Since its debut in 2002, not a single season of American Idol has passed without a scandal. The show, a millennial version of Star Search with an added dose of drama, has been criticized by fans and defectors alike for encouraging a plethora of rumors, crises, and for intentionally allowing problem citizens (with rap sheets) onto the Idol stage.
While a show with such a broad and passionate audience might not seem to need any additional drama, it does seem to find its way onto Idol. Already this year, contestant Matt Farmer has been publicly outed for a multitude of lies that hit a particularly sore spot for many Americans, with good reason.
Farmer, who claimed to be a wounded veteran of the war in Afghanistan, the victim of an IED, was never even in Afghanistan, as it turns out. According to this shamed contestant’s former friend and fellow soldier, Nick Betts, both he and Farmer spent their entire deployment in Iraq, and Farmer was sent home because he mixed meds and booze a little too loosely.
So, in the spirit of the weird and wild contestants of American Idol, and the fans who love them, here’s a rundown of the five most remarkable scandals of the show’s history.
Frenchie Davis: Daddy’s Little Girl
In an era when almost every celebrity scandal involves some kind of naked picture or tape, it’s actually a surprise that the first sex scandal to surface on Idol didn’t happen until the second season. While illicit photos are now part and parcel of many a contestant history, none have managed to freak out the producers of the show quite like those taken of Frenchie Davis.
Featured on a website called Daddy’s Little Girl, Frenchie’s claim to shame was to be the first publicly disqualified contestant in Idol history.
Sanjaya Can’t Sing
Part of the satisfaction of watching American Idol is derived during the first episodes of each season when the population is being screened for potential contestants, and the show consists of humiliating moments featured in a mash-up style format (with the occasionally talented singer sprinkled in for the sake of plot continuation).
The fun comes with a little bit of guilt, but nothing long lasting; the show tends to thin the herd down to a population possessed of real talent within the first few episodes. Usually. Then Season 6 brought along Sanjaya Malakar, a young man without any natural vocal gifts, and the fans seemingly went wild.
What actually kept young Sanjaya on stage for so long? A group of anti-Idol activists and a website called Vote For the Worst, which encouraged other show-haters to vote for the contestants who simply couldn’t sing well.
Unfortunately for the activists, Idol fans responded by enthusiastically, if controversially, embracing the charismatic underdog and carrying him all the way to seventh place. Not bad for a guy with no talent.
Corey Clark Cons ‘em Twice
Following on the heels of Frenchie, Corey Clark was fingered for assault and disqualified after being allowed air time to plead his case with the American public. Shipped back to Kansas, where he was accused of assaulting his 15 year old sister, Clark was clearly miffed by his easy dismissal. In 2005 Clark sought his revenge.
In a Primetime Live interview for ABC, Clark stated that while he was a contestant on the show’s second season, he had been engaged in an affair with Paula Abdul, one of the show’s judges at the time. His claims went even further, blaming Abdul of offering him behind the scenes pointers, and personal coaching.
Clark even produced a message in which Abdul seems to be insisting he keep their affair a secret. Somehow, Abdul survived the controversy, and remained a judge on the show.
Mariah Carey vs Nicki Minaj
Winner of the “Most Likely to Have Been Staged” award goes to season 12, and two judges, Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey, who were rumored not to get along. The incident made its way to the public courtesy of TMZ, which received the video from a mystery source in October. It depicted an incident that had supposedly taken place during auditions in Charlotte, NC, and featured an angry Minaj telling Carey in less-than-kind words that she would no longer tolerate Carey’s diva behavior.
When The View got involved all bets were off, and the next thing anyone knew the story had taken on a new twist. Now, Minaj had threatened Carey’s life, “If I had a gun…,”Minaj was quoted as saying. Minaj denied threatening to shoot Carey, and Steven Tyler was later credited with discrediting the entire incident, claiming it was all a publicity stunt.
Godspeed, Paula Goodspeed
For fans of the show, it would have been a drama hard to miss. A clearly dedicated (some said obsessed) fan of Paula Abdul makes her way to the judge’s panel, her performance is dismissed out-of-hand as unpleasant by Abdul, and her physical appearance is ridiculed by the show’s “love-to-hate-him” judge Simon Cowell. Cowell always shoots venom from the hip, and an earlier scandal has suggested that Abdul is perpetually drunk, so no one notices how crushed the spirit of this particular contestant is. Until she’s found dead in her car outside of Abdul’s Sherman Oaks home.
While investigators determined that Paula Goodspeed took her life via drug overdose on November 11, 2008 shortly after sending flowers to Abdul’s home, no one knows for certain what caused her to do so. Her family and friends have claimed that Goodspeed’s treatment on Idol crushed her, and may have been instrumental in her loss of hope.