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Why Paula Abdul is forever 'American Idol's' girl

December 12, 2008 |  6:32 pm

Abdul_seacrest_k5rwwfnc_300 Paula Abdul has been telling people that the producers of "American Idol" have failed to protect her.

If this is true, it's shocking. Shocking that the producers would let a valuable asset like Abdul be in jeopardy for even one second. They should build a fortress around her and have it guarded by the most battle-hardened Marines. Because every time Paula opens her mouth (and sometimes she doesn't even have to expend the energy to do that), controversy is stirred. Celebrity reporters feel their pulses quicken. Stories erupt. And this makes the PR job much easier for her main employer, Fox's "American Idol" (back for Season 8 next month, in what is surely just a coincidence). This woman is worth more gold than any Senate seat.

If you haven't followed the latest saga, last month a former "Idol" contestant named Paula Goodspeed was discovered dead in a car outside Abdul's house of an apparent suicide. Abdul was understandably unnerved by this news -- enough so, if reports are to be believed, that she has fled the house and put it up for sale.

The singer-turned-talent judge was also angry. She told Barbara Walters that the producers knew that Goodspeed had been stalking Abdul for years, but the producers decided to let her audition anyway because her Paula obsession was "funny." On "Idol," Goodspeed proudly displayed to host Ryan Seacrest the many portraits she'd drawn of the singer. Her audition was a flop, though, and Simon Cowell ridiculed her braces.

Nigel Lythgoe, the then-executive producer of "Idol," said this week that he thought Goodspeed was merely a fan of Abdul's and that he did not remember Abdul asking Goodspeed to be removed from the audition process. A rep for Abdul didn't return a call for this story; spokesman for Fox and Fremantle North America, the show's producer, declined to comment.

Abdul told Walters that at Goodspeed's audition, she was so mortified she "couldn't even look up." For the record, she seems calm if not chipper on the tape, but viewers can judge for themselves on YouTube.

Entblog_photo190_finale_pg But the more relevant issue is this: "Idol" has featured many, many contestants with no talent and dubious mental stability. In fact, during the audition phase, that's really the program's chief draw. (This season, producers have promised to change that.) Goodspeed is hardly the only eccentric given the grand "Idol" treatment. But the reality-TV-as-humiliation-ritual style seems to trouble Abdul only as it relates to her own personal safety. That she's now turned the aftermath of Goodspeed's death as the opportunity to point fingers at other people for not adequately protecting her -- Paula Abdul -- is ... well, what's the word? Unseemly, maybe? Delusional? Sad?

Or maybe just predictable. In the end, this really is all about Paula. Looking back, it's astonishing to realize how much of the media coverage for "Idol" is taken up with her. Does she hate Simon? Or secretly love him? Is she drunk? Crazy? Why does she cry so much? Does she sleep with "Idol" contestants? Can she reboot her career? And then this, always this: Is she leaving the show?

Entblog_photo190_pa_darndes Abdul, in short, is among a handful of current celebrities -- Angelina Jolie, Britney Spears and Paris Hilton also come to mind -- whose ongoing celebreality narratives, rich as any big fat novel, overtake whatever "project" they happen to be working on. The projects, in fact, serve to promote the celebrity, not the other way around -- a fact the studios seem a bit late in recognizing. More people have been entertained by Jolie's hectic "personal life" -- a truly strange and epic tale of romantic intrigue balanced by altruistic exploits -- than will ever bother to see "A Mighty Heart" or "Changeling." Jolie knows story better than the storytellers.

And so it is with Abdul. Clearly, she's nowhere near Jolie's league as a worldwide brand. But "American Idol" is, let's not forget, the No. 1 show in television. How much of that is directly attributable to Paula is open to debate. But there's no doubt that with her around, "Idol" fans get two big stories for the price of one. If that kind of value isn't worth protecting, what is?

-- Scott Collins   

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(Photo: Paula Abdul and Ryan Seacrest at the ALMA Awards, courtesy Kevin Winter / Getty Images for NCLR)