Paula Abdul's long, Corey Clark nightmare has ended. For now, anyway.
Fox and producers of American Idol announced Friday that Abdul would remain as a judge on the hit singing competition after an independent investigation found there was "insufficient evidence" that the perpetually upbeat pop star lavished extra attention on Clark, as the second-season finalist has charged.
Specifically, the probe determined that Clark's claims of a "sexual relationship" with, and "special assistance" from Abdul "had not been substantiated by any corroborating evidence or witnesses."
But as a safeguard against further scandal, Idol makers said they would build a bigger wall between judges and contestants, beefing up the show's "non-fraternization policy."
At least one Idol judge who won't have to ever appear on So You Think You Can Dance was particularly pleased with the probe's outcome.
"I'm grateful this ordeal is over, and I'm so looking forward to getting back to the job I love," Abdul said in a statement. "Once again, I thank my fans from throughout the world for their undying love and support."
A phone and an email message left with Clark's attorney seeking comment were not immediately returned.
Auditions for Idol's fifth season, with Abdul taking her seat behind the judges' table alongside Simon Cowell and Randy Jackson, kick off next week in San Francisco.
Abdul, 43, has been hounded by allegations of misconduct since the end of last season, when Clark, 25, first aired his boy-toy claims on a May sweeps edition of ABC's Primetime Live. According to Fox, Clark was among the 43 persons interviewed by the outside law firm hired to conduct the Idol investigation. Abdul was another.
In all, Fox boasted, the probe spanned three-and-a-half months, and ran up nearly 600 billable hours.Seeing as how the news was ultimately good news for Abdul, the timing of the Idol release was odd, coming late on in the weekend-anticipating afternoon, typically the dumping ground for releases about divorces, separations and other unsavory topics.
Certainly, it seems unlikely Abdul's least-favorite subject will go away quietly. Clark has already written a tell-all e-book about his alleged affair with Abdul, and sung about the scandal in "Paulatics," a track off his self-titled solo album.
When Abdul mocked Clark's claims on Saturday Night Live back in May, Clark announced that he had "explicit" and "incriminating" proof of their relationship. At the time, Clark's attorney said his client wasn't planning to reveal the evidence to the public at-large on account of its "explicit nature."
The Fox probe did back up one Clark claim: That he and Abdul were on a telephone-talking basis. But investigators couldn't determine the nature of the calls. In the end, the network said, it came down to he said, she denied, with no third-party verification about what the two gabbed out.
Clark said Abdul groomed him, guided him and eventually bedded him during Idol's 2003 season. Abdul, though admitting to telephone conversations with Clark, denounced everything else, branding Clark a "liar."
Clark was disqualified from Idol in April 2003 when a previously undisclosed police record was made public.