Two would-be idols with arrest records, one of whom also is guilty of felony cockiness. Allegations of judicial activism — in the bedroom. A phone voting gaffe. Or was it a conspiracy?
If “American Idol” had a fourth-season theme song, it might be the long-ago hit “Anything Goes.” As with the best reality shows, Fox’s talent contest has a knack for holding viewer interest by being unpredictable.
But could the highly lucrative program be veering into crisis? Is “Idol” idolatry in danger?
Robert Thompson, director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University, doubts it.
“I don’t think most people think it’s the ’50s quiz show scandals, and I don’t think it’s the ’50s scandals,” he said.
Even Corey Clark’s claim of an affair with judge Paula Abdul while he was a contestant on the show, if true, isn’t enough to qualify.
“I don’t think that changes anything,” Thompson said. “I think in a perverse sort of way it makes it more interesting.”
Jason Rich, author of “American Idol 4: Official Behind-the-Scenes Fan Book,” said he had free access to contestants and the production for the book and for a third-season guide. He defends the show’s integrity.
“Based on what I’ve seen this season and last, I have not seen any scandal worth an hour of a prime-time television expose. I haven’t heard of anything, even if they wanted to grasp at straws,” Rich said.
But as the May 24-25 finale approaches (the field pares down to five finalists this week) attention has become so fevered that a news program on another network is scrutinizing the Fox show.
An ABC News special on competitor Fox's hit series "American Idol" will report an ex-contestant's claim that he had a sexual relationship with judge Paula Abdul while on the talent show. Corey Clark, who Fox has said was dropped from "American Idol" in 2003 for failing to reveal a past arrest, told "Primetime Live" that Abdul helped him with advice and money, ABC News said in a statement Tuesday.
The hourlong special is set to air at 10 p.m. EDT Wednesday, after the "American Idol" results show airs at 9 p.m. EDT. The Fox show is nearing its May 24-25 finale in which a winner will be chosen and get a record deal.
Clark earlier made allegations about Abdul in an interview with the Globe tabloid, which reported that he was shopping a tell-all book.
In a statement to ABC News Tuesday, Fox said Clark never notified the network or "American Idol" producers of any concerns about the show despite "multiple opportunities" for contestants to do so.
"We will, of course, look into any evidence of improper conduct that we receive," Fox said, adding the public should "carefully examine Mr. Clark's motives, given his apparent desire to exploit his prior involvement with 'American Idol' for profit and publicity."
Fox reiterated that Clark was dropped from the show because he failed to disclose his arrest history. Clark was arrested after a scuffle with his sister and eventually pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge, ABC said.
A previous statement issued on behalf of Abdul called Clark "an admitted liar and opportunist" who was trying to generate interest in a book deal by "communicating lies" about Abdul.
According to ABC News, Clark claims that singer-dancer Abdul initiated the relationship, which started as a friendship but then became sexual.
"Clark also claims that Abdul worked with him to improve his 'look' by giving him money to buy expensive clothing," ABC said in its statement.
The special also reports Clark's allegation that Abdul "implored him not to talk about her to the media or publish his memoirs," ABC said, noting that Clark played one answering machine message for "Primetime Live."
The contents of that message were not detailed in the ABC News statement.
Clark's alleges his first private phone call with Abdul came after an associate of hers slipped Clark a piece of paper with her number.
"So she was like, 'You got to have better song choices, and I want to help you do that. I want to look out after you like, like, I'm your mom,'" Clark told "Primetime Live," according to an excerpt released by ABC News.
"And then she was like, "Well, more like your sister." And I was like, 'OK, cool, cool' ... And then she was like, "Well, maybe more like your special friend,'" Clark told the news show.
Rooting for Savol
Some viewers, however, revel in the show’s imperfections.
The Web site votefortheworst.com encourages viewers to do exactly as its name says and has attracted more than 370,000 visitors so far.
“It’s fun to make fun of the people who take it so seriously,” said site founder Dave Della Terza, 22, of Los Angeles.
Last year, the site stumped for Sinatra-style crooner John Stevens.
This year, Scott Savol is the pick.
Credit lack of charisma and the kind of arrogance that should belong only to a genuine superstar, not a guy who’s hit enough off-key notes to draw judge Simon Cowell’s wrath.
Savol’s background is another a factor, said Della Terza: He was arrested in 2001 on a felony domestic violence charge after a confrontation with his fiancee, ultimately pleading to misdemeanor disorderly conduct.
“How do you promote the guy who threw a phone at his child’s mother?” said Della Terza, savoring the plight of 19 Entertainment, which oversees recording and other deals for “American Idol” stars.
(FremantleMedia is co-producer and co-licensor with 19 Entertainment for the entire format.)
Viewer Janina Perez doesn’t appreciate the Web site gag. She swore off watching after handsome, talented Anwar Robinson was voted off and Savol — “the guy seems rude,” she grouses — survived. But she tuned in again, only to see sexy, talented Constantine Maroulis dumped and Savol, inexplicably, hang on.
Perez reluctantly admits she can’t help herself: “Now I want to watch just to see what happens to him.”
DeGarmo is glad her season “went over with less craziness.” The 17-year-old from Snellville, Ga., offers her wisdom on the pop culture gossip mill grinding on “American Idol”:
“It’s just like high school: drama appears out of nowhere whether it’s true or not. The more I’m in the business I’m like, ’Wow, I thought I was graduating to get out of this,’ but I’m graduating to get back into it.
“It keeps things interesting, let’s put it that way.”