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Interview With Mark Lunsford; 'American Idol' Controversy

Aired March 7, 2007 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight -- Mark Lunsford, his nine-year-old daughter Jessica's killer found guilty today of kidnapping and raping her and then burying her alive just steps from her home. And now just hours after that verdict was read, Jessica's father, Mark Lunsford, tells us how it makes him feel.
And then another "American Idol" season and another controversy. Is the show being racist about racy photos? Former "Idol" finalists on the controversy everybody is talking about. All next on LARRY KING LIVE.

Good evening, a Florida jury has convicted John Couey, a sex offender of the 2005 kidnapping, rape and first degree murder of nine- year-old Jessica Lunsford. Her body was found nearly a month later, buried behind the trailer in which John Couey had been living. That trailer was only about 150 yards from Jessica's home.

Jessica's body was found encased in two plastic bags. The medical examiner concluded she suffocated after being buried alive.

The jury must now decide whether to recommend that Couey be sentenced to the death penalty. That penalty phase is scheduled to begin on Tuesday.

We will have a whole panel discuss this. But we begin with Mark Lunsford, the father of Jessica Lunsford, the nine-year-old girl kidnapped from her bedroom and killed in February 2005. How rough was it for you, Mark, to be in that courtroom?

MARK LUNSFORD, JESSICA LUNSFORD'S FATHER: It's a pretty hard thing to do. But I will not leave my daughter to go through this alone. She already had to be alone when she was with him.

KING: The verdict was not a surprise to you, was it?

LUNSFORD: No. I knew what kind of case that the prosecutors had. I talked to them many times and the sheriff's department. The sheriff, everybody was confident with what they had.

KING: They were only out four hours. Does that surprise you?

LUNSFORD: Well, I mean -- I'm not a lawyer or anything. I mean everybody could see on TV what was going on in the courtroom. It was pretty cut and dry.

KING: What was it like for you as the father of this beautiful little girl to look at Mr. Couey?

LUNSFORD: It just gives me more reasons to go out and try to help other states understand that they need to pass tougher legislation, like Jessie's law, or to be in compliance with the federal bills that have been passed, the Adam Walsh Act, and for legislators to know we need more.

We need bills that will produce money for these other bills that we have already passed so law - that U.S. marshals, the FBI, local law enforcement, prosecutors can get the tools that they need to get more prosecutions and put these guys away longer so we are not doing murder trials.

KING: But looking at him, didn't you hate him?

LUNSFORD: Yeah, definitely. Most definitely. I mean, but that's what fuels me. That's where I get -- that's where I get my energy to do what I do. It's the anger.

KING: Would you want him to get the death penalty?

LUNSFORD: I think that anybody that's convicted of capital murder, I mean it's an eye for an eye.

KING: Is that an execution that you would attend?

LUNSFORD: Oh, well, yeah. Yeah, most definitely.

KING: Now, before this happened, did you ever think about things like predators and people harming children? Was that ever on your mind?

LUNSFORD: No. I was more worried about, you know, going to work the next day and providing for my child.

KING: So all of this has changed your life?

LUNSFORD: It does, Larry. It changes everything about your life. Everything between the grass being green and the sky being blue. Everything you have ever known is changed.

You lose a lot of things. You lose people you love because of your anger or because of what you're going through. But you gain a lot of friends, too. Supportive friends that are just there for you no matter what.

KING: Were you in touch with your ex-wife throughout this?

LUNSFORD: Me and Angie have talked. We're not -- I mean, you know, we have known each other forever.

KING: Did Mr. Couey ever look at you?

LUNSFORD: One time. One time.

When I sat down and I testified, and I said that I was her father. He looked me right in the eye. And that's the only time I ever looked at me.

KING: Was it rough for you to listen to the testimony?

LUNSFORD: Actually, it was rougher to see that there was no remorse from this man. Or whatever you want to call him. I mean, no remorse at all.

KING: How do you explain that to yourself?

LUNSFORD: Welcome to the world of sexual offenders and predators. They don't care. They have no value for anything but themselves.

KING: We have an e-mail question from Barbara in Columbus, Georgia. "Is someone helping Jessica's father with expenses so he could have been away from work and in the courtroom during the trial? Anyone help you?

