Now that Paula Abdul has voted herself off of Fox’s “American Idol” after eight years as a judge on the hit talent show, the question is whether there will be a recount or if she will seek office somewhere else.
With auditions for the ninth season of “American Idol” starting Friday in Denver, the odds of Abdul getting one of the show’s judges’ patented saves from the network seem long but not impossible.
But one thing was clear Wednesday: Abdul will have a future in television if her former “American Idol” boss or rival networks have anything to say about it.
Negotiations to keep her on as an “Idol” judge were testy from the get-go, although it seemed that Fox and Abdul were making headway early Tuesday, according to people close to the show. Then, late in the day, Abdul called the network and producers to tell them what she would soon reveal to the world on Twitter: “With sadness in my heart, I’ve decided not to return to ‘Idol.’ ”
Apparently, there was sadness about her pocketbook as well. According to people involved, Abdul was offered a deal valued at nearly $5 million a year, which would have been a sizable boost from her current package of close to $4 million annually.
But Abdul, who did not communicate beyond her tweets and whose manager did not return requests for comment, apparently wanted higher compensation to stay with a show that -- per her tweet -- she helped make “an international phenomenon.” As known for her fragile emotional state as for her Grammy-winning hits, Abdul’s final straw may have been the lucrative deal that Ryan Seacrest recently signed to remain as host.
“Anyone, like myself, who works with artists knows how insecure a lot of artists are and they do need a certain amount of cotton wall when they’re being dealt with,” said Nigel Lythgoe, the former executive producer of “American Idol.” He said recent disclosures of the amount of money involved in Seacrest’s new deal and lead judge Simon Cowell’s contract talks “would have aggrieved anybody. . . . You’d want more money.”
Lythgoe, who now produces “So You Think You Can Dance,” said Wednesday that he’d like to hire Abdul as a judge on the Fox talent show. Abdul and Lythgoe spoke by telephone and she agreed to meet him in Las Vegas this weekend, where the final auditions of “So You Think You Can Dance’s” sixth season are being taped. “If I can afford her,” he half-joked.
“Dance” is produced by 19 Entertainment, the production company run by “Idol” creator and executive producer Simon Fuller.
Seacrest’s three-year deal pays him $10 million a year to host, according to a regulatory filing by CKX Inc., the parent of 19 Entertainment. However, Seacrest’s new deal is complex. Fox is paying Seacrest what it always paid him -- close to $5 million -- and the rest of his salary is picked up by 19 Entertainment, a source with knowledge of the pact said.
For his part, Seacrest said on his morning radio show that he was “shocked” and “bummed” by Abdul’s departure. Cowell, who publicly stated a few weeks ago that he did not want to serve on the panel without Abdul, declined to comment. Randy Jackson, another “Idol” judge, told “Extra” that he “couldn’t believe it.”
Abdul may have found negotiations tougher this time around with a new executive team at Fox. In years past, Abdul had reached out to former Fox Entertainment Chairman Peter Liguori for comfort. Liguori, who always referred to Abdul as a “member of the Fox family,” even when she was accused of sleeping with an “Idol” contestant, left the company earlier this year.
Instead, Abdul’s team has been going head-to-head with Fox Networks Group Chairman and Chief Executive Tony Vinciquerra, a no-nonsense negotiator.
Although it is possible that 19 Entertainment could come to the table and pony up some additional money to keep Abdul on the judge’s bench, the white knight scenario is unlikely. Fox, which faces reporters today at the press tour in Pasadena, could also reopen talks. Neither Fox nor 19 Entertainment would comment beyond Tuesday night’s statement that said the show was “saddened” by her decision and wished her “the best.”
Fox will have to wait until the premiere of “American Idol” to see what effect Abdul’s departure will have on its most important television show, which is also a huge source of revenue for Fox parent News Corp.
Abdul, who over the years has become well known for her occasional erratic behavior on and off the set, also has a loyal fan base, many of whom took to Twitter on a “Save Paula” campaign.
