Fox Acts to Ward Off ‘Idol’ Fallout

Times Staff Writer

Seeking to deflect the effect of an upcoming expose about its hit show “American Idol,” News Corp.’s Fox network on Tuesday questioned the motives of a former contestant whose allegations about one of the show’s judges have created a furor.

As ABC released new details about a one-hour “Primetime Live” special that airs tonight, Fox went on the offensive, charging that the contestant, Corey Clark, had not raised his concerns with the show’s producers before going public with claims that he and judge Paula Abdul had an affair during the 2003 season on which he was competing.

Clark was one of 12 finalists, but was later disqualified for lying to producers about his criminal record.


“We will, of course, look into any evidence of improper conduct that we receive,” the Fox statement said. “In the meantime, we recommend that the public carefully examine Mr. Clark’s motives, given his apparent desire to exploit his prior involvement with ‘American Idol’ for profit and publicity.”

Fox’s statement capped days of rumors on the Internet and in gossip columns predicting that Abdul, the least snarky of the show’s judges, might be facing a judgment day of her own.

On Tuesday, Walt Disney Co.’s ABC revealed new details of their investigation, titled “Fallen Idol.” Clark, 24, told “Primetime” host John Quinones that Abdul coached him on his vocal performance and even chose his songs and clothes, according to a release from ABC.

“I want to look out after you like, like I’m your mom,” Clark said Abdul told him. “And then she was like, ‘Well, maybe more like your special friend.’ ”

Typically, such allegations might amount to no more than tabloid grist. But few television series are as popular, or as critical to the network on which they air, as “Idol.”

April 26’s episode attracted 25.5 million total viewers and, as the week’s No. 1 program among adults aged 18 to 49, it was key to Fox’s first place performance among young adults last week, according to figures from Nielsen Media Research.

But even the whiff of unfair judging can dull the luster of a talent competition like “Idol.” Last season, persistent questions about the fairness of the call-in voting system were believed to have played a role in the show’s slight ratings dip.

“American Idol” has faced no shortage of contestant scandals -- including revelations last week that current finalist Harold “Bo” Bice was once arrested on suspicion of cocaine possession. (The network said Bice had disclosed his arrest and would remain on the series.) But the allegations about Abdul are raising questions about her future.

Abdul’s current contract with the show’s producers, FremantleMedia and 19 Entertainment, is believed to run through the 2006 season.

Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson and Abdul have been the show’s regular trio of judges since the program debuted on Fox in June 2002.

Neither Abdul’s attorney nor her publicist returned phone calls seeking comment. Last week, the 42-year-old singer released a statement saying she “will not dignify the false statements made by Corey Clark with a response.... He is communicating lies about Paula Abdul in order to generate interest in a book deal.”