LOS ANGELES — Mario Vazquez withdrew from "American Idol" over the weekend, but the 27-year-old singer is under contract with the show's entertainment company until three months after the current season ends.
In a press conference Tuesday (March 15) in the famous Coca-Cola Red Room where contestants wait to perform during tapings, co-executive producers Ken Warwick and Nigel Lythgoe confirmed Vazquez quit for personal reasons and squashed rumors surrounding his departure, including that he had been offered a better record deal than the winner receives (see "Mario Vazquez Quits 'Idol' — 'It Wasn't Right For Me' ")."He is not free to sign [with anyone]; he signed that contract two weeks ago," Lythgoe said, noting that all 24 semi-finalists signed the same contract at the same time.
Lythgoe and Warwick said they were not privy to the entire contract, but Jason Rich, editor of American Idol: The Magazine and author of "American Idol Season 4: The Official Collector's Guide," said it includes a management and record deal, as well as a release to be on the show. Past contracts have also included deals for merchandising, touring, sponsorship and movies, which "Idol" franchise creator Simon Fuller (under his 19 Entertainment) has called "one-stop shopping."
"It's a lot of paperwork, but it's not like they have to handle it themselves," Rich said. "They have an attorney who works for the contestants, and then some have their own attorneys."
Fuller has said in the past that he takes about 50 percent of his artists' earnings, compared to the 10 to 20 percent industry standard.
Regardless, "Singers have never come to us with issues in the contract — never," Warwick said. And that includes Vazquez.
"You are going to hear a whole host of 'This is what really happened' on the Internet and wherever else, and all I have to say is don't believe everything you read or see," Warwick said. "Did you hear the one about him testifying at the Michael Jackson trial?" he added, as if telling a joke. (Vazquez is not listed as a possible witness for either the defense or prosecution in Jackson's molestation trial, but he did sing backup on "Whatever Happens" from Jackson's 2001 album, Invincible.)
"We know what the personal reasons are and we've made him a promise not to reveal what they are," added Lythgoe, a bit shocked by the hubbub surrounding Vazquez quitting. "Don't forget this isn't the first time someone has left the show. Marlea Stroman this year actually got through and decided the pressure was too strong, and she missed her son. It does happen. You're taking ordinary people and putting them under an enormous strain and the strain of the media."
Vazquez informed Warwick and Lythgoe of his decision on Friday, less than 48 hours after proclaiming his excitement for making the final 12 (see "The 'American Idol' Final-12 Party: Nerves, Shock And ... Justin Guarini?"). "He had his mind made up," Warwick said. "We think he hung on for a couple days just to see that he made it to the top 12."
Still, the producers waited another day before telling anyone to "try to figure out if we could help him in any way," Lythgoe said. "But you don't want to push these people to [unhealthy stress] levels. It's only a television show."
At 2:30 a.m. St. Louis time, the producers called Nikko Smith, asking him to get on the first flight that morning.
"Then we brought Mario up here to tell the kids Saturday afternoon," Lythgoe said, describing the contestants' reaction as shocked and tearful. "And because they were down, we energized them again by bringing Nikko in the room shortly afterwards."
Vazquez was apparently upbeat with the other contestants, but he also left them wondering what his personal reasons were for leaving.
"Everyone was totally confused," Rich said. "Within an hour, I heard five different rumors. I know for a fact that all of them are false. And if you actually think them through, they don't make sense."
Warwick and Lythgoe had nothing but kind words for Vazquez. "He's an extremely talented kid," Lythgoe said. "His musicality was amazing. He could take a song he'd never heard before and instantly make it beautiful. We think he's going to be extremely successful." However, the producers questioned journalists calling him a frontrunner. (He was second to Carrie Underwood on MTVNews.com's poll of which singer was projected to win.)
"The public make the favorites, not the media," Warwick said. "And the only people who know the votes are us, the standards and practices [at FOX] and the watchdogs from the telephone company."
As for Smith, the son of baseball star Ozzie Smith, he was told he could skip filming a Ford commercial on Sunday since he was a day behind in rehearsing for the first week of the finals, but he picked a song Saturday, rehearsed it that night and still made the commercial.
"I think his line was, 'God works in mysterious ways,' " Lythgoe said.
The Tuesday night performance shows are typically taped live (for East Coast broadcast), but because the contestants moved into a new, much larger venue this week, the show taped Monday.
"It was a tough show last night," Lythgoe said of the '60s-themed program. "Randy was really tough on them, but he did like Nikko. ... It's very nerve-wracking walking out on a set that big. It's very intimidating."
When asked if he thought the Vazquez situation might affect ratings, Lythgoe smiled. "Yes, they'll probably go up," he said.