Paula Abdul's departure from American Idol after eight seasons did not surprise media observers. Abdul's habit of dizzy and incoherent commentary, the rumors of substance abuse and varying ethical lapses such as inappropriate behavior with contestants, including an alleged affair with Corey Clark and apparently sitting in on some contestants' rehearsals (a violation of the show's rules), have made Abdul a target for several seasons.
"She was good for controversy," says Brad Adgate, senior VP of research at Horizon Media. "Her judging was probably not up to the level of, say, Simon [Cowell] or even Randy [Jackson]. She was good for the drama and good for sparring with Simon. But I don't know how good of a judge she was."
And few expect her departure to precipitously affect the show's ratings. "I don't think it will make any difference [in the ratings]," says Shari Anne Brill, senior VP and director of programming at Carat. "If Simon left, it would decimate the show."
American Idol, still the top-rated program on television by far, has experienced a ratings slide over the past few seasons.
Many wondered if Abdul, who began her career as an L.A. Lakers dancer and later become a choreographer--a milieu in which she continues to work--might find a more appropriate gig as a judge on Fox's So You Think You Can Dance. Abdul's star power could give Dance a shot in the arm when it enters the more competitive fall arena-a move designed to buoy Fox's perennially challenged pre-Idol fall performance.
Nigel Lythgoe, producer and a judge on So You Think You Can Dance, told syndicated entertainment magazine Extra that Abdul, could "come on any time she wants."
"She's better suited to judge [So You Think You can Dance]," Brill says. "It's perfect for her."
But the rumor persists that Abdul may still "surprise" viewers by returning to Idol in some capacity. And her fans have plenty of time to mobilize a Save Paula campaign before the ninth season commences.
"In this day and age, the public can tell Fox by a variety of methods exactly what they think about this," Adgate says. "If Fox gets enough e-mails or enough comments on Twitter or blogs that say, 'I'm not watching the show if Paula's gone,' who knows? They may reconsider."
Abdul announced that she would not return to Idol on her Twitter feed. "I'll miss nurturing all the new talent, but most of all being a part of a show that I helped from day 1 become an international phenomenon," she wrote. "What I want to say most is how much I appreciate the undying support and enormous love that you have showered upon me."
Contract negations between Abdul, Fox and Idol producers 19 Entertainment and FremantleMedia had deteriorated. The companies previously re-signed Cowell, Jackson and host Ryan Seacrest. Fourth judge Kara DioGuardi signed on for a second season earlier this week. Abdul was reportedly asking for $20 million, a payday on par with Cowell's.
The statement from Fox, 19 Entertainment and FremantleMedia was of the we-wish-her-well variety typical after Hollywood negotiations go south.
"Paula Abdul has been an important part of the American Idol family over the last eight seasons and we are saddened that she has decided not to return to the show," the statement read. "While Paula will not be continuing with us, she's a tremendous talent and we wish her the best."
But many observers saw the writing on the wall with the arrival of DioGuardi, a veteran songwriter and producer and an A&R VP at Warner Bros. Records.
"The minute I saw that other female judge, I said, 'Oh, Paula's going to be gone,'" Brill observes.
The four-judge panel could be awkward at times and produced over-runs that occasionally led to comment rationing to keep the live show running on schedule.
"I think the tipping point was when they said only two judges could speak," Adgate says. "So many people tune in to hear Simon's opinion. To pre-empt him didn't do the show any service."
"I think that this ultimately was pre-conceived," Brill adds. "I don't think the intent was ever really to have four judges. As the show started bringing in more serious guest [performers] and as [the show] was starting to get more serious music libraries, I think that demanded someone, another judge, who really was a professional in the music business. And Kara DioGuardi has quite the pedigree."