`Idol' loses its loopiness

When you see "Paula Abdul" and "Twitter" in the same sentence, you know there's going to be trouble.

Here is a woman whose consciousness streams even after rehearsals.

So if you give her the instrument on which to unload hair-trigger tweets, well, she's going to blow something up.

And so she did, announcing in a chirpy-sad message - a surprise to some co-stars and some involved in the negotiations - that she would not be returning for Season 9 of American Idol.

And whoever on her team authorised that Twitter account should be charged with reckless endangerment.

Unsuccessful in her contract negotiations with the hugely popular reality TV show, Abdul appears to have walked away from a multimillion-dollar salary, a gig that brought her out of obscurity and, in her 40s, a renewed wave of fame and popularity.

Is it part ploy for Abdul to resign and part posturing for the show's executives to take her exit so blithely? Sure.

Is all of this kabuki theater? Maybe.

Will Paula jump out of a cake, once the judging begins in earnest? Quite possibly.

But already the Hollywood wags are reminding us that "no-one is indispensable", that the country's most popular show, even with its slipping ratings, will remain a hit, even without Abdul. (Reports that Victoria Beckham, keen to extend her Posh Spice brand in the US, will do at least a one-off appearance as a judge, seem to confirm this.)Contestants may miss her loopy mothering and relentless cheerleading.

But the real tragedy is that she has abandoned that dysfunctional, squabbling dinner table known as the panel of American Idol judges.

Forget the increasingly polished and professional singers competing on the stage.

The real reality TV is the group dynamics at that table and even, sometimes, under that table.

Who can replace Abdul there?For eight seasons, Abdul was the bridge between the avuncular Randy Jackson (the well-intentioned Middle Child who kisses up and kisses down) and the grumpy, fastidious Simon Cowell (the smart, self-assured First Born).

Abdul brought her Baby Sister quirkiness, kindness and incomplete sentences.

She brought rumours, cleavage-baring fashions, attention-getting injuries, flirtatiousness.

She sometimes exhibited disturbingly erratic behaviour, both on and off the show.

And the ramblings - her sentences that roared away from the gate and then jumped off a cliff, and pronouncements that stopped midstream, backed up, dissolved, then revved up again.

She was the perfect pal to the laid-back Jackson and foil for the eye-rolling Cowell.

The dinner table got a little too crowded last season when Kara DioGuardi pulled up a chair as the fourth judge.

The original three siblings were polite to their new stepsister, but the prime-time supper they were so good at devouring did not need to be divided into a fourth serving.

DioGuardi settled into a role that resembled that of the family Siamese cat: Sit on the table, sulk, preen, lap up some milk and have one delicious clawing match with the contestant known as Bikini Girl.

Can these three be as good without Abdul? (DioGuardi has already signed on for next season.) Can a fourth judge fill her gap?As a judge, Abdul was overemployed: She generally contributed absolutely nothing to the verdict of the talent that stood before her, as she was incapable of being mean, saying no or issuing a thumbs-down.

But she didn't need to.

Cowell took care of that with laser-like accuracy.

As entertainment, Abdul was the star of that second layer of reality TV, the one at the dinner table.

She was maddeningly magnetic, a character you were glued to even as sometimes you watched her unraveling.

That's good TV.

Fans know it.

Whether Fox comes to agree remains to be seen.



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