It was the flub heard 'round the world. On a night when "American Idol" threw viewers yet another curveball by switching up the critique format, the only one who seemed really thrown was perennially positive judge Paula Abdul, who appeared to give Jason Castro poor marks for his second song ... before he even sang it.
The painfully awkward few minutes of classic Paula confusion made for great TV, but also got some fans wondering about exactly what the gaffe meant. Literally within minutes, the blogosphere began lighting up with conspiracy theories and elaborate scenarios suggesting that the pre-tique was part of the producers' secret plans to have a David vs. David ratings-bonanza finale. Before the show was even over, "Idol" blog Rickey.org posted this comment: "I totally did not enjoy tonight's show because Paula Abdul just revealed that this show is rigged."
Abdul quickly shot down the theories, chalking her misstep up to confusion over the last-minute format change — more on that in a minute — but that didn't stop fans from weighing in with comments both supporting and lambasting Abdul and the show. Posting as take5 on the official "Idol" message boards, one fan was quick to defend Abdul, writing, "What happened was Ryan said the judges will give their critiques of the contestants' 2 songs after the 2nd song. Then the contestants were all gathered after their first song, and the judges were asked their opinions. Paula was locked into what Ryan had said and then was confused when wanting to critique Jason's second song to the point she started searching for her nonexistent notes on it. She just had a huge brain fart — that's all it was." But Furrypaws99 had a more sinister explanation, speculating that "the AI cat is out of the bag, thanks to Paula. IMO, this is a good thing for Jason. Now everyone will know who the producers want in their finale ... the two Davids, and what underhanded tactics they'll use to achieve that. The producers don't decide for the voters though. Only the voters will determine who winds up in the finale. Jason will be back next week and the Dreadheads will be there to support him." In another forum, fans were asked to describe the show in one word, and their responses ranged from "debacle," "bizarre," "revealing," "cooked" and "fishy" to "surreal," "gameshow" (perhaps a reference to the 1950s game-show-rigging scandals depicted in the 1994 movie "Quiz Show") and "rushed." Others, such as boatlady13, wondered if "Idol" producers would have the "guts" to send Castro home Wednesday night. "If they send him home, it could be perceived the show is so rigged and the negative comments were in fact scripted," she wrote. "Everyone who has read the fine print knows the producers reserve the right to pick who stays and goes. So why even vote? They wonder why their ratings have dropped? The producers are taking too much liberty enforcing their will, not the voting public's."
Though "Idol" spokespeople had no comment on the situation, Abdul spoke to "Entertainment Tonight" shortly after Tuesday night's show and said she was simply confused. Smiling as she was whisked from the scene in a chauffeured car, Abdul said, "The producers come up to us in the dark and said, 'We're not going to have you guys judge after each performer, we are going to have all the performers go once, and then all of them go twice, and then at the end you'll critique them.' " Thrown by the last-minute format change, Abdul said she asked for a pad of paper to write her thoughts down, wondering why the judges were only told about the switch once the show had already begun. "We all wish that someone would have told us," she said, describing how she feverishly wrote notes as the singers performed. "I'm trying to get my critique for Jason Castro, and I scribbled Jason's name, but it was David Cook's critique. We all just screwed up everything. ... But we all went, 'This is live television. It's actually fun!' "
(Head here for a list of all-time classic Paula moments during her "Idol" career.) Whether it was a mental mix-up — TMZ.com even speculated on Wednesday (April 30) that a midafternoon martini may have played a role, although at press time that post apparently had been removed from the site — or evidence of some sinister plot, sites such as perennial "Idol" basher VoteForTheWorst.com relished the opportunity to ridicule Abdul and the show, though fellow judge Simon Cowell might have summed it up best when he quipped at the end of the night, "This was officially the strangest show we've ever done."
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