Although its ratings have slowed in recent years, “American Idol” is still the No. 1 show on television and attracts overwhelming advertiser support. Last season, the program averaged more than 26 million viewers and generated almost $850 million in advertising revenue, more than any other TV show, according to TNS Media Intelligence.
Some in the advertising community don’t think Abdul’s exit will harm the show’s popularity. “ ‘American Idol’ will do just fine,” said Andy Donchin, director of media investments at Carat, which buys commercials for companies including Pfizer Inc. and Papa John’s International Inc. The show, he added, is bigger than any of the personalities associated with it, and even if Abdul’s absence leads to a further ratings drop, “it is still a juggernaut.”
Lythgoe agreed that a single judge does not make the show, but he is worried about the franchise’s future. He disapproved of the addition of a fourth judge, Kara DioGuardi, whose presence on the panel may have adversely affected Abdul’s bargaining power, he said.
“Without question, for me, it lost some of its chemistry,” he said. “I believe that Randy, Paula and Simon are the true ingredients of great judging. They’re historic now.”
If an Abdul-Lythgoe reunion doesn’t work out, the singer-dancer-choreographer-reality judge will probably have other options.
Paul Telegdy, NBC’s executive vice president of alternative programming, said Abdul had pitched dancing shows to the network and he would “absolutely” want to work with her.
“I think she’s a great talent,” he said. “I believe America holds her in high affection.”
BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX
Thanks for the rather odd memories
With her farewell tweet, Paula Abdul has closed the chapter on her “American Idol” life seemingly for good. The question remains whether she will flourish in her post-”Idol” life or end up in the same kind of show business purgatory that claimed poor Brian Dunkleman. Yeah, remember that guy? (He was the first-season co-host, along with Ryan Seacrest.) No matter what happens to Abdul, she still has eight years of great memories to think back on -- though we kind of wonder if her fond memories will be the same as ours. Judging by a few of her “Idol” moments, we’re guessing not.
FIRST THINGS FIRST
During an April 2008 “American Idol” show, the judges were asked to give quick assessments after each of the two songs the contestants were assigned to sing. Each judge gave short reviews of the first song -- before the second song was to be performed. But when it came to Abdul, she told contestant Jason Castro she liked the first song, then said: “The second song, I felt like your usual charm, it was missing for me. It kind of left me a little empty. And the two songs, it made me feel like you’re not fighting hard enough to get into the Top 4.” “You’re seeing the future, baby,” Seacrest responded.
DECAPITATING AN IDOL
In the 2008 season of “American Idol,” Paula commented on David Archuleta’s chilling rendition of “Imagine”: “David, you are ridiculous. I wanna just squish you, squeeze your head off, and dangle you from my rearview mirror.” During the same season, she gave Archuleta yet another perplexing compliment: “In that imperfection, you are perfect.”
SHE KISSED A GIRL AND SHE LIKED IT
It was the kiss heard ‘round the world. Madonna and Britney? Psh. That’s so passe. Last season, Abdul and the newest member to the judging panel, Kara DioGuardi, if only for a night (or many more if you TiVo’d the spectacle), locked lips during an audition show from Jacksonville, Fla. “She kissed me! She kissed me!” DioGuardi squealed. “I thought Simon would be the first one to try and kiss me.”
ONE WEARS MASCARA, THE OTHER GOLD MEDALS
As “Idol’s” eighth season neared its conclusion, the judges seemed to bestow an air of inevitability over young Adam Lambert, whose theatrical singing style seemed to divide the audience at large. But it was Abdul more than anyone who threw off the yoke of impartiality and championed Lambert into the final weeks. After a performance on the show in late April, Paula told him that each week, “it’s like watching the Olympics and you’re our Michael Phelps.” That praise did nothing to sway viewers, who voted to crown Kris Allen instead.
PAULA GETS A MUSTACHE FROM SIMON
Last season, Paula chastised Simon, saying “here you are, 6-year-old,” as she proceeded to give him a coloring book and a box of crayons. Simon, not to put the gifts to waste, drew a mustache on Paula while she praised a performance by Allison Iraheta. She attempted to wipe it off, but the five o’clock shadow -- er, Sharpie residue -- was still visible.