If Paula Abdul’s aim was to shock people with her Twittered announcement that she was leaving “American Idol,” by most accounts, she succeeded. If she was hoping to act out a celebrity cliché, she succeeded with that, too.
Successful celebrities have always thought there's more where that came from. If only they could switch from television to film, from acting to singing, from being well-paid by any normal person's standard, to being insanely high-paid.
Abdul’s motives seem to align with the latter category. Her fellow judges — Randy Jackson, Simon Cowell and Kara DioGuardi — have all signed on through season nine of the hit singing show. But it wasn't until host Ryan Seacrest signed a deal that reportedly keeps him onboard until 2012 — to the tune of $45 million — that Abdul’s angling for a big contract of her own became clear.
First, her manager spoke on her behalf, saying, “Very sadly, it does not appear that she's going to be back on ‘Idol.’ I find it kind of unconscionable and certainly rude and disrespectful that they haven't stepped up and said what they want to do.”
That July 17 announcement was accompanied by some saber rattling. And since Abdul has excelled at making noise — on-set and off — it seemed like a fair negotiating tactic.
Fast forward to Aug. 4, when, like Sarah Palin before her, Abdul took to her Twitter account. Her heart was sad, she wrote, and she was leaving Idol, “a show that I helped from day one become an international phenomenon.”
The statement is deeper than Abdul probably realizes. Sure, she helped turn “Idol” into a success, but “Idol” was key to Abdul’s success, too. Again, like Palin, Abdul is willing to turn her back on the machine that not only kept her relevant, but kept her success churning at a steady pace despite publicity missteps and rumors of high-maintenance behavior and personality conflicts.
Of course, you can’t discuss Abdul’s departure without addressing the role “Idol” played in her decision. Clearly, the show is taking a stance that is especially popular right now, effectively saying that no one personality is bigger than the show. This was key in the success of “ER,” it’s why “Grey’s Anatomy” continues on as doctors arrive and depart.
But there’s an obvious flaw: “Idol” is not scripted programming. Reality television is only as successful as the real people who participate, unscripted programming is only amusing when the people involved say things that defy description.
For now, there appears to be no winner here. I guess the only upshot is that since she made her announcement in the middle of summer, no one has to suffer through an awkward goodbye performance on the show. And despite her sometimes utterly incoherent, occasionally charming rambling, on her way out, Abdul taught us a lesson, that Twitter really can be useful for something.
Courtney Hazlett delivers the Scoop Monday through Friday on msnbc.com. Follow Scoop on Twitter: @ courtneyatmsnbc.