LUNSFORD: No. You get things like this going on, just make do the best you can. People can be supportive through the There's a lot of work that needs to be done and, you know, this here is just something that I have to be here for. And the state pays for our accommodations. We still have to eat. But we are not starving. I mean, help my foundation. Don't worry about me. I will make it.

KING: Mark Lunsford will remain with us and our panel will assemble. Coming up next, Mark Lunsford's presence in the courtroom. We will talk to top legal eagles and if think they his attendance might have predicted the outcome. Don't go away.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Verdict, count one. We the jury found as follows as to the defendant in the case. The defendant is guilty in murder in the first degree of as charged in the indictment.




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Verdict count four. We the jury find as follows as to the defendant in this case, the defendant is guilty of sexual battery on a child under 12 years of age as charged in the indictment, so say we all.


KING: We are back. Mark Lunsford, the father of the late Jessica Lunsford remains with us. Joining us also in Miami is Beth Karas, the correspondent for Court TV who covered the trial from the get-go.

Here in Los Angeles, the famed defense attorney Mark Geragos, in Miami is Stacey Honowitz, the Florida assistant state attorney, who by the way specializes in sex crimes and child abuse.

And in San Francisco our friend Marc Klaas, advocate for stopping crimes against children, founder of the Klaas Kids Foundation. His 12 year old daughter Polly was abducted from her California home and murdered in 1993. Are you surprised, Mark, that a father would be this involved? We have been discussing this during the break. A lot of us would just go away, right?

MARK GERAGOS, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: It takes a tremendous amount of courage, resolve, whatever you want to be able to pick yourself up for something like that, which you and I were discussing. We have daughters. I just think it's just unimaginable. I don't know what it takes, what kind of fiber you're made out of to be able to get in there and get past it and keep working.

I guess -- I think Mr. Lunsford said it best when he said he was not going to let her go through it alone. So that's a tribute, I guess, to her.

KING: Beth Karas, was there anything surprising in this trial?

BETH KARAS, COURT TV CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think a lot of court watchers were surprised that it took the jury four hours. Many people thought it would be less than that. But, no, nothing really surprising.

Just on the eve of trial the defense all of a sudden says that Couey is mildly mentally retarded and they did put on one witness, only one, to testify to that. That came as a little bit of a surprise. Because in the years they were preparing for it, that never was brought out.

KING: Stacey, do you think it had anything effect at all that Mr. Lunsford was in the courtroom?

STACEY HONOWITZ, FLA. ASST. STATE ATTORNEY: Well, I think many people think the idea of him sitting there the entire time, did it put pressures on the jurors to decide the way they did? I don't think so. The evidence in this case is overwhelming. It is a heinous, atrocious crime. And the fact he was sitting in the courtroom maybe had an effect because they realized he was such a caring, concerned, raged father. But I don't think it made a decision in them deciding how to vote in this case.

KING: Marc Klaas, you're a father who got involved.


KING: Did you ever think of saying I don't - I don't need this?

KLAAS: Actually, no. I think Mark understands this as well. These situations give us purpose in our lives. And I realized early on this was an issue that received virtually no attention in this country and there were so many thing that's need to be done. And I told my wife Violet early on that I'm going to pursue this path if I have to do it in a cart board box by the side of the railroad tracks. Fortunately, she was number one very supportive of me and, number two, immediately stopped collecting cardboard boxes to demonstrate her solidarity with me.

KING: When they threw out the confession, Mark Geragos. Did that give you pause? Did that give you a shot to think maybe woe get away with this?

GERAGOS: No, I don't think so. Not based on ...

KING: Too much evidence?

GERAGOS: Based on the scope they had. The confession and way it was reported, I think it would have actually done, I think, a disservice to the prosecution. I think we discussed this before early on to have left that in there. It would have raised an appellate issue and I think it was the right decision by the judge. So, no, based upon the scope and depth of the evidence they had, number one and number two, if you're a prosecutor, the last thing want is to have some kind of a Trojan horse type issue that is there that is going to taint your verdict.

KING: Stacey, do you like prosecuting these kinds of cases?

