What New Scandal Will New 'Idol' Season Bring?

The scandals that have erupted nearly every season since "American Idol" premiered in 2002 have not made a dent in the popularity of the top-rated singing contest reality show.

With its eighth season set to start tonight, "Idol" is expected to easily maintain its No. 1 status.

"Any show that's watched by this many people and involves a competition is going to have controversy," Jim Hibberd, a senior reporter for The Hollywood Reporter, told ABCNews.com. "It tends to help 'Idol' more than hurt it."

Hibberd said scandals involving the voting process have had a negative impact on the show. But "in terms of the judges being too mean or Paula doing something weird," he said, "it just helps the show."

"'Idol' is all about cast and controversy," Mike Darnell, the Fox president of alternative entertainment, told Reuters in an interview last year. "So as soon as you get the right ingredients, the ratings go up again."

Nonetheless, the show's producers have tinkered with the format to combat any possible "Idol" fatigue.

Besides adding a fourth judge, Grammy-nominated songwriter Kara DioGuardi, this season will include an extra week of Hollywood rounds and a larger semifinals with the judges again choosing wild card contestants.

The new season of "Idol" comes on the heels of the recent controversy stirred up by the apparent suicide of former auditioner Paula Goodspeed.

After Goodspeed was found dead in a parked car a few doors away from Abdul's home in November, Abdul lashed out at producers and Cowell for allowing the young woman to audition for the show in 2005.

Abdul told ABC's "The View" that Goodspeed had been stalking her for 17 years and later told co-host Barbara Walters on Walters' radio show that she pleaded with Cowell and the producers not to let Goodspeed audition.

They did, she said, for the "entertainment value. It's fun for them to cause me stress. This was something that would make good television."

When Walters asked why Abdul remains on a show that would put her in peril, Abdul said: "I'm under contract."

"I put up with so much BS that I had to crawl on my belly, but I rise like a Phoenix," she said.

Viewers will no doubt be looking to see how Cowell and Abdul get along this season.

Goodspeed's death also reignited the debate over whether the judges' comments go too far. The show's executive producer Ken Warwick defended the judges' commentary in a recent interview with USA Today. "Sometimes it is mean," he said. "So is life."

A Softer 'Idol'?

But Hibberd believes there will be a softer tone this season.

"Simon Cowell said the whole incident gave him pause," he said. "I wouldn't be surprised if their comments are a little bit toned down. The producers are also looking to make this round focus more on the people who do well than the train wreck performers. We're going to be seeing a nicer 'Idol' either way."

Goodspeed's likely suicide is only the latest scandal to rock "Idol." Here's a look back at some of the show's most controversial moments:

Jessica Sierra:

The Season 4 finalist had several brushes with the law after her time in the spotlight. First Sierra was given a year's probation in November 2007 after pleading no contest to felony battery and cocaine possession charges. Less than a month later, she was arrested again at a Tampa, Fla., bar and charged with disorderly intoxication, resisting arrest and violating conditions of her parole.

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