Let's Read the Paula Abdul Tea Leaves

Covering American Idol is often like reporting on a maze wrapped in an enigma washed down with a mystery. Could it be the entire free world—including us—was duped into thinking Paula Abdul walked away from TV's biggest show?

Many a nationally respected newspaper has gone wildly careening down the rabbit hole chasing a false rumor or half-baked non-story. With three companies holding joint ownership (Fox, Freemantle, and 19 Productions) and a host of oversized stars and their entourages wandering around the set, little is knowable beyond what turns up on the air. So were we wrong to say Paula quit because of money and ego?

The answer I can authoritatively state is, no. And maybe.

When Paula announced she was leaving, sources close to the former-for-now judge say that after a long, emotionally wrenching struggle with the production, she believed she was ending her Idol journey and was not just trying to ratchet up the pressure in her negotiations.

But since then rumors have persisted that doors have remained ajar; people may still be talking.

With confirmable facts being impossible to come by in the tightly controlled circle involved with Idol contracts, analyzing the rumor mill is a bit like sifting through intercepted Al Qaeda communiques; it is very hard to judge the quality of any particular bit of information, but one can attempt to judge the quantity of radio traffic. And all one can say, from looking at the web the level of chatter has become very high, with three sites separately reporting sources inside the Idol/Abdul machines that a rapprochement may be in the works. Any one of these sites is very capable of getting the story very wrong, but the fact that all three are reporting raises the threat level at least.

First with something hard was TMZ which reported last Friday:

Sources tell us Paula Abdul will make a deal with American Idol if the price is right—and we're told that price is $10 million a year.

We've already reported well-connected Idol sources say they haven't closed the door on bringing Paula back for season nine. We're told they have not communicated with Abdul since she tweeted her goodbye, and auditions start Friday—without Paula.

This morning Perez Hilton seconded this movement:

Her departure from the show wasn't a publicity stunt, but it was definitely a negotiating tactic.

Sources VERY close to Paula Abdul reveal exclusively to PerezHilton.com that the beloved judge is working to get back on American Idol.

"Don't count Paula out just yet," says our Abdrool insider, telling us that talks are being held about having Paula return and trying to come to a deal that makes sense.

And finally the most specific piece of info was posted today on Idol fan blog Joe's Place, which has broken an Idol story or two in its day.

I am hearing that when the Judges are on hand for round three of the American Idol 9 auditions, none other than Paula Abdul will be sitting at the judges table with Simon, Randy and Kara.

[UPDATE: In the minutes since this went up, Joe's Place took down their post saying Paula would be on hand for the Atlanta judging rounds. Did they hit too close to home or is the BS about Paula returning after all withering now that people are paying attention?]

As stated, any one of these places is very capable of getting the story wrong, and any source may not be as plugged in as they think they are.

So what could be behind this? Perhaps the uproar over her departure overwhelmed the Idol team. Idol is not a show that likes to say "no" to its public.

Chances are, however, that with divorce papers already submitted to the courts, the parties are focused on getting on with their lives. But there's enough out there to make one think that, just maybe, what seemed impossible is possible: Idol might stay on the front pages for yet another week of it's off-season.