HONOWITZ: Well, emotionally it's very difficult. But I tell you something, you get a conviction on a case like this and you have a family sitting there knowing what they went through, it's extremely warding. It's difficult and it takes a big toll. It really does. There have been nights I have not slept, there have been days where I have not gone to the office where I didn't get a conviction on the case where I strongly believed the evidence was there. The rewards certainly outweigh how you feel about the case. But it's a difficult, it's a difficult task.

KING: We have an email question from Grace in Springfield, Pennsylvania.

"First, my thoughts and prayers go out to Mr. Lunsford and his family. What I want to know is, are there any laws requiring landlords to check the background of potential tenants in places children reside?"

Can landlords be held responsible for renting to convicted sex offenders? Mark Lunsford, can they?

LUNSFORD: I wouldn't think so. It would be discrimination. As sick as it sounds, you can not discriminate someone because of what they have been convicted of. But I think maybe we could fall under this thing like we did in California or like they did in California with the barriers, where sex offenders are not allowed to live. But, I mean, as far as landlords being held accountable, I mean they can very well lie to a landlord, unless they do criminal background checks every time they rent somebody a house.

KING: Marc Klaas, how do you explain to yourself a Mr. John Couey? KLAAS: Well, evil exists. They are sociopathic and there are psychopathic individuals that have no conscience and, certainly, Couey fits into that category. He could not have cared less what he did to that young girl or he would not have done it.

I would like to mention something very quickly though about the throwing out of the confession of Couey because that happened again just yesterday in another very high-profile missing child case in Florida. An individual named David Onstott kidnapped and murdered a little girl named Sarah Lunde about five months after Jessica's case and yesterday the judge threw out the confession for the very same reason. It was coerced and he was not given access to an attorney.

So I think some of the cops in Florida need to go back to school. Because in this Onstott case it looks like it may be thrown out and this individual will be put back into the community again.

KING: Is that true, Mark, a lot of cops act quickly and impatiently?

GERAGOS: Mark makes a very good point. It's the whole reason they van exclusionary rule in these kinds of situations. The law enforcement are people who have repeat business in the criminal courts. So you're trying to teach them to obey the law and one of the ways you do it is to have an exclusionary rule.

Well, if you have - and Marc's point I think is well taken here. If you have somebody in Florida, law enforcement in Florida, who knows you have to have a certain protocol you have to go through and it's not exactly rocket science to adhere to it, do it. Why do you not obey the rules at that point? Because you threaten cases.

HONOWITZ: But, Larry, and Mark knows this, in the Lunsford case, the circumstances were totally different. This girl was missing. They did not know whether or not she was dead or alive and it was more important to them not to worry about whether or not a confession was going to be admissible later on. It was to find a girl hopefully alive.

So these guys were veteran detectives. They knew what they were doing. I'm not saying all cops, you know, are perfect in that way but in this case, there was a special circumstance. As you can see, the confession did not even play a role in this case.

GERAGOS: I was going to say the same thing. The problem with that is it's a slippery slope and you can always make that justification.

KING: Let me get a break. When we come back, legislation that would require color coded license plate for convicted sex offenders. It's in the works. Find out what our panel thinks when we get back.


LUNSFORD: I will never see Jessie go on her first date. I will never be a grandfather to her children. There's more to raising a child than bumps and bruises and Band-Aids and bicycles. I will never have those things with Jessica. Eight weeks ago a repeat sex offender stole this life away from me.




PETE MAGRINO, PROSECUTOR, ASST. STATE ATTORNEY: You dig a hole, you bind a little girl's wrists with wire, you place her in two separate garbage bags and knot them and then you put her in a hole and cover it up. Here in Florida, that's first degree murder.


KING: Beth Karas, what do you think of the idea of color coded license plates?

KARAS: You know, it's already public information when someone is a registered sex offender. The information is available if you take the time to check it out in your communities. So it's just an extension of that. It probably would pass muster, constitutional muster.

KING: Mark Lunsford, what do you think?

LUNSFORD: Well, I think we can do a little bit better than license plates. I mean, it's just an extension of the registration on the Web sites we have. Why don't we make things tougher on them? Because they are still getting off even two years after Jessie's law has been passed. There are still sexual predators and offenders getting off with merely probation.

HONOWITZ: Larry, can I say one thing to follow that up? I want to tell you why that's important what Mark just said. I have been prosecuting cases for years and there's a problem with these cases. Quite often when young children are a victim of a sexual offense, the parents will come into the office and say that they don't want to prosecute. They don't want to put the child through this.

