Hyping it as a scandal that could rock Fox's American Idol, ABC's Primetime Live special Wednesday night reported the already much-reported allegations of former contestant Corey Clark that judge Paula Abdul seduced him and coached him back in 2003, including picking his songs and paying for clothes, CD's and a haircut.
Clark was eventually dropped from the show--won by Ruben Studdard--for failing to tell show producers of a past arrest, but not before he had become a "household name" finalist.
ABC also interviewed seven contestants who did not make the finals. Not surprisingly, most felt cheated by Clark's alleged inside track with one of the judges.
Abdul has branded Clark a liar, and Fox has questioned his motives while vowing to investigate any legitimate claims of favoritism.
"Despite documented procedures and multiple opportunities for contestants to raise any concerns they may have," said Fox in a statement Tuesday, "the producers of American Idol, FremantleMedia, 19 Entertainment and Fox were never notified or contacted by Mr. Clark, nor presented any evidence concerning his claims.
Clark is hyping a new album, including the song "Fallen Idol," which served as a rhetorical device in the ABC show, also called "Fallen Idol," with Clark getting plenty of screen time singing the song."
Clark has also pitched a tell-all book on the incident.
When correspondent John Quinones asked Clark directly if this were a publicity stunt, he said no, it was the truth, but an "explosive" truth.
Truth or not, ABC is hoping to gain some publicity and ratings from the show, which was scheduled during the May sweeps, when advertisers set ad rates based on ratings.
ABC even played of Wednesday night's Idol vote-off show, with Quinones, saying viewers had just seen contestant Scott voted off, now they would hear a story of another ousted Idol.
Quinones pointed out that Clark was a naive, perpetually broke 22-year old with no fixed address when the Abdul affair began. When he asked why Abdul, a famous singer and popular TV star, would risk all that for him. Clark said she just wanted to help him, to dust off his diamond and let it shine better.
Later in the show, he turned the dust metaphor around. Clark said that Abdul had called to ask him not to talk about her to the press. He says he told her that he had to make his own path, even if that meant "getting your dirt off my pathway."
Clark's friends and parents backed up his story of the affair in interviews with ABC. His mother said Abdul had called the house and also asked her not to talk to the press. Clark had told them of the affair early on, she said.
The show also alleged to have phone records of lengthy calls between Clark and Abdul's home, with Clark often using a cell phone he says Abdul supplied him.
ABC played a voice mail from someone who sounded like Abdul warning Clark not to talk to the tabloids, but it was not clear what she was referring to.
Arguably the most damning allegation was that Abdul had coached Clark to sing the song Foolish Heart by the band Journey, saying it could help score points with fellow Judge Randy Jackson, a former member of Journey, which it appeared to do.
Clark is shown telling Randy he did not know the judge was a former band member, which Clark now says was a lie.
If Clark got coaching in a broadcast skill contest, that could run afoul of FCC rules that date back to the quiz show scandals of the late 1950's, when several game shows coached contestants with particular audience appeal, using a "that's showbiz" defense that didn't wash with an unhappy Congress.
According to FCC rules, it is illegal "To supply to any contestant in a purportedly bona fide contest of intellectual knowledge or intellectual skill any special and secret assistance whereby the outcome of such contest will be in whole or in part prearranged or predetermined."
Ultimately, viewers vote the finalist contestants in or out, but the judges determine who makes it into the viewer-vote portion of the contest, and weigh in on camera throughout, arguably influencing those viewer decisions.
The 1950's quiz show scandals led to congressional hearings and the fall of some popular, big money, game shows.
ABC promised to follow up with any "Fallen Idol" fall-out on Thursday night's regular Primetime Live broadcast.
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Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.