Antonella Barba's warbly rendition of Aerosmith's "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing" last week might eventually get the "American Idol" semifinalist booted off the show. But for now, anyway, the X-rated pictures of her buzzing around the Internet won't.
"Idol" has had its fair share of scandals in the past, but a friend of Barba's jumped to her defense this week after widely distributed, allegedly doctored photos of the New Jersey native surfaced that appeared to show her performing oral sex on an anonymous man. The pictures were accompanied by a flood of other salacious — though not as graphic — shots of Barba in her underwear, sitting on a toilet, covering her breasts alongside a half-dozen other friends on the beach and posing in various sexy outfits.
The anonymously posted shots helped Barba become one of the most searched people on the Internet over the past week, but her best friend, unsuccessful "Idol" aspirant Amanda Coluccio of Holmdel, New Jersey, said Monday that the most outrageous ones are fakes. Coluccio told Newark, New Jersey's Star-Ledger that the less graphic photos are of Barba, but that her friend is not the person depicted in the X-rated shots.
"The really bad ones aren't her. I've studied them," Coluccio told the paper. "It's not her nose. She's never had [acrylic nail] tips [like the woman in the photo] in her life. She's the least slutty person I know."
Though citizens in Barba's small hometown of Point Pleasant on the Jersey shore continued to support the singer and post signs wishing her good luck, they were among those who copped to the reality that in the digital age, these kinds of photos are bound to surface.
"When the toilet picture came out, we had already said she's one of the worst [singers] on this year's edition ... and then this all blew up," said Dave Della Terza, webmaster of the three-year-old site VotefortheWorst.com, which encourages fans to vote for the show's worst contestants.
Though his site has been all over the scandal and has made its name skewering the show, Della Terza said he feels bad for Barba. "When you take pictures of yourself on the toilet or topless with friends, it's your own fault for putting them up there," he said. "But when someone fakes pictures of you, that's just terrible. I feel really bad for her. It's fun to poke fun at them, but this could ruin her life."
Rather selfishly, Della Terza — who posted photos Monday on his site that appear to confirm that the woman in the graphic pictures is not Barba based on their different facial features — hopes the singer doesn't get kicked off because the site has already adopted her as this year's unofficial mascot for the worst contestants. An "American Idol" spokesperson wouldn't comment for this story, and MTV News was unable to reach Barba for comment because contestants are not allowed to speak to the press during the early run of the show.
Barba, 20, who was studying architecture at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., before making it to the "Idol" Hollywood rounds, is thought to be living on borrowed time on the show. In her first semifinals performance last week, her uneven take on the Aerosmith ballad "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing" was dissed by the judges and landed her at the top of the female list on Della Terza's site.
But she may not need "Idol" anyway. At one point last week, Barba was the top search item on the Technorati.com blog-tracker site, beating out Britney Spears (#2), "Idol" (#5) and even Anna Nicole Smith (#14), and as of Tuesday, she was #2 just behind the Oscars and ahead of MySpace (#3) and Al Gore (#5).
And, according to gossip site TMZ.com, last week not even Britney's umbrella-bashing paparazzi incident and third trip to rehab could surpass the interest in Barba, who was #1 on the AOL search site.
Barba isn't the first "Idol" contestant to be embroiled in a sex scandal. Season-two semifinalist Frenchie Davis was booted off the show when topless pictures she'd shot for an adult Web site surfaced online.