Paula and Pay Equity.


by Leslie Morgan Steiner


I never imagined cute, ditzy Paula Abdul as a feminist. Shame on me for assuming that a Los Angeles Lakers cheerleader and music video diva couldn’t also be strong, smart and gutsy. Because Abdul’s dispute over women’s pay equity – an issue that affects all women in the U.S. and around the world -- seems to be the back story behind last week’s departure from American Idol, eloquently justified by National Public Radio’s Michel Martin and other pundits. Give me an A, Paula!


Celebrity buzz brings another teachable moment for our kids, who can certainly learn an interesting lesson in fairness from the fact that Paula quit because the men on the show were paid far more than she was. Entertainment pay packages are tough to verify, but the New York Times reported that Abdul made $2 million per year in salary and another $1.5 for wardrobe and expenses. Idol host Ryan Seacrest’s pay recently doubled to $10 million a year, and flame-thrower Simon Cowell earns in the range of $30 million per year. Abdul asked for $10 million per year, with the show countering $5 million.


Heady numbers, for sure – but that’s not the point here. Statistics prove that inequal pay for equal work is the reality for most women in most professions in the U.S. whether you earn minimum wage or millions. According to Catalyst, women in Abdul’s age bracket (45-54) make 74.5% of men’s earnings. The 2008 median income for women hit only $638 a week vs. $798 for men. Over the course of a career, some studies show that women earn only 38% of what men make. The situation is widespread and serious enough that President Obama made it illegal to pay women less than men back in January as his first law signed while president.


Paula Abdul was offered 50% less than her male peers despite the fact that her very ditziness is critical to the show’s unique, Twitter-worthy appeal. Abdul, who’d been with Idol for eight seasons, gave the show’s producers plenty of chances to make it right; she negotiated as all career coaches tell women to do; she stood up for herself and asked to be paid what she was worth in terms of the media attention, viewers and ratings she brought to the show. I think Abdul had few respectable choices but to walk away from the top-rated Fox program, even if walking away kills what’s left of her strange and varied career in entertainment. (Fortunately early reports indicate she’ll be fine, with ABC’s Dancing with the Stars and other shows reportedly pursuing her.)


leslie morgan s...

Leslie Morgan Steiner

Cheryl I think you are watching too much Idol!!!

(Just kidding...I love respectful disagreements.)


Have to respectfully disagree, Leslie!
Once Kara Diguardi came aboard it became increasingly obvious that Paula (charm and ditzy appeal aside) really wasn't holding her own with the other judges (Simon Cowell and Randy Jackson, both of whom came to the plate with credibility beyond performing success).

To answer the question, if my girl child didn't do her chores assigned as well as her brother yes, I'd give less allowance. Same works in reverse. The judges on AI were hired with different experience levels and qualifications.

Gender aside, from a sheerly professional point of view, the men in this case do deserve more.
(FYI: If it was a man with the experience/performance of Paula, I'd advocate paying him less, too.)
Contributor: Mommy Track'd
Author: Twinspiration

PS - I do plan on using this example as an educational tool with my daughter...I think Paula is being defensive (and I cannot blame her, really, I do like her) by claiming sexism...think objectively the disparity in pay is entirely fair. Want my daughter to be realistic and never make excuses based on gender...even if it seems to be to her fleeting advantage to do so.

leslie morgan s...

Leslie Morgan Steiner

Sheesh you guys are harsh! (And WRONG!) I agree the show is mind-numbing but her results were MORE than equal.

Given that Paula Abdul works in the wackiest end of a wacky business segment, we can't apply the same standards as we do for our day jobs.

Her performance should be judged by the results -- and Paula certainly delivers buzz, awareness and viewers. I couldn't have named one of her co-hosts except for Simon. Paula is synonymous with Idol. She's been loyal to the show, has helped make millions for the show's producers, has helped launch the careers of many incredibly talented singers, and every time she does something ditzy she creates invaluable attention for Idol and its contestants, the type of publicity money cannot buy.

She deserves the same pay (or better) vs. the other guys whose names I can't even remember and who've never made the cover of People Mag. The Idol producers were sexist fools for letting her walk.


Hey, folks...have you ever subjected Ms Abdul to a drug/alcohol test and seen a positive result? Nope? Then perhaps we all should be *very* careful about sweeping accusations of intoxication.

We can have whatever opinions about her that we like...but when we put bald-faced accusations into a written public forum without proof, we are open to claims of libel. I'm just saying...


If I showed up at my job drunk/stoned like Paula, I'd be fired ... not offered 5 mil.


I would have to agree with sexyMama. I used to watch the show (prior to having my baby) for Simon. He is the reason that the shows exists in the first place. Ryan ALSO does WAY more work than Paula. I don't see gender playing a role here at all. Contestants get more information from Simon, they only get a pat on a back from Paula. I love her, think she is great dancer but she was worth 5 mil and nothing over.


Well...... the problem is that "inequal pay for equal work" is assumed to be the case here. I mean, sure, the pay was inequal, but was the work EQUAL? Paula Abdul was routinely under the influence while on the job, and is famous for loving nearly every contestant, regardless of performance, meaning she hardly ever actually critiqued. As a judge, compared with the other judges, I would have to say her work wasn't "equal."

leslie morgan s...

Leslie Morgan Steiner

That would be fitting! I bet she will be someplace even better.


How much do you want to bet that Paula will be right back in her IDOL chair when the show airs next year?