PASADENA, Calif.--Holy Paulapalooza.
Fox network honchos took the stage at press tour this morning and were immediately peppered with Paula Abdul questions. New Fox chairman Peter Rice (below)--who made a friendly first impression--went straight at it, addressing the news that broke in the last 36 hours, that Abdul was not going to return to American Idol.
"We're very saddened that she's not coming back," says Rice, who said the network offered her a "substantial raise" and that "Paula has decided not to return."
When TV's No. 1 hit returns in January it will be with guest judges filling the fourth chair, at least through the seven weeks of auditions which tape very soon. A fourth permanent judge will likely be in place before the series returns to the air, said Rice.
Guest judges for the opening round will include Victoria Beckham and Katy Perry. Neither are looking to make this a permanent gig, said Rice.
Rice said Abdul's contract was the only one among the judges that was up this year. He didn't hold out much hope that Abdul could still be back. "We've concluded the negotiations," he said. He refused to take the bait when one critic suggested Abdul's absence might help lure back viewers fed up with her sometimes erratic behaviour, repeating that they really did want her back.
Half an hour earlier at a separate Fox press tour session for So You Think You Can Dance, executive producer and judge Nigel Lythgoe (top right, with Michaels and Murphy)--also a producer on Idol--doesn't think we've seen the last of Abdul. "I still don't know she's going to leave," he said. "Until Idol goes on the air there's always hope for negotiations."
In the meantime, he confirmed that he'd love to have her on Dance and talked to her about that possibility yesterday. "I've been trying to get her since Season One," he said. The summer season finale of So You Think You Can Dance airs tonight and Lythgoe and judge Mary Murphy, along with choreographers/guest judges Mia Michaels and Adam Shankman were all at this morning's session, as was host Cat Deeley. All were taking the hot tamale train straight to Vegas for tonight's live finale (CTV and Fox).
Who's meeting them there? That would be Paula Abdul. Tune in tonight.
Besides dancing around the Abdul question, Fox offered some real dance. Finalists Ade Obayomi and Melissa Sandvig repeated their moving pas de deux on the press tour stage, and four other dancers performed live for critics.