Bad news, American Idol fans: This year, it’s Paula Abdul who won’t be getting the chance to go to Hollywood.
During the same prime-time Tuesday time slot so familiar to the show’s millions of fans, the high-drama American Idol judge updated her personal Twitter page with news that she was leaving the popular reality show. “With sadness in my heart, I’ve decided not to return to #IDOL,” Abdul posted to her account around 7:30 p.m. on the west coast. “I’ll miss nurturing all the new talent, but most of all being a part of a show that I helped from day1become an international phenomenon.”
The surprising news is the latest in a series of headlines punctuating Idol’s off-season. Last month, host Ryan Seacrest signed a three-year extension with Idol producer 19 Entertainment worth $15 million a year believed to be the most lucrative deal ever for a reality-show host. Meanwhile Simon Cowell, the show’s irritable icon who earns an estimated $30 million a year as a judge and holds the rights to sign management contracts with Idol contestants, is reportedly in negotiations for a contract extension that could net him more than $100 million a year. And just this past Monday, newcomer Kara DioGuardi a figure who has divided loyal Idol fans with an approach that some have derided as obnoxious and even arrogant agreed to return as judge for a second season. Cowell and Randy Jackson remain under contract through the next season.
Abdul’s announcement comes only five days before the show was scheduled to start filming auditions for the latest season , and two weeks after Cowell told the celebrity news show Extra that he hoped his long-time colleague would appear with with him on the new season. Cowell’s olive branch was offered in response to threats made public by Abdul’s manager, who said his client would not return to Idol without an appropriate pay raise. “Very sadly, it does not appear that she’s going to be back on Idol,” manager David Sonenberg initially told the Los Angeles Times on July 17.
Sonenberg’s comments unleasahed a flurry of support for Abdul on Twitter, as fans rallied around the former pop star, demanding that she return to the hit singing competition. Some went so far as to organize a “Save Paula” tweeting campaign, a rallying cry that provoked an emotional response from the empathetic judge. “I’m actually moved 2 tears upon reading the enormous amount of tweets showing me your kindness, love & undying support. God bless all of you!” Abdul wrote last month.
This outpouring of good will was, apparently, limited to the twittersphere. Late Tuesday night, Abdul’s farewell tweets were met with an official statement from Fox, FremantleMedia North America and 19 Entertainment: “Paula Abdul has been an important part of the American Idol family over the last eight seasons and we are saddened that she has decided not to return to the show. While Paula will not be continuing with us, she’s a tremendous talent and we wish her the best.”
Over the last seven years, American Idol has been a reliable ratings boon for News Corporation this last season averaging 26.3 million viewers per episode. But as viewership has sagged from one year to the next, it has led some pundits to question the staying power of the franchise. The real question now, for the network and its sponsors, is whether a Cowell-Jackson-DioGuardi judging ensemble can keep the audience happy, or if the minor Twitter turbulence witnessed last month among Idol fans after Sonenberg’s initial warnings will now escalate into a tidal wave.
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