And we can understand that. It's a double-edged sword to have to have a child sit in the courtroom, face this person and testify about a sexual experience in front of strangers. But the problem, though, then becomes because the victim does not want to testify or the parents do not want the child to testify, we have to give better deals to these defendants.

And what happens is they end up with a light sentence like probation. They violate probation, and they accelerate to more violence like in this case. And I think this is a lesson to all parents who, God forbid, find themselves in that situation. That's why it's important to prosecute.

KING: Mr. Marc Klaas, do you think Couey should get the death penalty? KLAAS: If anybody deserves the death penalty it would be an individual who would bury a little girl alive and walk away from it, absolutely.

KING: We have an e-mail from Carol in Diboll, Texas, "How can we get more help on financing for the Adam Walsh Child Protection Act? I write to legislators but don't feel they listen. How do you get their attention? The public is behind you, tell us what to do."

Mark Geragos?

GERAGOS: The kinds of things that Marc Klaas is doing and that Mark Lunsford is doing. Those are -- you raise public awareness. When you raise public awareness, then funds come in and then it's kind of a symbiotic process.

KING: Have you ever had to defend a child predator case?

GERAGOS: I have, I have.

KING: Is that the hardest emotionally to defend?

GERAGOS: I can't imagine -- and I have defended virtually everything, and I would say that probably is.

KLAAS: Larry?

KING: Hold on, Marc.

GERAGOS: There are cases that take a toll on you but, actually, the cases that -- I was listening to Stacey and I found it interesting the ones where she says you didn't get a victory. From a criminal defense lawyer's standpoint, the really hardest cases, I always say, are God save me from the innocent clients. Those are the ones you really have - you lose sleep, you struggle with and you think you never did enough.

KING: Nothing could be worse. Marc Klaas? What did you want to say?

KLAAS: I wanted to say in answer to that question and what people and everybody that is listening to the show should do is contact federal legislators, their congressmen and senators, write them, call them, e-mail them and send them a hard copy letter demanding that they fully fund the Adam Walsh Act. And then do your same thing with the state legislators. Because the reality is there a time limit and good they comply within three years, they will get federal funding bonuses and if they don't comply, they are going to have money withheld. This is all about the money and it is only going to happen if people demand it.

KING: Mark Lunsford, will you testify in the penalty phase?

LUNSFORD: Yes, I will.

KING: And will you ask for the death penalty? LUNSFORD: If I'm allowed to I sure will.

GERAGOS: Probably can't.

KING: Can't? What do you mean?

GERAGOS: Generally you're not allowed to from the prosecution's standpoint, you're not allowed to have a member of the victim's family say, I want you to be sentenced to death.

KING: But they can testify? Right?

GERAGOS: Absolutely, they can testify. But prohibited from asking for death.

KING: Stacey, does this look like an open and shut death penalty?

HONOWITZ: Well, from my perspective and seeing the evidence it looks like open and shut. But you never know. They are going to try -- why they brought that defense witness in they were setting the tone for the mitigating factor that, being he's mildly retarded. I don't think they are ever really going prove that up or it will really make a difference in this case. I would dare say that he's going to get the death penalty.

GERAGOS: There are a lot of cases where guilt phase from the defense standpoint, where basically you know going in you're conceding it and you set up the penalty phase. So that could very well be.

KING: Beth, what do you think is going to happen?

KARAS: Well, you know, I think it is going to be all about the mitigation. Even though the jury is now going to hear about Couey's criminal history, which is as long as he is tall. This man has been in and out of the system and he is a registered sex offender. But they are going to develop this psychological defense here and in the next days, they are going to be deposing witnesses about this.

But it's just a jury recommendation. They don't have to be unanimous. As soon as seven jurors agree on death or life, that's it. It's over. So there's a good chance will he get death.

KING: Thank you all very much. And Mark Lunsford, we thank you for staying with us. We know this has been a long, long day for you. And you have the sympathy of all of us.

LUNSFORD: Thank you, Larry. Thank you, Marc.

KING: Of course, John Couey was already a convicted sex offender when he abducted and killed Jessica Lunsford.

