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Dear Paula: Please don’t leave ‘American Idol’

It's easy to be mean like Simon Cowell -- most of us learn that in grade school. But it's tougher to be supportive in all circumstances, and thus Paula Abdul has the toughest job of the "American Idol" judges.
/ Source: msnbc.com contributor

Dear Paula,

I know that it's been a difficult "American Idol" off-season for you, with failed contestants committing suicide outside your house and constant rumors that you're being replaced. The addition of a fourth judge for this season, Kara DioGuardi is seen as something less than a sign of confidence of your role on the show, and an insurance policy in case you leave.

There's been a number of rumors that indicate that this ambivalence is mutual, and that you are looking to move on. You had a pretty good career in the days before "Idol," in both pop music and choreography. While the show admittedly found you at a point where not many in Hollywood were knocking on your door, you know that you don't need "Idol" to find work at this point.

A viewer could be forgiven for figuring that the natural result of this is a mutual parting of the ways. You go on to bigger and better things, the show moves on with a different judge, and bad singers still line up to be laughed at by America.

Please don't let that happen.

It's amazing how a glorified talent show has become a ratings sensation for seven years, and you deserve as much of the credit for that as anyone. The roles each of the original three judges play, and their interaction with each other, is a big reason that "American Idol" is so entertaining.

Simon Cowell gets most of the attention, because he's the meanest and puts into soundbites what most of the audience is thinking. Randy Jackson has the key entries in the "Idol" lexicon, mostly involving the word "dawg," and he's worked with nearly everyone in the business, as he and the show's producers and editors never cease to remind us.

You, on the other hand, get teased and mocked unmercifully. People wonder if you've made up your minds about singers before they even perform or speculate that you're on drugs. Former contestants claim that you seduced them. Controversy sticks to you like it does nobody else associated with the show; David Cook may be the reigning "American Idol," but you're the perennial Drama Queen.

That's not all your fault. You are the easiest judge to pick on, because you're so nice to every performer and reserve nearly all of your jabs for your fellow panelists. You're supportive even of those who are in way over their heads, which means you can come across as being hopelessly out of touch. Singers that any viewer can see should be looking at alternative career paths that involve never opening their mouths at all receive words of praise from you, even when you deliver bad news about their fate on the show.

That might not be the brutal honesty that gives Simon such a big fan club, but it's a much harder task. After all, there is nothing easier than making fun of the weak and untalented. Most of us learn that in elementary school. Being both genuine and supportive is much more difficult.

The show sells the notion that dreams can come true, which is something everyone in the audience can relate to. Even as we marvel at the lack of realism that would cause those screechers to think they could be a professional singer, many of those in the audience are clinging to their own dreams. People laugh at the off-key singers and then head to the karaoke bar to display their talents before drunken strangers, or sit down to type out that best-selling novel or Oscar-winning screenplay, or ponder the latest invention that's going to make them rich and famous and get them on Oprah.

Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans Jr. on the "Let's Be Cops," red carpet, Selena Gomez is immortalized in wax and more.

That's the whole point of "American Idol," to give the illusion that any random person can be plucked out of the local dive bar and become famous. It's not about becoming a pop star — "Idol" does a subpar job of nurturing its winners and prominent runner-ups between seasons — but about the dream of becoming one.

Those ideals need support, even if the singers on this show looking to fulfill their dreams aren't good enough to do so. So while there needs to be a Simon-esque character telling those people to go and do something else with their lives, there also needs to be someone reminding us that dreams in general are good things and should be supported.

You do that better than any similar reality show judge. While some who appear on the audition episodes know they have no chance and are just trying to get on television, there are plenty of others who genuinely believe they have what it takes to make it in the music business. They deserve to know the truth about their chances, but they also deserve to be let down in the gentle, positive manner that you have perfected.

As we head into 2009, my wife and I are doing a winter cleaning and trying to purge the house of possessions we never use anymore. One of the objects of contention: my "Forever Your Girl" CD. My wife pointed out that I haven't listened to it in forever, and that it does little but gather dust.

But I held firm and kept the CD, arguing that while I may never pop it into the stereo to hear a little "Straight Up," I always smile when I see it in the cabinet. There is always a place in my house for anything that makes me smile.

That's the role you fill so well on 'Idol." Don't leave and take that away from the viewers.

And though you and Simon may not always get along, remember Opposites Attract, even if he is sometimes a Cold-Hearted Snake.

Yours in Idol-atry,

Craig Berman