American Idol, Is the Fix In?

Paula confesses to cheating (sorta), which means there's probably even more to this scandal!

It has been a season of scandals on American Idol. First the David-Hernandez-was-a-gay-nightclub-stripper incident. Followed by the Carly-Smithson-had-a-previous-record-deal episode.

Now it's the Idol-judges-are-cheating-by-watching-dress-rehearsals outrage.

This latest Idol ignominy came to light after this week's show, when Paula Abdul absentmindedly critiqued a Jason Castro performance that hadn't yet occurred.

If you haven't seen it, Jason and the rest of the Idols had sung the first of two Neil Diamond songs on Tuesday night. Ryan asked the judges to quickly say what they thought. When it came Paula's turn, she rambled about Jason's first performance, then began assessing his second song too. Everyone looked quite confused, and when Randy corrected her that he hadn't actually sung the second song yet, Paula squealed, "Oh my God I thought you sang twice."

At first, Paula claimed that she had mixed up her notes and had meant to comment on a different singer. But according to a New York Times article, Paula confessed during a radio interview that she had actually watched a portion of the dress rehearsals that night and had gotten the performances confused. (You know it's a big deal when it's in the

New York Times.)

The result has been a collective cyber-GASP! in the form of news articles, blogs, and online postings -- all shocked and outraged that the judges are basing their critiques on the dress rehearsals instead of the actual performances, and wondering if the whole contest isn't rigged.

American Idol producers say this is nothing new, and that the judges have always watched the dress rehearsals. Simon and Randy reportedly watch video feeds of the rehearsals in their dressing room while getting ready for the show, so they'll have an idea what to expect.

Well it may not be anything new, but as an Idol viewer I can tell you they don't advertise that fact. But it certainly explains how the judges can offer such complete critiques after watching only a 90 second performance. Because they've already seen it.

But here's what I know after years of being a journalist. Scandals are like onions. You peel back one stinky layer, and there's always another underneath.

Whenever someone confesses to doing something "wrong," there is almost always something else, and it is almost always something worse.

Catch a politician having an extra-marital affair and you can bet it's not his first.

Discover a celebrity has a sex tape and there's probably a closet full of them we don't know about.

Find out an athlete has been taking steroids and odds are it has been going on for years.

So when Paula admits she sometimes sees "part" of the dress rehearsals, it probably means she watches all of them. And probably takes notes. And probably formulates her opinion beforehand.

For that matter, there's probably a lot more that the judges know that they are not readily telling us. Just knowing what I do about television production, I'd bet my paycheck that Ryan and all of the judges know which viewer calls they're going to take, and what each of those viewers are going to say.

And, dare I say it, I bet the judges know who's going home each week before it's announced on the show. It certainly would be easy enough to find out. Someone has to tabulate the votes. Someone has to edit the video montage of the loser's "journey on American Idol." How hard would it be for Simon, Paula or Randy to find out in advance?

All that said, I don't think it's a big deal that the judges watch the dress rehearsals. Who cares? Aside from what they say, the judges have no power on the show anyway. They don't decide who gets eliminated, the public does.

Which leads to the BIG QUESTION: is the show fixed?

Former Idol host Brian Dunkleman implies it might be. You remember him. He co-hosted the show with Ryan during the first season, but then got the axe. Now you can catch him trying to shed a few pounds on Celebrity Fit Club. In an interview with Adam Corolla, Dunkleman said, "You know how they decide who’s going off the show? They write a name on a piece of paper, and they hand it to us. Here read this."

That's not exactly evidence, and Dunkleman might have a chip on his shoulder. But he raises an interesting point, which is that the only people who know the vote totals are Idol producers. They never announce the numbers, and we just have to trust them. If they say Brooke

White got fewer votes than Jason Castro, well ... there's no arguing against it. Brooke's going home.

Last year some people thought LaKisha Jones' elmination from the show was predetermined, and that the producers had decided in advance to make Jordin Sparks the winner. And TONS of people thought that Sanjaya was allowed to hang around longer than he deserved just for the ratings.

But let me ask this. If the fix was in this year, don't you think Idol producers would have eliminated Jason Castro this week instead of Brooke? Would they have gotten rid of Carly Smithson a week ago? Shouldn't they have kept fiesty little Danny Noriega around for a little bit longer? Any of those scenarios would have made better television than the final four we have now.

Given the four remaining contestants -- David Archuleta, David Cook, Jason and Syesha Mercado -- I think it's pretty clear it's going to be a David A. vs. David C. final. Which means the next two weeks won't be very interesting at all.

The bottom line is: IF American Idol is being rigged, we'll probably never know. And what difference would it make if we found out it was fixed? Who you gonna sue?

Just don't tell me that you'd never watch the show again if you found out it was rigged. Cause you know you would. The other thing I know about scandals is that they're like train wrecks. No matter how much you want to, you just can't look away.

Ethan Morris: "Not always right, but never in doubt." Go ahead and write me.