By Michael Slezak
Updated February 27, 2007 at 10:48 PM EST
Michael Becker

You wouldn’t know it from the way I referred to her as “Jersey girl on a toilet” in episode 1 of EW’s new Idolatry webcast, but I actually feel bad for American Idol contestant Antonella Barba, the chick whose “friend” has been leaking scantily clad photos of her all over the Internet, including one where she’s sitting atop the proverbial throne. Even more disconcerting were the unfortunate pictures released late last week of a young woman who looked a lot like Antonella performing an oral sex act on a zealously “manscaped” man. The latter set of snapshots have set off the kind of queasy discourse that makes me want to channel Martha Stewart during her infamous CBS morning-show interview — you know, the one where the domestic diva, responding to host Jane Clayson’s questions about her ImClone stock-trading scandal, grimly hacked away at a head of cabbage and declared, “I want to focus on my salad.”

In much the same way, all I want to do is focus on what Antonella — and her competitors — do on the Idol stage, and not on whatever personal, non-illegal indiscretions they may or may not have committed as teenagers. But on the other hand, it’s unrealistic to think contestants’ personalities, and to some degree, their pasts, won’t affect viewers’ voting patterns. I mean, how can you ignore salacious news reports like the one in The Newark Star-Ledger that quoted Antonella’s close friend Amanda Coluccio (who was eliminated from Idol during this season’s Hollywood week), arguing the oral-sex shots were of an Antonella lookalike? “I’ve studied them. It’s not her nose. She’s never had [acrylic nail] tips [like the woman in the photo] in her life. She’s the least slutty person I know,” Coluccio declared. Even wackier, an Associated Press story from this morning offers a rather alarming sociological snapshot of Antonella’s hometown of Point Pleasant, N.J. “At least half the people in this town have pictures of their friends on the toilet,” says one local teen. “I’ve personally seen at least 20. It’s only because she’s on TV that they’re online.” (Full disclosure: I have two friends from Point Pleasant — I even attended a wedding there this summer — and have yet to see any of ’em on the loo.)

addCredit(“Antonella Barba: Michael Becker”)

Anyway, all this madness has me wondering about a few things. We allknow after Antonella’s week 1 performance of “I Don’t Wanna Miss aThing” that she’d be likely going home in the next few weeks evenwithout a photo scandal, but if this had happened to one of the femalefrontrunners (like LaKisha or Melinda), would it have affected herpopularity? Would America be as outraged if the photos had been of amale contestant on the receiving end of said sex act? (I’m guessingno.) Given that season 2’s fabulous Frenchie Davis was booted forposing in lingerie for a racy Internet site, where should Idol draw theline in booting contestants? And finally, does your American Idol needto have a squeaky clean past? Mine sure doesn’t, but I’ll be curious toread the inevitable debate in the comments section below.