Abdul's Exit From 'Idol' Confronts Pay Equality The news that American Idol judge Paula Abdul was leaving the hit show has created a firestorm of celebrity news furor. But Michel Martin says the heart of Abdul's case really does address a serious issue.

Abdul's Exit From 'Idol' Confronts Pay Equality

Abdul's Exit From 'Idol' Confronts Pay Equality

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Paula Abdul at the American Idol Season 8 finale in Los Angeles. Jason Merritt/Getty Images hide caption

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Jason Merritt/Getty Images

Paula Abdul at the American Idol Season 8 finale in Los Angeles.

Jason Merritt/Getty Images

I can't believe I am talking about this either, but I have to weigh in on Paula Abdul's decision to leave American Idol. I know, I know. Sonia Sotomayor, she is not.

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 Abdul 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 being accurate. What exactly do any of those three men do that merits their receiving three to 10 times the pay Abdul does? Anybody? Anybody?

Can 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 at all education levels experience this gap. It amounts to hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost wages over the course of a 40-year career.

I would submit it's so taken for granted that it actually generates headlines — and no small amount of unflattering commentary — when women such as Barbara Walters or Katie Couric or Julia Roberts actually DO manage to get the same pay as male counterparts. The attitude seems to be, 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 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 on that score it's hard to argue that there should be any difference at all. As Abdul said 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 offscreen 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 have been fired for it. And she was not.

I have a minister friend, a community activist, who will sometimes mention to me some person who is getting jammed up. And assessing its overall importance, will tell me: "Too bad. But I ain't marching for him."

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 in profits to that show should ask themselves this:

If Paula Abdul can't get paid the same money for doing the same work as Randy and Simon and Ryan ... can I?