Another 'American Idol' Tragedy

"American Idol" has had its share of scandals over the years—the contestant who was disqualified (Frenchie Davis) for topless Internet photos, the twins (Derrell and Terrell Brittenum) who got the boot after they ended up in jail on forgery and theft charges, the guy (Corey Clark) who departed after the producers heard he was charged with assaulting his little sister. But the latest ex-contestant to pop up in the news is the most tragic "Idol" story ever. Paula Goodspeed, 30, who auditioned in front of the show's three judges in 2006, was found dead on Tuesday just outside of Paula Abdul's home in Sherman Oaks, Calif. Police said the death was an apparent suicide by drug overdose, and Goodspeed—who was allegedly stalking Abdul—had a photo of the "Idol" star in her car, along with some of Paula's CDs and a license plate that read "ABL LV"--"Abdul Love." On her MySpace page, she admitted that Paula was "My Secret Crush shhhhh!!" Goodspeed sent Paula flowers the day before her death (the note: "Hope you're doing great. Here's my new cell phone number") and apparently her real name wasn't even Paula. People Magazine reports that it was Sandra, and Goodspeed changed it so she could be more like the "Idol" judge.

If you remember her "Idol" audition, or watched the clip on YouTube, you can tell that Goodspeed was odd, to say the least. She went before the judges in 2006 dressed in pink from head to toe. She proclaimed her love for Paula, without a trace of irony. "I really like Paula Abdul a lot," she said. "She's really cool. I'm a really big fan." Goodspeed even wasn't embarrassed to confess that she'd been drawing life-sized pictures of Paula ever since she was a kid, which the producers, of course, went on to show us. If she was a bad artist, she was an even worse singer. The judges cringed as she performed a screechy rendition of "Proud Mary." "I don't think any artist in the world can sing with that much metal in their mouth," Simon said, in reference to her braces. When Goodspeed was booted off the show, she immediately attacked. "I was pitchy on a couple notes, big f---ing deal. There's a lot of people they send to Hollywood who can't really hold a note," she said. And then she said cryptically: "It's not over." The line seems eerie now, but Godspeed seemingly got what she wanted: fame, and the attention of Abdul, who released a statement about her death. "I am deeply shocked and saddened by what transpired," said Paula.

Goodspeed's death ushered in a new wave of "Idol" outrage on the Internet. Critics of the show were quick to blame "Idol"—by mocking Goodspeed on national television, the producers only encouraged this seemingly unstable woman. Those early shows always poke fun at some contestants, to the point where some people say it's more like a freak show. One of the most controversial episodes from last year was the one where Cowell made fun of a guy who was later revealed to have Asperger's. But clearly now, "Idol" will have to play nicer when the eighth season of starts in January, right? It's doubtful. The fact is, as horrible as Goodspeed's death is, it's not going to bring down, or probably even affect, the No. 1 show on TV. If anything, the latest tragedy only reinforces what makes "Idol" so popular in the first place. The show is a reflection of the fabric of America: its contestants are fat and skinny, black and white, poor and poorer, and yes, sometimes even crazy (and occasionally talented). "American Idol's" appeal has always been that it's not afraid to put people on TV just because they're different.

You might even argue that Goodspeed's death will help the show's ratings. The show is again the most talked-about thing on TV, and it's still two months away from returning to air. "American Idol" is our biggest soap opera, unfolding in real time, and we can't stop watching. How will Paula seem now? Bet you'll be watching to find out.