Paula: Cold-hearted snake?

Or was ABC's hyped "Primetime Live" expose just "Idol" gossip?

Published May 5, 2005 8:56PM (EDT)

"Could it possibly be true?" bellowed "Primetime Live" host John Quiqones at the opening of Wednesday night's show. "Romance between a celebrity judge on 'American Idol,' and a 22-year-old contestant, a naive and perpetually broke young man of no fixed address who didn't own a car or even a cellphone, and yet he says he chills with a wealthy superstar in her Hollywood Hills mansion?"

According to allegations by a former contestant, "American Idol" judge/aging pop star Paula Abdul was, in fact, guilty of said indiscreet chilling. Corey Clark, who appeared on the second season of the show, told Quiqones that he had an affair with Abdul, and that she helped him choose his songs and even paid for expensive clothes for him to wear while performing.

Soon, Quiqones cuts to the chase. "You had sex with Paula Abdul?" he asks.

"Yeah, I did," Clark responds demurely, in a tone that suggests Abdul stole his innocence.

ABC's self-proclaimed "explosive" report glosses over the fact that Clark was eliminated from "Idol" for refusing to disclose an arrest that occurred after a domestic dispute with his younger sister (he allegedly beat her up), which resulted in a "scuffle" with police. Instead, Quiqones practically drools over Clark's allegations, which he modestly claims "could become a scandal that rocks a pop culture phenomenon!" That may be wishful thinking for ABC, since the network is consistently trounced by Fox's "Idol," a show that typically tops the ratings twice a week.

But there's no shortage of wishful thinking in this sad tale. Clark says he's just trying to "come clean about what was really going on," but of course his confession is perfectly timed, coming a few weeks before the "American Idol" finale -- and just before he releases a new R&B album, which naturally includes a song about how Abdul crushed poor Clark's hopes of true love. (He's also reportedly shopping a tell-all memoir.)

"Straight up!" is the repeated refrain of that generic-sounding tune, shamelessly alluding to one of Abdul's hit songs ("Straight up now tell me do you really wanna love me forever?"). Clark's derivative ditty, played throughout the "Primetime" hour, tells the story of a woman and a boy, and "the way she played with his mind and the tragic way she broke his heart." Sniff!

Heartbroken isn't exactly how Clark comes across during the exposé, though. And when, in a preemptive move earlier this week, Abdul straight-up called Clark a liar and an opportunist and threatened to sue ABC, it was easy enough to write him off as just another reality show roadkill trying to turn scandal into gold. While claims that Abdul could've been biased might shock those who don't watch the show, those who do know that the appeal of the three judges lies entirely in their obvious preferences. Anyone who imagines the show constitutes some kind of a fair and balanced talent-based competition should remember three words: Tamyra, Nadia, Constantine.

In fact, the most laughable moment of the report came when host Quiqones marveled at footage of Clark flirting with Abdul, coming down off the stage and kissing her hand during a performance. "That was very bold of you to go up to her!" he tells Clark. "Were you making a pass at her?" Apparently Quiqones has never seen an episode of "American Idol," or he would know that all the male contestants fawn and wink and growl at Abdul openly, knowing that she's a sucker for a certain flavor of smoldering, sugary sweet, boyish crooner. And how about the unabashed tears Abdul shed on last week's "Idol" when that consistently tasteless herd of American voters dismissed Constantine? The notion that "American Idol" judges are anything but wildly subjective is pretty absurd; and regardless, during the second half of the season, the winners are chosen by the general public.

Still, no matter how typical Clark's flirting with Abdul was, how sleazy Clark's motives might be, or how annoyingly self-serving and cheesy ABC's "explosive" report is, Clark's story seems pretty convincing. The kid has a lot of people to substantiate his claims. An employee at the Sprint store confirmed that Abdul and Clark came into the store together to discuss a phone Abdul bought for Clark so that she could reach him easily; Clark's friends said that Abdul called him a lot, and their first-person accounts were nuanced enough that they seemed believable; Clark's parents reported that Abdul called their house constantly and told them not to tell the press about her relationship with him, and they had the phone bills to prove that Clark called Abdul and talked with her for hours on end. On top of that, Clark played a recent voice mail from Abdul in which she urges him not to talk to the media.

But then, based on the typical sharpness and wit of Abdul's comments on the show, it's not too difficult to see how she might have been shortsighted enough to not only get involved with a contestant, but to later leave incriminating voice mails on his phone imploring him not to speak to the press. While her P.R. attack this week was certainly a nice try, her missteps could easily spell dismissal from the show.

Between his opportunistic babbling and her bad decisions, Clark and Abdul both come out looking pretty bad in this mess. Of course, these days, that just means even more fame and fortune await both of them. Book deals and record contracts all around! In the end, these two might just be the best thing that ever happened to each other.

By Heather Havrilesky

Heather Havrilesky is a regular contributor to the New York Times Magazine, The Awl and Bookforum, and is the author of the memoir "Disaster Preparedness." You can also follow her on Twitter at @hhavrilesky.

MORE FROM Heather Havrilesky

Related Topics ------------------------------------------