "I'm just bummed because we've worked together for so many years," Seabiscuit continued.
"I think if you were to talk to Randy or Simon they would say the same thing -- it's sad, it bums us out," said the man who recently closed a deal to make about $45 million to continue hosting the country's most popular television show -- about $30 mil for the actual hosting gig and another $15 mil for other stuff, including developing new projects, use of his likeness (seriously), etc.
That total-package price tag is more money than Simon Cowell's current deal with "Idol," which has been reported to be in the mid-$30-millions. His current deal runs though next season (as does Randy Jackson's). But Cowell is already in talks with show producers about a new pact that would give him a hefty raise, according to news reports.
Meanwhile, Paula walked away from a multi-year deal worth about $10 million. We rest our case.
On his radio show, Seabiscuit made no mention as to whether Kara DioGuardi was "bummed" as well. Fox and "Idol" producers had announced they'd re-upped DioGuardi for next season, one day before Paula detonated her bomb.
Amid the mangled fragments of the show, the three-judge format resumes. But DioGuardi now has to fill Paula's token music-industry-chick shoes. And with the actual singing competition now having become rote on the show, the competition among judges is often the more exciting feature.
Paula has always added a certain zip to the show. Remember the second season, when Fox had to hire an independent counsel to look into charges she'd canoodled and coached one of the Idolettes? (The investigation found no proof she'd done either, despite ABC News's meticulous reporting, but an "enhanced non-fraternization policy" was added to the "American Idol" playbook.)
And who can forget Paula's breathtaking performance on an episode in the seventh season, when she was able to critique both of Jason Castro's two chosen Neil Diamond tunes after he'd sung only one of them. The next day she explained how she'd done it and, surprisingly, it involved neither (a) being drunk or (b) being given scripted comments in advance. Those had been the two speculated explanations most favored by The Reporters Who Cover Television, with a slight edge being given to the "drunk psychic" theory.
Most recently, this past May, Paula took to the airwaves to deny she'd given an interview to Ladies' Home Journal in which she said she checked into a luxury spa last Thanksgiving to kick a 12-year painkiller addiction. It was the mag's cover story and editors stood by it.
Kara, on the other hand, was hired last season to breathe new life into the series after it slipped noticeably in the ratings.
Instead, she was mondo boring -- the ultimate sin on the program -- and her biggest contribution was causing historic time overruns on the show, leaving producers scrambling to find away to keep Kara quieter.
Musician DioGuardi was also hired to upgrade the traditional "American Idol" Treacle Tune -- and failed here, too.
Her "No Boundaries" was considered to be so bad -- yes, even worse than "This Is My Now" -- it has been dropped from this summer's "American Idol" Tour.
Out at Summer TV Press Tour 2009, those reporters, and TV critics, were all atwitter Wednesday about Paula's announcement:
"How much is Paula worth to NBC -- any interest in making her the fourth judge on 'America's Got Talent'?" one critic asked NBC's reality programming chief Paul Telegdy during his Q&A session.
"She is an exceptional piece of talent; we've got no specific plans for her but . . . I wouldn't rule anything out," Telegdy said.
"Is this a game changer for 'Idol'?" the critic asked.
"I haven't had time to form an opinion on that," Telegdy said, adding, "As a viewer I would miss her on the show."
Paula's tweet-announcement also had everybody attached to the show scrambling on Wednesday. "Horrible news -- she's a main ingredient," Nigel Lythgoe, the former "Idol" exec producer who now EPs the same company's reality series "So You Think You Can Dance," told celebrity suck-up show "Extra."
Randy Jackson was on the record telling "Extra," "I can't believe it!"
"Extra" claimed it got Randy's reax during a break from an "emergency meeting" of "Idol" principals, but Fox sources say no way. Fox is not scheduled to have an "American Idol" Q&A session during its time Thursday at Summer TV Press Tour 2009. But its top suits clearly are going to have a lot of 'splaining to do to the country's TV critics when they take the stage Thursday morning at the tour.
"With sadness in my heart, I've decided not to return to 'Idol,' " Paula had tweeted Tuesday night, setting off the chain reaction.
"I'll miss nurturing all the new talent, but most of all I'll [miss] being a part of a show that I helped from day1 become an international phenomenon."
Nicely played, Paula! "What I want to say most, is how much I appreciate the undying support and enormous love that you have showered upon me. It truly has been breathtaking, especially over the past month," she added.
Although our source says Paula notified the Fox network and the show's producers, FremantleMedia North America and 19 Entertainment, they'd seemed unprepared for her to issue her tweet-bombshell Tuesday night. About an hour after she took it directly to her fans, the network and producers collectively issued a statement saying they, too, were, um, bummed:
"Paula Abdul has been an important part of the 'American Idol' family over the last eight seasons and we are saddened that she has decided not to return to the show. While Paula will not be continuing with us, she's a tremendous talent and we wish her the best."