Pop Culture

‘Idol’ special offered a lot of nothing

The most stunning revelations from “Fallen Idol,” ABC News’ “explosive special event” about “American Idol 2” finalist’s Corey Clark’s alleged affair with judge Paula Abdul, were mere afterthoughts mentioned during the show. Randy Jackson was a member of Journey! He wore tight leather pants! Corey’s mother thought Paula was 38 years old in 2003! Corey’s forthcoming album includes a song called “Paula-tics”!

Because the juiciest revelations from Clark's story have been reported over the past few weeks, the details weren’t surprising, and these odd pieces of information stood out as something new.

The other surprising part of the program was how oddly insignificant this rather significant information seemed coming from Clark, an unlikely spokesperson for anything. If anything, Primetime Live's special might have the opposite of its intended effect, hurting Clark's credibility and strengthening Abdul's.

In short, Clark claimed that, starting in December of 2003, he began a relationship with Abdul that started when someone slipped him a note with her phone number. Eventually, their interaction became sexual; along the way, he says she coached him, helping with everything from song selection to his wardrobe. Clark says Abdul was “letting me know all the ins and outs: what to do, what not to do, who to talk to, who not to talk to.” The group of “American Idol 2” semi-finalists that Primetime Live cobbled together said this was abnormal behavior, since they interacted with the judges only on the set.

The best was saved until last, when we heard a voice mail message that Clark says Abdul left for him just a few weeks ago. A voice that sounded very much like Abdul tells him to “say absolutely nothing.”

On the surface, all of this seems damning, as preferential treatment might have created an uneven field for the contestants.

Can Abdul really help anyone?Reality television programs may capture viewers’ attention like fictional programming does, but those shows with contest elements still have to abide by rules. Primetime Live’s John Quiñones noted “that with their reactions, the judges can carry a lot of weight with the voting audience.”

That may be true, but let’s consider the judge in question. For the past four seasons, Paula Abdul’s reactions have been nearly identical for everyone: relentless, empty praise that tends to ignore the actual strengths and weaknesses of each performance.

Abdul doesn’t act like a judge; she acts like a grandparent. And if her comments have an effect on any members of the voting audience, those people should have their phones taken away from them immediately.

It’s a stretch, at best, that any of this had any concrete effect. Even Clark admitted that Abdul didn’t try to rig the contest. He said that she helped him (“of course, of course”), but “not as far as making it through, but, you know, as far as helping me, and, uh, you know, like, wardrobe, so I looked the part, you know, and, uh, song choices, you know what I’m saying.”

As that quotation shows, Corey Clark is possibly the worst spokesperson imaginable to level these sorts of charges. Clarkis so inarticulate that John Quiñones had to ask leading questions just to get him to give “yeah” and “right” responses. Clark couldn’t even defend his own credibility, saying, “at the end of the day, like I said before, I’m not here to try to prove my case one way or the other, I’m just here to let people know what was going down on my side of the fence.”

Asked to describe the most salacious part of his claims, his physical relationship with Abdul, Clark said, “It was dope, I was like, wow. ... She came up behind me and she just started kissing my neck, and, you know, that’s the first night that we had ever been together, you know what I’m saying?”

Actually, no, we don’t. But at least if the singing thing falls through, Clark can always turn to writing romance novels, because he sure can craft a captivating, erotic tale.

FOX can and has dismissed Clark’s charges because of his past behavior (The Smoking Gun revealed that he’d been charged with “battery on four law enforcement officers, battery on his sister, and endangering a child,” and those revelations led to his removal from the show.) Although his past doesn’t disprove any of his claims, it’s suspicious that he’s popping up now, two years later, when he’s shopping a memoir and working on an album.

Primetime Live spent much of its hour helping to promote that forthcoming CD, despite Quiñones’ stated skepticism about Clark's motives. If ABC News was really concerned about his motives, they wouldn’t have interspersed evidence of these allegations with clips of Clark whoring his new record, which seems to be entirely focused on his affair with Abdul.

From what the special showed, the record shows that Clark isn’t quite over Abdul now, more than two years later. One song is actually named “Paula-tics” (although the exact spelling is unclear), some lyrics tell the story of Clark's relationship with her, and one song actually includes the familiar phrase “straight up.” All that’s left is for Clark to shoot a video dancing with MC Skat Kat.

‘Idol’ needs to be more transparentSince its early days, “American Idol” has been dogged by rumors and scandal. The series has nothing to blame except itself.

The most popular reality TV show in the country pretends it is one thing (wholesome family entertainment and a talent contest that lets people realize their dreams) when it’s actually the opposite (an often cruel exercise that’s concerned only with selling ads and records and discards dreams without flinching). For a show that relentlessly tortures its contestants with glee, it’s no surprise that some people would like to see the show’s glossy veneer crack.

The series’ complete lack of transparency has fueled every conceivable conspiracy theory; anyone with a puzzle piece thinks theirs fits perfectly because Idol's pieces are invisible. Vote totals and percentages aren’t released; auditions are orchestrated to ensure drama and good television; the only things we see behind-the-scenes are stiff segments with Ryan Seacrest or heavily produced commercials for the shows sponsors; the screaming sycophantic audience would boo Simon Cowell if he said it was raining outside, especially if it was pouring.

Whether or not anything comes of Corey Clark's claims, that Paula Abdul is the target of the most significant scandal to date is quite fitting. Abdul offers expressive comments that are substanceless, and now she’s the target of substantive claims that have been delivered inarticulately. If they don’t stick, we may never know if it was the message or the messenger.

is a writer and teacher who publishes reality blurred, a daily summary of reality TV news.