‘American Idol’ Steps Up Screening Process For Contestants

Almost four times as many background checks done this year.

The competition is not the only thing getting tougher with each season of “American Idol.”

After last year, when three of the final 32 contestants were booted from the show for their troubled pasts, producers are beefing up the screening process. “This year, for the first time ever, we screened all of the 117 that came through to Pasadena,” co-executive producer Ken Warwick said. “Normally we only screen the final 32.

“Generally speaking,” he added, “the whole process of screening these kids is a bit of a nightmare. Some of them are younger, so they’re not on the normal registers you would check out.”

Last season the judges advanced Jaered Andrews to the final 32 but kicked him off when FOX learned of his arrest on assault charges in connection with a bar fight that ended with a man’s death (see “Former ‘American Idol’ Contestant Faces Possible Involuntary Manslaughter Charge” ).

Another finalist, Frenchie Davis, was axed for posing topless on a Web site that advertised pictures of underage girls. And Corey Clark, who made it as far the final nine, was eliminated after it surfaced he was arrested the year before for assaulting his sister (see ” ‘Idol’ Dismisses Corey Clark After Battery Charges Surface” ). FOX said it had missed Clark’s arrest because a police report misspelled his name.

“People are always going to tell lies, so you can’t legislate for that until you find out,” Warwick said. “But they sign a contract, and if they do that, they are in breach of contract.”

In a conference-call interview Monday, Paula Abdul said the judges have nothing to do with the screening process and only find out who’s been disqualified when producers tell them — something that’s already happened this season.

Randy Jackson said the screening process is important for the integrity of “American Idol.” “It’s got to [happen], ’cause this is a family show,” he said. “And you don’t want any problems along the way.”

Warwick said extensive criminal checks are done on the singers, but the producers are “not judgmental at all.”

“If a girl’s worked in a strip bar but she’s a great singer, we don’t care,” he said. “But if there is something that is seriously going to bring the show in disrepute, for any reason, it’s up to the legal side of FOX and 19 [Entertainment, who produce the show].”

In the first season of “American Idol,” third-place finisher Nikki McKibbin was never reprimanded for working as a stripper before the show. And last year, Trenyce was honest to producers about a felony theft charge on her record and was allowed to compete.

And while telling the truth is one way to avoid getting booted, the other is to win the contest before anyone finds out.

Warwick said that had producers learned during the competition that Ruben Studdard was accepting endorsement dollars from 205 Flava Inc. (see ” ’205′ Jersey Makers Say They Secretly Paid Ruben Studdard” ), he “absolutely” would have been reprimanded.

In August, when the allegations surfaced, a representative for “American Idol” called the matter a personal issue and said the producers of the show do not comment on the personal lives of the contestants.

Jackson called the way the Studdard issue was handled “cryptic.”

“Whatever deals you make before [competing in the show,] that’s all cool,” he said. “But I just think that deal kinda went bad and no one really knew the truth of what was really going on. Some foul play going on, dawg.”