Paula Abdul’s ‘American Idol’ Exit Not As Sudden As It Seemed

Sources close to Abdul's renegotiations say she didn't feel she was being treated like the male judges.

While it seemed like Paula Abdul’s sudden departure from “American Idol” last week was a shot in the dark , according to The New York Times, Abdul’s decision was months in the making and resulted from some shrewd financial and logistical maneuvers from both Abdul’s new manager and the show’s producers.

The paper said in recent months, [artist id="1397"]Abdul[/artist] had begun to believe that there were more opportunities for her outside “Idol,” where she had held a judge’s seat since the show’s debut in 2002. And despite some suggestions that Abdul had made a rash and possibly career-harming decision to walk away from negotiations with the most popular show on television, her prospects are already looking up , as both NBC and ABC, as well as the producer of another hit Fox network reality show, “So You Think You Can Dance,” have begun courting her. She also lined up a guest appearance on the upcoming season of “Ugly Betty.”

According to the paper — and despite persistent reports that the failed negotiations were a publicity ploy setting up an eventual return by Abdul at a later date — both sides have been left with bitter feelings after the break. Unnamed sources close to Abdul who were part of the negotiations said she had been stung by a feeling that producers had undermined and disrespected her for years, which led her to request a much larger compensation package when her contract came up for renegotiation this year.

The sources said Abdul also felt she’s been passed up for lucrative endorsements because her “Idol” colleagues had failed to wholeheartedly deny “insinuations and jokes about her unreliability and possible substance abuse.” But an unnamed member of the “Idol” team said that though Abdul had played a large role in the show’s success, the “costs and benefits of her histrionics” meant “Idol” execs could afford to make a final offer and not budge, even if it would result in her departure.

“Paula didn’t place as much importance on remaining on the show as some other people did,” a person close to Abdul told the Times. “She thinks there are a lot of opportunities out there for her, and she will be fine without that show.” Abdul had likely been stung by a reported doubling of “Idol” host Ryan Seacrest’s salary to $10 million, the effusive praise heaped on new fourth judge Kara DioGuardi upon the recent announcement of her re-signing and news that fellow judge Simon Cowell will likely get a substantial raise above his nearly $30 million salary.

Abdul requested a raise to more than $10 million a year from around $3.5 million, but Fox was prepared to offer no more than $5 million a year. Her large pay increase was inspired, in part, by her belief that she’d lost out on a significant endorsement deal from a major fashion label in 2006 when rumors surfaced of her alleged drinking and possible drug use during “Idol” promotional appearances or possibly on the show, allegations she strongly denied. While appearing on the “Late Show With David Letterman” in 2007, Abdul said she believed remarks by other judges on the show had inadvertently fed those rumors, though fellow judges Cowell and Randy Jackson had countered them earlier in the year.

“She perceived that the incident had a negative impact on her career,” the person close to her told the Times.

A source close to Abdul said the deals for Seacrest and Cowell led her to believe she was not being treated the same as the men on the show. And though she put on a brave face, people close to the former pop star said she was also “surprised and dismayed” by the hiring of DioGuardi last year and felt that it was intended to show her that she was replaceable. A spokesperson for “American Idol” had no comment on the article.

Executives at Fox and one of the show’s producers said they were disappointed to see Abdul go and denied that she was treated any differently because she’s a woman. “A lot of people at Fox had mixed feelings about Paula,” said an anonymous source close to the negotiations. “Some of the people who were having to deal with her on a day-to-day basis didn’t want her back.”

Higher-ups at the network were also reportedly put off when Abdul’s new manager, David Sonenberg, signed on with her in June in the midst of negotiations and soon after told the Los Angeles Times that she was likely to leave the show in what was perceived as a public negotiation tactic. “It didn’t go over well at all here,” one Fox executive said. Sonenberg could not be reached for comment at press time.

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