May 5, 2005
LOS ANGELES - "American Idol" has kicked off contestants for concealing sordid secrets about their pasts - including Corey Clark, who now says he had an affair with judge Paula Abdul while competing two years ago. Will Abdul be next?
Responding Thursday to Clark's accusations, Fox and the show's producers didn't mention Abdul's name and minimized the role of judges in choosing winners. But it's clearly a crisis for "American Idol," which has managed to shake off other challenges.
Ousted contestants, clogged phone lines that hindered voting, incorrect voting phone numbers that forced a do-over earlier this season, superior singers being suspiciously eliminated - nothing has derailed the "Idol" juggernaut, which was watched by an estimated 24.5 million people Wednesday.
"We have gone to great lengths and great expense to create a voting system that is fair and reliable," Fox said Thursday. "Judges may offer opinions, but viewers vote using their own subjective criteria, and it is the voters who ultimately determine each season's American idol."
There was no immediate comment Thursday from Abdul about Clark's claims on ABC's "Primetime Live," which were buttressed by phone records, a voicemail message, the testimony of his parents and friends and other circumstantial evidence. She has called Clark, who's almost 20 years younger than her and was kicked off "Idol" for not coming clean about charges he assaulted his younger sister, a "liar" and an opportunist with a new book and CD to sell. She has not specifically denied his charges, however.
"If there is a shred of truth that she messed around with a contestant, you won't see her as a judge next year," said Shari Anne Brill, a television analyst for the media buying firm Carat USA.
Still, Brill said, "The franchise will live on. They seemed to weather all of these other storms."
It would be far worse if, like during the 1950s quiz show scandals, nefarious backstage dealings influenced the outcome of the contest, said both Brill and Stacey Lynn Koerner, another representative of a company that advises advertisers where to place their commercials.
Research by Koerner's company, Initiative Media, indicates that Abdul is one of the top reasons why fans love "American Idol."
"It would be difficult to say how forgiving they would be," she said. "But given the fact that they are predisposed to love her, they could be very forgiving."
Fox needs to do some research about whether fans would accept Abdul being forced out, she said.
The former Laker girl and choreographer for Janet Jackson became a pop star and MTV favorite in 1989 with her danceable pop hits like "Straight Up" and "Forever Your Girl."
She was married twice, to Emilio Estevez and then clothes manufacturer Brad Beckerman, and divorced twice. She's been single since 1998.
For many years, Abdul fought bulimia and chronic pain related to dance injuries and accidents. After years of dealing with painkillers that she said sometimes made her "loopy," Abdul told People magazine in this week's issue that she's been feeling better with the help of a new medication.
She told People she's ready for a relationship, looking "for someone who wants to get to know me."
Abdul kept busy as a writer and choreographer when her music career fizzled. But her casting as one of three "American Idol" judges - the "nice girl" antidote to nasty Simon Cowell - gave her a second life in the limelight.
She told The Associated Press earlier this year that the attention she gets for being nice is one of the funniest things she's ever witnessed.
"I've always liked it to be one of my most powerful traits, because I'm in a position where I can be a creepy person," she said. "I could choose to be mean or nasty but I choose to find the good in business."
Clark, a 24-year-old amateur singer from Nashville, Tenn., said on "Primetime Live" that he was unable to resist the advances of the 42-year-old Abdul.
He says Abdul advised him on his clothes, haircut and song selection for "American Idol," and slept with him in the guest bedroom of her Los Angeles home, where he shared space with her dogs Thumbelina, Tulip and Tinker Bell.
The "Primetime Live" special drew 13.8 million viewers, winning its time slot against original episodes of "CSI: NY" on CBS and "Law & Order" on NBC.
Fox says Clark has not responded to requests for help investigating his charges. Clark says he has no interest in helping the show that booted him off.
Sentiment was running in Abdul's favor among some 200,000 people who participated in an instant poll on America Online's Web site on Thursday. Asked if they believed Clark's allegations, 47 percent said no and 30 percent said they believed only some of them.
While they may like Abdul, when AOL asked readers if they thought "American Idol" is fair, the vote was fairly close - only 54 to 46 percent in favor.