The "American Idol" juggernaut rolled on Tuesday night, with the Memphis auditions producing several viable candidates for the finals -- and there are two hours of New York auditions coming up. Overnight ratings for the Fox reality hit were almost double those of its nearest competitor.
But the real news was that there were fewer barbs from the judges and a more coherent Paula Abdul. This stands in contrast to last week when the level of rancor was so high -- and Paula's behavior, so loopy -- that the question everyone was asking was, "Why is 'Idol' so mean?" and "What's up with Paula?"
And this week, "The Late Show with David Letterman" held a "Top Ten" contest. The subject? "Top Ten reasons why Paula Abdul is nuts."
The day after the Seattle auditions of "Idol" aired, Abdul found a way to keep audiences from dwelling on the city's tone-deaf, style-challenged contestants. In interviews with Seattle's Fox Q13 Morning News, "Good Day L.A." and Fox's KTVU, a disheveled Abdul swayed, slurred and jabbered nonsensically -- and loudly -- about the new season of "Idol," her odd relationship with fellow judge Simon Cowell and the upcoming "Bratz" movie.
Seattle's Fox Q13 Morning News asked Abdul what she was looking forward to this season, to which Abdul answered, "How about a lot of you coming in this season? It's a wild party where you are," while gesturing wildly and swaying back and forth.
Wiggling and Giggling
When asked about Cowell's dreary assessment of Seattle singers, Abdul surprised and confused the morning anchors by saying, "I have to agree with Simon. But hey, you know what? It is what it is. And you know what? It was…It was brilliant!"
Just when it appeared that Abdul might fall asleep on the air, anchors asked how "Idol" has changed pop music. Abdul revived herself to say, "Let me put it this way to you: When the show started, the record industry said 'This show is going to rue the music industry…'"
Though Abdul appeared somewhat more clearheaded on Fox's "Good Day L.A.," simple sentence structure and facial control seemed to elude her. Sentences rambled and faded as she scrunched her face and rolled her eyes dramatically.
Anchor Steve Edwards asked Abdul if she could have imagined the success of the show, to which Abdul shouted "Yes! I'm going to say everything different than anyone else is…I predicted the biggest show in the history of television…a lexicon…the Americana…"
About a minute into KTVU's interview with Abdul, Ross McGowan finally asked, "Do you always wiggle around that much? You're just wiggling around there in New York City." Viewers were rewarded with a jumbled answer about being a dancer and some rather awkward, seated dance moves.
Clips of the interviews ran rampant on Internet blogs and YouTube, accompanied by headlines such as "Paula Abdul -- what is she smoking?" and "Paula drunk on TV?"
Though "American Idol" producers, Abdul and fellow judges could not be reached for comment, her publicist and Fox have denied the allegations in written statements, citing logistical issues with audio systems.
Abdul Issues Denials
Friday's People magazine quotes Abdul: "Drugs? I'm not addicted to pills of any kind." And the New York Times quoted Abdul saying, "I've never been drunk. I'm not under the influence of anything."
Abdul's publicist, Jeff Ballard, released a statement to popular Web site TMZ claiming that Abdul's behavior was a result of "technical problems with the satellite and her sound was dropped not once but twice." The statement went on to say that "Paula was distracted and confused by the station dropping the sound. She did not know what was going on."
"There was no audio problem on our end, at my station," said Fox Q13's news director, Steve Krycik, adding that it was possible that New York, where Paula conducted the interview, was having problems. "Whether or not there was at all, I think people would have to use their own judgment. It was one of the oddest interviews we've ever done. But I don't want to speculate on reasons for that."
Fox released a statement saying: "Last week, during a satellite press tour there were intermittent technical difficulties, including severe audio issues in which multiple stations were speaking to her at once. Rather than getting angry about these difficulties, or stopping the tour, Paula forged ahead and decided to have fun with the increasingly challenging situation."
What may -- or may not -- have been a little good-humored fun for Abdul is now a public mockery and a public relations nightmare.
"I am most surprised by the fact that her publicists allow her to speak freely on live television," said ABC Contributing Correspondent Katrina Szish. "She's not fooling anyone, and I would think they would want to impose some sort of damage control."
But Agnes Huff, owner of Agnes Huff Communications Group, which specializes in crisis management, said that exercising influence over prominent figures, especially celebrities, is often not that simple.
"You can't just put a Band-Aid on the issue," said Huff. "A lot of it depends on the individual that is experiencing that crisis. As a celebrity, things can be blown out of proportion…Part of it is that people tend to be in denial. And they don't really want to look closely at their behavior. None of us like criticism and especially if we think it isn't true."
Any Publicity is Good Publicity?
But Abdul may not have a problem at all. Some speculate that her odd behavior may all be a publicity ploy, cooked up by clever, media-savvy agents to bring attention to the sixth season of "Idol."
MSNBC's Keith Olbermann showed clips from Abdul's interviews, stating it was "either another sad example of a celebrity in need or a publicity stunt."
"It is the second week of the new 'Idol' season," agreed Szish. "And if Paula is acting wacky in the media, she's likely to be acting wacky on the show, which could only entice more viewers -- not like they need it, but every bit helps."
A History of Controversy
It's not the first time Abdul has been the source of celebrity controversy. Last year, former "American Idol" contestant Corey Clark accused Abdul of having an affair with him, lending him money for salon trips and clothing and coaching him during the show. Abdul denied the allegations and Clark disappeared into obscurity.
But rumors of Abdul's painkiller addiction cropped up in the tabloids and clips of odd behavior on Idol circled the Internet, leaving many still questioning just how sober -- or sane -- Abdul really is.
Abdul rose to fame in the 1980s, starting as a dancer and choreographer for the Los Angeles Lakers dance troupe, known as the Laker Girls. She went on to choreograph for movies such as "Coming to America" and stars like Janet Jackson before recording her own demo tape for Virgin records.
According to the "American Idol" Web site, Abdul had sold over 30 million records, had six No. 1 singles, and had two No. 1 albums. She won a Grammy Award, two Emmy Awards and seven MTV Awards.
In 1992, Abdul married actor Emilio Estevez. But problems for Abdul arose the same year. She admitted to having an eating disorder and checked herself into a rehabilitation facility. She was also involved in an accident that year on a small private plane.
"Well, the first thing I remember is I lifted off my seat and I hit my head really hard and I passed out," Abdul said in an interview with Larry King last May. "When I came to, everyone was holding hands and saying their last prayers."
Whatever is happening behind the scenes -- or possibly in live interviews -- Abdul seems to have at least some of her prayers answered. In addition to "American Idol," the star will shoot her own reality show entitled "Hey, Paula!" for Bravo and is working on the new "Bratz" movie with Lions Gate Entertainment.
Continued success, though, comes from some basic principles.
"Being forthright and honest is so basic," said Huff, the crisis management specialist. "Being who you are and being consistent over time so they know that's the kind of person that you are. And just being human -- we all mess up, but just say so and move on. It has to ring true or there will still be that perception out there."