Paula Abdul, American Idol and Pay Equity for Women

*** I admit, I have never been a fan of American Karaoke Idol.  But when I heard about Paula Abdul leaving the show, I thought to myself, “Straight Up?”  I mean, that is a lot of money to turn down in light of what she, Simon, Randy and that other lady does.  Which is much of nothing in the whole scheme of things.  I said to myself, “Paula must really be rich and set for life to walk away from a ‘job’ where you get paid millions to basically, let’s face it, show up and do much of nothing.  But after hearing Michel Martin’s comments, I can definitely see the other side of it.  I still don’t care about American Karaoke, but I do believe the subject matter to be very relevant! 

 Michel Martin, Host of NPR’s “Tell Me More

Michel Martin

Finally, and I can’t believe I’m talking about this either. But I have to weigh on Paula Abdul’s decision to leave “American Idol.” I know, I know. Sonia Sotomayor she is not.

Ms. PAULA ABDUL (Entertainer): …that, I, you know, there’s something, first of all one thing that I was kind of – I was kind of surprise you picked that song. But when, well first of all, you’re like this bright light in this competition. You, you’re…

MARTIN: Now published reports suggest she is leaving because she wanted a raise from the approximately $3.5 million in salary and benefits she receives now to somewhere in the range of $10 million and the producers said no.

Now 3.5 million sounds like a lot of money and it is. I wouldn’t sneeze at it until you consider that host Ryan Seacrest just signed a deal worth something like $45 million for the next three years. Simon Cowell is said to be making some $30 million a year. And Randy Jackson is said to be making close to that, for doing what exactly? The same thing she does.

Of course, reporting about entertainment salaries is notoriously unreliable. The people who get paid to put out these stories have all kinds of incentives to lie in either direction. But let’s just assume that the reports are within range of accurate. What exactly does any of these three men do that merits their receiving three to 10 times the pay for doing the same work as Abdul does? Anybody? Anybody?

Could I just tell you ladies and gentlemen, this is what pay equity is about. It’s about women getting paid the same as men for doing the same work. A gap that’s been so well documented that it hardly bears arguing anymore. A December 2008 study by the Center for American Progress, a liberal think-tank, estimated that women in all occupations in all parts of the country and in all education levels experience this gap and it amounts to hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost wages over the course of a 40-year career.

Paula Abdul

I would submit it’s so taken for granted that it actually generates headlines and no small amount of unflattering commentary when women like Barbara Walters or Katie Couric or Julia Roberts actually do manage to get the same pay. The attitude seems to me, why do they deserve that? I don’t know. Why does anybody?

I understand that pay is often not about what you deserve but about what you can negotiate. And I get that it’s hard to feel sorry for anybody who makes that much money for doing something that doesn’t look all that hard, coming up with new trite things to say about bad singing and worse clothing. And I get that pay can often hinge on intangibles, star power, chemistry. But in that score, it’s hard to argue that there should be any difference at all.

As Paula said in her statement on Twitter announcing her departure, she has clearly been integral to the success of this iteration of “American Idol.” Her loopy Earth mother routine, her mesmerizing incoherence, it’s hard to argue she is somehow less compelling than the three other regulars on the show.

Even her off screen antics, ethically questionable as they may be, generate buzz for the program. And while I think the allegation that she had a dalliance with a contestant is serious if true. If it is true she should’ve been fired and she wasn’t.

I have a minister friend, a community activist who will sometimes mention to me some person who’s getting jammed up and assessing its overall importance he’ll tell me, that’s too bad but ain’t marching for him.

Now I can see why you might say, I ain’t marching for her. But maybe somebody should be. Maybe all those teen and ‘tween girls who are so busy texting and calling in and generating millions of dollars in profits to that show should ask themselves, if Paul Abdul can’t get paid the same money for doing the same work as Randy, and Simon, and Ryan, can I?

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