Oringer: If He Broke Rules, Recall Ruben

ByABC News

Aug. 14, 2003 -- As the only person not running for governor of California, I'm demanding a recall vote — not in the Golden State gubernatorial race, but in American Idol.

American Idol winner Ruben Studdard should have his title revoked if he really did receive money in exchange for wearing 205 Flava Inc. shirts during his appearances on the Fox talent competition, as has been reported.

Contestants on the TV show are banned from accepting outside contracts, according to a statement by Michael Jaffa, vice president of business and legal affairs for American Idol Productions Inc.

A lawsuit recently filed by Willie and Frederick Jenkins, owners of the Birmingham, Ala.-based 205 Flava Inc. clothing company, contends Studdard approached them with the idea of receiving a fee in exchange for donning their duds on national television.

The designers contend Studdard asked for compensation totaling $10,000. They also claim checks were written for $1,000 a week. These eventually escalated to $1,500 per week as Studdard advanced in the competition, the suit says.

The Jenkinses go on to allege that these checks were made out to Studdard's brother and manager to keep the paper trail from leading back to the singer.

This legal wrangling originally began with a suit filed by Studdard himself, who alleged the Jenkins brothers were using his image for profit. Studdard's suit contends that 205 Flava Inc. kept his photo on its Web site, which has enabled the company to garner more than $2 million in sales.

Thus far, both suits have been filed in court and the Jenkinses' lawyer, LaVeeda Morgan Battle, held a news conference where she revealed what she said were copies of the checks to Studdard's brother.

Studdard has yet to respond to the allegations on his own. His attorney, Byron Perkins, has told The Associated Press, "The public will hear from us soon," and has declined further comment.

Ron Edwards, Studdard's personal manager, told me likewise, saying, "No comment pending things we're working on."

Producers of the show are equally tight-lipped. "We don't comment on the contestants' personal lives," said Eric Green at 19 Television.

So, where do we go from here? Other Contestants Got the Boot

In case there are 10 people out there who haven't watch the show and don't know, it's important to note that other contestants have been kicked off American Idol for various infractions.

Franchelle Davis, aka Frenchie, was given the heave-ho because she had appeared topless and posed in a lurid manner on a Web site.

Frenchie contended that she was over 18 when she posed for the photo and that she did it to help pay her way through college. She didn't, however, make mention of this little impropriety when she tried out for the competition. When producers found out, they banished her from the show.

Another contestant, Corey Clark, got the boot after producers learned that he had been arrested on three misdemeanor counts, which included battery (the alleged victim was his teenage sister), criminal restraint and resisting arrest.

Clark was eventually dismissed, but not before he was given the opportunity to explain to the viewers that his banishment came as a result of not being honest with the producers.

Apparently, had he confessed his legal predicament when he was originally being considered, he would have been allowed to continue. The same is supposed to be the case for Frenchie.

Let the People Decide

The fact of the matter is, if Ruben actually violated the rules of the show, then regardless of his immense (no pun intended) talent, he should relinquish his title. But to whom — the second-place contestant, Clay Aiken?

Not necessarily.

You see, this show, which has become a phenomenon, is supposed to represent more than just a shot at fame for a talented few. It has separated itself from other such competitive shows by allowing the American public to be the decision makers.

Millions of people tuned in each week to watch their favorite performers and hundreds of thousands of those folks took the time to call in and vote, to give the one they thought most worthy a chance at fame and fortune.

Frenchie's Web involvement and Corey's arrest did not make them any less talented as individuals. Nor does Ruben's alleged profiting from wearing a jersey make him any less of a singer.

But the question is: Were rules violated, lines crossed, regulations dishonored?

If Frenchie and Corey would have been allowed to continue in the competition, who knows what the outcome would've been? If it's proven that Ruben did benefit financially for wearing the 205 shirts, then what should happen? What if this had been revealed while the show was going on, wouldn't he have been eliminated along with Frenchie and Corey?

I know there are a lot of woulda-coulda-shoulda items here, but something fishy is going on, and the American Idol that America chose may not be someone to be idolized after all.

Time will tell as more details unfold, but if in fact the claims against Studdard are true, then we've been foiled once again by reality TV.

As Simon Cowell would say of a first-round American Idol reject, "It's appalling."

Heidi Oringer is director of entertainment programming at ABCNEWS Radio.

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