And Anderson Cooper will take a look at this disturbing problem later tonight in a hard-hitting special "Monsters Next Door, Can They Be Stopped?" That is at the top of the hour. And you will not want to miss it. Meanwhile, we will be right back with the latest "American Idol" controversy. Is the show being racist over racy photos? Stick around.


KING: "American Idol." They are never without a controversy. The current contestant Antonella Barba and comprising pictures of her that showed up on the Internet. Ah, "American Idol," six seasons into the show and who would have thunk all of this would be going on?

Here in our studios in Los Angeles, Diana DeGarmo was the runner- up to Fantasia Barrino on "American Idol"'s third season. Her recording career includes 2004 CD "Blue Skies." Elliott Yamin, who finished in third place last year on "American Idol," his self-titled CD lands in record stores March 30th -- March 20th, rather. And in Nashville, Bucky Covington, who finished number eight last season on "American Idol." His self-titled debut album is due out next month. He currently has a single already on the country charts. But we are going to spend some time in New York with Sherry Meneyhert, a close friend of Antonella Barba, probably the most controversial of this season's 12 "American Idol" finalists, and Amanda Coluccio, Antonella Barba's best friend.

Just to get you up-to-date, we will show you a couple of tamer pictures in question. They are from a Web site called "Idol" producers chose to leave Antonella in the competition. She will be competing or has just competed on tonight's show, depending on the time zone in which you're living.

Sherry, did they make the right move leaving her on?

SHERRY MENEYHERT, FRIEND OF ANTONELLA BARBA: Absolutely. Antonella is a great person and the photos, although they may seem a little controversial, I don't think there's any reason for her to be kicked off "American Idol." She's still talented, she's still a great person, she deserves this opportunity and chance.

KING: What, Amanda, were the circumstances in her, to your knowledge, taking these pictures?


KING: Yes.

COLUCCIO: Really, honestly, I don't know why the pictures were taken. I think they were taken just for one person's eyes only. She's a pretty conservative person. They were not taken in any way to be sold or to be put on the Internet in any way. I think they were taken from one person's eyes only and it's really unfortunate how they were just distributed all over the Internet, very unfortunate.

KING: How about, Sherry, the former "American Idol" contestant from a season -- two seasons ago, whose pictures got her booted from the show, Franchelle "Frenchie" Davis, she had done some modeling work and because she was paid for it, was booted out of the competition. Is this a double standard here?

MENEYHERT: The circumstances are unfortunate for that contestant, but I think the situations are a little different here. And unfortunately that happened to her but I don't think the same situation is dealing with Antonella Barba. So I don't think that Antonella Barba needs to be compared in that same way. It's two totally different situations. So I don't think that she deserves to be kicked off.

KING: Do you buy anything, Amanda, about it being racist in tone? Frenchie is black.

COLUCCIO: I don't have anything to say about anything being racist. All I can say is that I know Antonella did not sell any pictures and did not put them out there in any way that she thought would compromise her career or her family or the way that her family was viewed. And I can't say anything about Frenchie because I really -- I don't know her or I don't know her situation. So I can't make any comments about that.

KING: All right. She had to perform tonight, Sherry. How is she dealing with all of this?

MENEYHERT: You know, I can imagine, because Antonella is such a great person that she's doing fine. She's very strong. And I can only hope for the best for her through this difficult time. I'm sure it's difficult for her and her family. But knowing Antonella and being a friend of hers, she's strong and obviously beautiful and talented. So I can't imagine that it is going to bring her down any.

KING: Today some civil rights activists protested outside the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, right down the street here, saying that if Frenchie got the boot for baring her body, so should Antonella. Do you think this is going to get -- blow up worse?

MENEYHERT: Well, like I said before, I think the situations are two totally different so it's hard to compare. But I just think because, you know, Antonella is -- you know, she has made it so far on "American Idol" and she's obviously, you know, beautiful, and people will blow it up as they want to. The media will show her as they want to show her and try to make money off her and stuff. So that's unfortunate as it is, but, you know.

KING: Have you talked to her a lot, Sherry?

COLUCCIO: I have not been able to talk to Antonella a lot since she left for "American Idol." But I know she's doing great, she's doing well, and her family is doing well, so that's the important thing.

