Jan. 13, 2009 -- 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:
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.
A judge sentenced her to a year of rehab at a California facility run by Dr. Drew Pinsky and Sierra got another shot at reality television, appearing in the first season of Pinsky's VH-1 show "Celebrity Rehab."
One of 12 finalists during the show's second season, Clark told ABC's "Primetime Live" that as a 22-year-old he had an off-camera relationship with Abdul, then 40, that was at first platonic but later sexual.
Clark was abruptly booted from the show in April 2003 when producers learned he had been arrested for a domestic dispute with his sister the previous year.
After Clark's allegations, Abdul's rep issued a statement at the time saying she "will not dignify the false statements made by Corey Clark with a response. He is communicating lies about Paula Abdul in order to generate interest in a book deal."
The "Idol" producers at the time said they were never contacted by Clark concerning his claims.
Clark became an "Idol" footnote and Abdul continues to be a judge.
Last season it became clear that some "Idol" wannabes were not as green as they appeared to be. When it was discovered that Hennessy, the Irish singer with the big voice, had once been signed to a million-dollar record deal, some fans cried foul.
Hennessy only sold a few hundred CDs and was not under contract at the time she auditioned for "American Idol," which its rules state. Nonetheless, when New York magazine broke the story about Hennessy's and another contestant's previous record deals, a miniscandal ensued.
American Idol Controversy
"The conceit of 'Idol' is that they are finding undiscovered talent," Hibberd said. "The show shouldn't violate that. The fact that some of these contestants got some attention but haven't broken through in a major way, I think the producers were right not to arbitrarily exclude those people."
The other controversy that broke last season involved some scantily clad photos of Hernandez when he worked as a stripper at a mostly male Phoenix nightclub.
The show's producers were unfazed. Warwick told TV Guide's Web site: "We've had strippers on the show before. We're never judgmental about people who do things like that. If it were some sort of heavy porn, then maybe we'd have to take action. But certainly not on this."
"Idol" did dismiss contestant Frenchie Davis during Season 2 in 2003, after it was discovered that she had once appeared on an adult Web site.
The show left it to the fans to decide and they did pretty quickly -- Hernandez was the first of the 12 finalists to be eliminated.
The year before, another set of racy photos made headlines. After topless photos of New York semifinalist Barba were leaked on the Internet, "Idol" took the unprecedented step of allowing her to stay.
Barba explained at the time that these "were photos of my personal life that got exploited without my consent."
Cowell defended her, telling USA Today, "These people haven't done anything illegal; that's their private life."
Hibberd said "Idol" fans shouldn't be surprised if more of these types of scandals turn up. "It goes with some of the exhibition qualities that drive people to audition for the show," he said.
But, he added, ultimately these sort of scandals affect voting, given the large number of young voters watching the show. Barba found that out, when she was eliminated before making it to the Top 12.
Vasquez's abrupt departure from Season 4 of "Idol" left fans speculating. When he dropped out of the finals in March 2005, he cited "personal reasons."
Two years later, it became apparent why. That's when a male "Idol" employee filed a lawsuit alleging that Vasquez had sexually harassed him while he was a contestant on the show. In the suit, former employee Magdaleno Olmos alleged that Vasquez followed him into a bathroom stall, touched him inappropriately and made advances toward him.
Paula Abdul's Antics
Abdul is no stranger to controversy. Remember Corey Clark? But last season when she commented on a performance that had not yet taken place, fans unleashed a flurry of negative e-mails and the show's credibility was again called into question.
Abdul was giving Jason Castro a negative review of his two songs. Only problem was he had only performed one. Later, she explained that she had gotten confused, amid last-minute show-procedure changes.
And recently she told Barbara Walters that Cowell's pestering her off camera also throws her off, making her appear flighty.
Hibberd said Abdul's antics, including her recent negative comments about the show, keep the show in the headlines.
"Paula adds an X factor to 'Idol,'" he said. "People don't know what she will do next. It helps the show. At the end of the day the entertainment value she brings, the network sees it as more beneficial."