First stop, American Idol. Next stop, Miss Nevada USA?
The first scandal to infiltrate the upper echelon of singers on this year's installment of the Fox ratings behemoth has touched ground.
Racy pictures allegedly depicting top-20 finalist Antonella Barba engaged in a variety of risqué acts, some more risqué than others, surfaced on several Websites late last week, prompting speculation as to whether the producers of the most-watched TV show in America will be putting an abrupt end to Barba's Idol journey.
Neither Barba nor her family, who live in Point Pleasant, New Jersey, have commented yet on the photos, one of which features four females posing topless at the beach, hands over their breasts; another shows a young woman—whoever posted the pics says it's Barba—performing oral sex on a man.
Meanwhile, Barba's best friend and audition partner Amanda Coluccio, who made it to Hollywood but was cut at the same time Barba found out she'd be moving on, is standing by her pal and doing her best to clarify what the girl was doing on film.
The more tasteful shots, including one of a woman naked, covered with rose petals—that's Barba, Coluccio told the New Jersey Star-Ledger, taken for a calendar the former Catholic University architecture student made for her boyfriend of several years.
The nastier ones, such as the one of a woman sitting on a toilet and the other showing her engaging in a sex act—not Barba, Coluccio said.
"They were meant to be seen by one person and one person only," Barba's longtime friend told the paper. "The really bad ones aren't her. I've studied them. It's not her nose. She's never had [acrylic nail] tips in her life. She's the least slutty person I know."
Coluccio said that she suspected someone from Catholic University had hacked Barba's computer and posted the pics.
"She's been crying," said Coluccio, who thanks to the Internet has also been receiving her fair share of attention after Idol aired a few scenes that implied she was jealously catfighting with Barba. "She's horrified. She's most upset about what her parents think."
But while the chat rooms and bloggers are abuzz, things appear to be pretty quiet on the Idol front, so far.
A Fox spokesperson has already said the network will not be commenting on the incident or on whether it will affect Barba's standing on the show, which is still pulling in more than 30 million viewers a week in its sixth season.
Idol producer Nigel Lythgoe told Entertainment Weekly's Website that he had not seen any of the salacious snaps and, in fact, was unaware of their existence until he was questioned by ew.com.
"We have really good background checks on everybody, and we deal with that every season," Lythoe said. "It's sad, isn't it, that your best friends are the ones that come forward with information that will go to Smoking Gun or put your photographs on the Web?"
Speaking of which, season-two contestant Frenchie Davis was booted from the show in 2003 after the Smoking Gun reported that she had posed topless for a Website to earn cash for college tuition.
Like Jennifer Hudson (who was booted only because Simon Cowell said she was out of her league, not for any scandalous reason), however, Davis bounced back from her 15 minutes of shame, landing a feature role in Rent on Broadway.
But while Idol fans wait to hear whether Barba will meet a similar fate because of her alleged off-camera behavior, it remains to be seen whether her pipes can keep her in the running long enough to make an issue out of it.
The 20-year-old brunette clawed her way (across a blackboard) into the final 20 with an altogether underwhelming rendition of Aerosmith's "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing," which Randy Jackson described simply as "not good."
Cowell got it right, as well, although in what turned out to be a rather ironic way.
"The good news is, you're attractive," the sharp-tongued Brit told Barba. "The bad news is, it didn't work. It was way, way, way too big for you, that song."
Barba got the go-ahead on Thursday's results show, though, while Rudy Cardenas, Paul Kim, Nicole Tranquillo and Amy Krebs were sent packing.
Barba is not without support from the sidelines, however. The Website Vote for the Worst, which encourages viewers to vote for "the biggest train wreck," has chosen Barba as its flavor of the week.