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By all accounts, Paula Abdul is riding high these days. The singer-turned-reality-TV personality just closed a multimillion-dollar deal to reunite with her former American Idol cohort Simon Cowell on Fox’s The X Factor. But not sharing in Abdul’s excitement are her agents at United Talent Agency, who are locked in a heated dispute with the star over commissions from her new gig judging the high-profile singing competition.
According to sources close to the situation, Abdul is refusing to pay the standard 10 percent agency commission on her X Factor deal, which closed May 7 and allowed Abdul to join Cowell onstage in Los Angeles for the start of the show’s judging rounds this past weekend. Abdul is said to believe she should not owe commissions on the X Factor deal because it arose from her relationship with Cowell, which predates the UTA representation. That position has led to a standoff between the star and one of Hollywood’s top talent agencies.
UTA declined to comment on the dispute, and Abdul’s reps did not respond to a request for comment.
UTA began representing Abdul after she abruptly quit American Idol in 2009 during negotiations for the show’s eighth season. At the time, Abdul was demanding a hefty raise from the reported $3.5 million she made in compensation and perks from the country’s top-rated show.
The agency later arranged for Abdul to topline the dance competition series Live to Dance, which aired this winter on CBS. Abdul is said to have paid commissions on that deal.
When Cowell began assembling the judges for the U.S. version of his mega-hit U.K. show X Factor, he made it clear he was aiming to include Abdul. That’s when she is said to have informed her agents that they would need to forgo commissions on that deal if they wanted to continue to represent her. According to sources, UTA was later presented with a “take it or leave it” situation, meaning the agency would have to agree to not commission X Factor or terminate the relationship entirely.
As discussions between Abdul and UTA were ongoing, her X Factor deal started to come together. Because the relationship was in flux, Abdul’s manager Marty Tudor and attorney Erik Hyman are said to have taken the lead on those negotiations, which went down to the wire. Two sources tell THR that Abdul will make between $2 million and $3 million for her services this season, though Fox and producers Fremantle and Syco Television declined to comment on the number.
Should one of reality TV’s top stars have to pay her agents on the deal if she believes they didn’t help her find or land the job? Hollywood custom says probably yes, unless there was some kind of arrangement before she signed with the agency (it’s not clear whether Abdul has a signed representation agreement with UTA). This issue is not unfamiliar to agents and managers, who often squabble with clients to collect commissions, especially on deals that might arise out of a pre-existing relationship. Separately on Tuesday, UTA sued screenwriter-producer client Adam Herz over commissions from American Pie 4, though the issues in that case are somewhat different.
Abdul, whose sometimes-erratic behavior is well documented, tends to hire and fire representatives frequently. She’s had scores of publicists, managers, agents and lawyers over the years and has a reputation for being difficult, which of course is part of the charm that made her a star. Cowell referenced Abdul’s reputation at a press conference Sunday, saying of her prolonged deal negotiations, “She’s Paula Abdul. Nothing’s ever easy, but I’m used to it.”
Abdul is said to have scheduled a meeting with UTA for later this week to determine whether she will remain a client. It will be interesting to see whether a deal can be worked out or if this ends up in court.
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