Paula Abdul Made an Error in Judgment

May 9, 2005  •  Post A Comment

At the very least Paula Abdul should be suspended immediately from her position as a judge on “American Idol.” Anything less is a travesty, a threat to the integrity of a wildly popular show and an insult to the huge audience that regularly watches the program.

This is not personal. I have met Paula Abdul briefly on several occasions and she is an extremely talented, personable and charming lady. I thought she was special as a Lakers cheerleader, as Michael Jackson’s choreographer and as a pop star. And I have enjoyed her as a judge on ‘Idol.’

However, based on the evidence presented on ABC’s “primetime>live” and in Cindy Adams’ New York Post column, which first leaked word of Corey Clark’s book proposal, it is clear that Ms. Abdul established a personal relationship with a contestant while the competition was taking place. In doing so, she made a huge error in judgment that cannot be overlooked.

This is not about Mr. Clark, the former contestant who’s making the allegations. He appears to be out for a quick financial score. He said on the “primetime>live” report he is doing this to clear his soul, but he’s more likely trying to launch his fledging musical career and sell books.

The “Idol” producers were right to boot him after he hid the fact he had been arrested for assaulting his teenage sister and had pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge.

This is not about whether Mr. Clark and Ms. Abdul actually engaged in a sexual relationship, though it seems obvious they did. Just the reality that Ms. Abdul had any relationship with him outside of the TV studio is enough to terminate her as a judge immediately. As of early Friday, that had not happened.

Last week contestants brought Ms. Abdul flowers to show their support. But how can we now watch her gush after each performance over the final couple of weeks knowing she praised Corey Clark to the sky in front of a national TV audience when she was secretly involved with him, when she was helping choose his songs and buying his wardrobe?

It would be a good idea for Ms. Abdul to just resign in the best interests of the show and her own image. If she won’t do that, then it is wrong for Fox and the producers to stall until the season ends, and then, presumably, quietly let her go.

Her inappropriate relationship may not be as bad as what occurred in the late-1950s quiz show scandal, which led to congressional hearings, but the odor is there nonetheless. Anything but a quick hook for this ethical breach just stinks.

It can only fuel critics of the entertainment industry in Washington.

This is not a personal attack on Fox Broadcasting, for which I have a great affection. I wrote a book in 1990 about the birth of the network and have always loved Fox’s feisty attitude and willingness to take risks. However, as time passes it does become about how Fox and the “Idol” producers at FremantleMedia and 19 Entertainment handle this. They have made millions off this franchise, and by acting quickly and in good faith they can protect their money machine. However, by dragging their feet and pretending they need to do some big additional investigation, they are shirking their responsibility to their audience, the public and their shareholders.

As “Insider” host Pat O’Brien said on his prime-time weepfest with Phil McGraw on CBS, two hours before “primetime>live’s” “Idol” expos%E9;, America will give you a second chance if you show you are really sorry and that you have changed. In this case, Fox and the producers need to make a change while they can still say they are acting in good faith without choking on the words. And Ms. Abdul needs to come clean and ask the public to forgive her, not just charge that Mr. Clark is a “liar.”

She should still immediately be taken off “American Idol,” but then at least she might be able to continue her career. As it is, she will be the joke of the week for late-night shows and tabloid fodder for a long time to come. There is such a thing as bad publicity. This is it.

I also want to give kudos to ABC News. When I first heard about this, I thought it was wrong for one network to go after another. Coming during the May sweeps, it appeared to be a cheap shot in the making. But having seen the report, I must say ABC News did an excellent job of laying out the story, the evidence and the ethical implications of the allegations. It had documents, eyewitnesses and a logic to its case. In the end, they nailed it.

“Primetime>live,” a show that may not even be on the ABC schedule next fall, stepped up its game with this report. The program stood up to legal threats from Ms. Abdul’s high-priced lawyer and implied legal threats from Fox and the “Idol” producers. Now that it has aired, it is clear ABC News had the goods. Yet as of late last week, Fox and the “Idol” producers were still making excuses and backpedaling.

So Fox, I call on you to save the franchise in your own interest and for the rest of us. America loves its idols. “American Idol” is a show that helped put the “broad” back in broadcasting, which is good for all of network TV. It is bigger than Ms. Abdul (though not necessarily bigger than Simon Cowell, who would be much more difficult to replace). There are several dozen current or former female pop stars out there who could fill her seat nicely.

“American Idol” is an American institution because it is that rare show that grandma, uncle, mom, dad and the kids can all watch together. Is Fox asking mom and dad to now explain to the kids why Ms. Abdul is allowed to sit there grinning when we know she acted inappropriately by favoring one contestant? Is Fox willing to threaten the show’s squeaky-clean image to protect one judge? That would be idiotic, and I don’t think they are idiots.

Before and immediately after the “primetime>live” report aired, Fox and the “Idol” producers said no one had come to them and presented the evidence concerning Ms. Abdul’s ethical breach on a silver platter. Guess what, suits? The evidence has now been delivered to your homes and offices over the airwaves, just like it was delivered last Wednesday to millions of other TV households. If you can’t see through the smoke that there is a fire, then maybe you deserve to burn.