It's February 2010. The first singer from American Idol's first live show of the season—let's call him Obligatory Husky Guy (Who Can't Decide If He's Country or Pop)—has hit his last shaky note. Ryan Seacrest leads the poor fellow to face the judges.
Randy Jackson says the performance didn't do it for him, dawg. Kara DioGuardi says something valid, but forgettable. Paula Abdul tells him she loves the color of his inner child, but that she preferred the song he sang next week.
Wait a second? Didn't Abdul tweet that she was leaving Idol? Didn't Fox issue the old, "wish her the best" kiss of death?
Uh-huh. The leading and latest Idol conspiracy theory says Abdul's not going anywhere, except back to Idol, while the two sides act out the greatest hoax since Elvis Presley's "death."
Why it could be true:
• Within an hour of Abdul's Tuesday night bombshell, tabloid maven Bonnie Fuller, late of HollywoodLife.com, tweeted that "Abdul has already signed her new deal with Idol. The whole sob story of not getting a deal was a pure publicity stunt." In another entry, Fuller further alleged, "Everyone was into the Paula PR stint [sic]."
• When asked to comment if there was no way Abdul wouldn't be back on Idol come the winter and the launch of the new season, Fox reps didn't respond.
• On his radio show this morning, Seacrest said Abdul's departure was real—"as far as I know." Jackson, meanwhile told Extra, "It looks to be true [emphasis added]."
• When asked to comment if it was possible for a star and a network to cook up such a scheme, entertainment attorney John J. Tormey III told us, "Anything's possible."
Why it isn't true:
• Tormey finished his thought by adding, "I would hope that a major network would not play a game like that…I think that's a real jump."
• By this morning, Fuller was having second-tweets. She wrote that her sources were now informing her that the Fox/Idol camp was "stunned" by Abdul's exit announcement. "Guess Paula Abdul is as loopy as she appears."
• Seacrest ended his opening remarks on the Abdul matter with a blanket, "Not a publicity stunt."
But wait! Why it could be partly true:
• Unnamed "television industry executives" told the New York Times that they believed "Ms. Abdul’s combative stance was simply a negotiating position." Or to put it another way, if this is a stunt, it's a one-sided stunt—and good luck to you, Ms. Abdul.
• Tormey likewise didn't think it was a reach to suggest Abdul would appear to walk away from a deal in order to sweeten it. "In television," he said, "it's not uncommon for talent to take a hiatus in the event of negotiations." To that end, old folks might remember the "fake" Duke boys on The Dukes of Hazzard. Or, less-old folks might recall buzz about Nicole Richie being replaced by Kimberly Stewart on The Simple Life.
How we'll know for sure, one way or the other:
• "The only way we'll know is with the passage of time," Tormey said. "I don't know if we're there yet."
• According to Tormey, the second Idol hires a new judge, or Abdul gets a new gig, we'll be there—and we'll know: Not a publicity stunt.
Need more facts? Check out our complete Paula Abdul coverage.