The chairman of Fox Entertainment told the nation’s TV critics Thursday that Paula Abdul’s departure from American Idol was “not our choice, not what we wanted to happen” but the network is moving ahead with plans to temporarily fill her seat with guest judges. Katy Perry and Victoria Beckham, in fact, are already confirmed to fill in at least once during the audition process that begin Aug. 7. Fox hopes to recruit more “female pop stars, female performers.”
“We don’t have a a big announcement to make on what we are going to do,” admits Fox Entertainment chairman Peter Rice. “For the past 24 hours, we’re focusing on auditions…Between now and January we will find a permanent solution. There is no expectation that these guest judges will be long-term for us. All of these people we talked to have successful careers so they would not be available [to serve as a] judge.” Rice added that while it is not definite that Abdul will be replaced at this point, it’s “probable.”
Rice reminded the press that Adbul’s contract was the only one up this year and that Fox offered what they felt was a “fair” and “substantial raise” (an insider says it amounted to a 30 percent pay bump that would have taken her to eight figures). Nevertheless, Abdul decided to leave.
“We are very sad she is not coming back,” says Rice. “She was an important part of the Idol family.”
That said, Rice said Abdul’s departure provides an opportunity to inject new energy in the now nine-year-old talent show. “Our job over the next four or five months is to really consider what is fun, what makes it great television,” Rice said. “The amount of talk and feedback this has generated really shows that people are engaged in how the show will evolve after she’s gone.”
Rice also attempted to clear up any misconception regarding Ryan Seacrest’s contract — especially considering widely published rumors that Abdul was hoping to snag a pay boost that would take her close to Seacrest’s new $15 million-per-year salary. Rice said that Seacrest’s rich deal was made with 19 Entertainment’s parent company for future cycles of Idol in addition to other projects; he is not being paid $15 million solely to host Idol.