America Idol producer Ken Warwick: "There has never been any discussion that we would get rid of Paula"
You know, the Paula question.
Specifically, does judge Paula Abdul have a future with TV’s highest-rated program?
The evidence: Producers this season drafted another female judge, singer-songwriter Kara DioGuardi; after the death of an obsessive fan near her home, Abdul publicly criticized Idol producers, saying they brought the woman on the show for a 2005 audition despite warnings that the woman was a stalker; and rumors abound that Abdul is negotiating a new contract with the show while demanding the freedom to do other shows, such as Dancing with the Stars.
But in a conference call with reporters today about Idol’s eighth season, starting Jan. 13 and 14, producer Ken Warwick denied Abdul was on thin ice, saying “There’s never been any discussion that we would want to get rid of Paula . . . We’ve never had the discussion of ‘Is her job in jeopardy?’ America loves Paula. As far as I’m concerned, I hope she’s on the show until it goes off the air.”
Warwick acknowledged that Abdul’s contract negotiations were a wild card. And he couldn’t explain her insistence that she had warned Idol producers against bringing fan Paula Goodspeed on the show in 2005, saying she was a stalker under a restraining order. Goodspeed died last month of a drug overdose in an apparent suicide; her body was found in a car in front of Abdul's home.
“I definitely would not put a person I thought was even remotely dangerous in front of the judges,” said Warwick, adding he did not remember Abdul voicing an objection to Goodspeed. “I didn’t know this person was a risk, or someone termed a stalker . . . (Abdul) may have mentioned it to somebody, but she didn’t mention it to me.”
Warwick faces a daunting task, working to juice a show critics have increasingly criticized as predictable and formulaic. Even the producer admitted, when asked about low ratings, that he expects the show to have viewership problems again in 2009.
“When you get to the eighth series of any series, especially in America, you’ve got to expect the ratings to diminish a bit,” he said. “I think generally the whole of the TV audience went down . . . The truth was, we didn’t do that badly. We got 97-million votes in the finale. I’m not overly concerned. We will drop because everything has. There were no panic changes made here.”
But there are changes:
-- The charity show Idol Gives Back won’t be back in 2009. Citing depressed economic times and the stress of doing a charity event in the middle of the season, Warwick hinted the event might come every other year.
-- There a new, complex system for shaking up the eliminations. There will be 36 top contestants picked in Hollywood, with contestants competing in groups of 12 across three shows. In each show, the pulbic will choose a top male winner, top female winner and third place winner of either sex. The judges pick a group of contestants for a wild card episode -– probably nine or 10 contestants, Warwick hasn’t decided -- with judges then choosing three more winners to round out the 12 finalists.
-- Rather than replace Abdul, DioGuardi often teams with her to keep caustic judge Simon Cowell from ruling the process, Warwick said. “Simon? He didn’t like it . . . (but) it was good for the show . . . Occasionally, it was good when he met a bit of resistance and couldn’t steamroller people.”
-- Producers will only exclude experienced performers if they are currently under a recording or management contract. “Don’t forget Kelly Clarkson shlepped around Los Angeles for two years, having no success, before she went back to Texas and started working in a bar. I don’t think any would say she didn’t deserve to be there.”
-- Costumes won’t get you on camera. “Simon hates costumes,” Warwick said.
-- The only question Warwick wouldn’t tackle: What he thought of a poll that said famously egocentric judge Cowell was more popular than God with British schoolchildren. “It’s probably a rumor (Simon) started himself,” the producer said, laughing. “I wouldn’t answer that; look at how much trouble John Lennon got into with that."
Of course, even while trying to play peacemaker, Warwick couldn’t avoid dissing Abdul by accident, noting of DioGuardi: “She’s the first judge (we’ve had who is) a great singer . . . in previous years, the kids could say ‘You can’t sing, so you can’t tell us,’ (but) she can and she does on a number of occasions.”
Apparently the producer forgot Abdul was an '80s-era pop star who also considers herself a singer, performing on fellow judge Randy Jackson’s solo record this year while preparing her own comeback record.
This is going to be an interesting season.