While at the LAT, Richard Rushfield became the world's foremost expert on the inner workings of American Idol. He's currently resting up before joining Gawker later this month, but he couldn't resist weighing in on why Paula Abdul quit.
Why did Paula do it? After I reported three weeks ago that Idol's "nice judge" Paula Abdul was considering walking away from the television behemouth, her manager's statements were widely considered to be a negotiating ploy. [Ed. note: To totally brag, Richard was the only reporter who actually spoke to Abdul's manager during her contract negotiations.] However, after doing several Abdul contract pieces this year I saw that beneath the bluster, she was in fact, emotionally getting ready to make the change. Why would you walk away from the biggest show in TV history?
1. She wasn't joking about the money. Jaws dropped when I reported a few months back that while mean judge Cowell was making upwards of $40 million, Abdul was making downwards of 2 million. And she had had enough of this. It's been reported since that she asked for $20 million in a new contract and Idol was willing to bump her up into the range of $4 million. From my chats with her and her manager, she was very serious about not coming back unless the increase was something major.
2. She can get more elsewhere. People say, "But Paula is nothing without Idol!" The proper phrasing might be, she would've been nothing without Idol. But now she is an on-screen character of the biggest show in the world and she's a free agent. There are a lot of networks out there (four to be precise) who would try anything — anything — to take even a small bite out of the Idol juggernaut, and they'd be willing to pay a lot more than $4 million to do it. Why not an Idol competitor starring Paula on another net?
3. Living in the Cowell shadow is only fun for so long. And that amount of time is something less than 8 years. Having to make a fraction of his money, have a fraction of the respect and clout he gets around the set and around the world, eventually the "I'm just lucky to be here" feeling wears off. And once it was announced a few week's back that Seacrest's contract too would soar into the stratosphere, all incentive to take table scraps and keep riding in the back seat evaporated.
4. She wants to be her own woman and mogul. Eight years of filling in the assigned ditsy-whipping girl slot on the panel on someone else's show, forget about whether the slot is deserved, can make you start dreaming about what kind of show you would really like to be doing. Believe it or not, Paula brims with ideas for her own shows — witness her cheerleading competition in the last year. And walking away with a bit of Idol luster, my guess is there'll be a lot of people ready to take some meetings.
5. It's not about the money but...the right amount of money could have solved all the above problems. My guess is somehow or other, Idol decided over the last month or so that this should go back to a three judge format — it was universally agreed the four judge panel had become a monster — and the third judge would be Kara whose contract they announced last week ahead of this. They also put out the eye-popping figures Seacrest would be pulling down on his new deal before going into Paula's negotiation. Considering Ryan still had a year left on his contract, there was no reason that had to happen, and if they were really going into a serious negotiation with Paula, having that out there didn't help.
The question now for Idol, without its token nice judge, is does the judiciary just become a vicious slapfest, with no respite for the poor struggling but stumbling singers? And will the audiences be turned off by the now unrestrained bloodlust? The only thing riding on that question is hundreds of millions of dollars.