KING: Amanda, does she want a full career in music?

COLUCCIO: Well, we both did try to fulfill a career in music, and fulfill a career in singing. And yes, I do think that she would love to be a singer. That's her dream. And I hope that this doesn't hinder her chances in fulfilling that dream. Because she deserves it. She really does.

KING: How old is she, Sherry?

COLUCCIO: Antonella is 20 -- going to be 20.

KING: She's a kid.


MENEYHERT: Yes, she's young.


MENEYHERT: Same age as us, 20. Trying to fulfill her dreams and do what she was set out to do. So we can only wish the best for her. She deserves it.

COLUCCIO: She does deserve it.

KING: Thank you, thank you both very much, Sherry Meneyhert and Amanda Coluccio.

Coming up, Rosie O. weighs in on the Frenchie and Antonella controversy and we will talk about some of the past controversies the show has endured.

As we go to break, you have seen her on the Internet. Can she sing? Take a look and a listen to a few pleasant notes from Antonella.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've got to keep it real. It wasn't good. It was really pitchy. It was really bland.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, the good news is, you're attractive.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, we know that, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The bad news is, it didn't work.



KING: Let's reintroduce our panel. In Los Angeles, Diana DeGarmo, runner-up to Fantasia Barrino in the third season. Elliott Yamin, in third place last year. His new CD, which comes into stores on March 20th, is titled by his own name, "Elliott Yamin." There you see it. In Nashville is our friend Bucky Covington, who finished number eight last year. He has got a self-titled debut album due out next month. Currently has a single on the country charts. There you see that cover. FOX Broadcasting has released a statement responding to this controversy. And here's what they had to say.

"FOX and the producers of 'American Idol have no desire to revisit history and sully the reputation of Ms. Davis. She was removed from the show over four years ago and has gone on to a successful performing career. We have never discussed the specifics of why Ms. Davis was eliminated, nor will we now."

And on a recent -- here's a shocker, by the way, Rosie O'Donnell, front and center on the "American Idol" debate, should Antonella have been dumped just like Frenchie? Take a look and listen to what Rosie and group had to say.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: On occasion I don't know if they have altered the rules since they...


ROSIE O'DONNELL, HOST, "THE VIEW": I think it is racist. I really do. I think it's because she's black that they kicked...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, is it because, you know, that Antonella, she is so just kind of...



O'DONNELL: Well, then it's "weight-ist," too. It's weight-ist and wacist, you screwy wabbit. Twicks are for kids, wah-ha-ha-ha-ha- ha!



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But there are people who go for Frenchie's type.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I mean, that's really not relevant.

O'DONNELL: I mean, one girl is nude on the Internet, she gets kicked off the show and she's, you know, humiliated and disgraced and like limps away with her tail between her legs, and the other girl is still on. Can't sing a note, by the way. Technical problem.


KING: All right. Diana DeGarmo, where do you stand?

DIANA DEGARMO, FORMER "AMERICAN IDOL" CONTESTANT: It's really hard because I'm very close with Frenchie. And I have not met Miss Antonella yet, but the good thing is that we are now in the future and the season -- it's season six, and it was four years ago. So right now FOX may be in a different place and a different standpoint and choice decision-wise.

KING: Do you think Frenchie got a raw deal?

DEGARMO: In the end, no. Because it really -- she has gone on -- like FOX said, she has gone on to do amazing things. And she is such a talented performer that, you know, even though she didn't make it on "Idol," she didn't really need "Idol" to do well.

KING: Got you. Do you agree with keeping Antonella on?

DEGARMO: I think now it shouldn't be whether or not Antonella has her photos anymore. I think it should all come down to talent, just like all of the other contestants are being put through. If she's not worthy, then she shouldn't be up there.

KING: Elliott, what do you think?

ELLIOT YAMIN, FORMER "AMERICAN IDOL" CONTESTANT: I agree with Diana. I mean, I think that it should be solely based on talent. You can't relive the past. And I know that just firsthand -- I mean, we both know how extensive their background checks are.

KING: They are extensive?

YAMIN: They are very extensive. When you're screened almost as if you're...

DEGARMO: Going into the government of some sort. I mean, they know everything about you.

YAMIN: They know every last detail about you. So I mean, they may have known that -- they may have -- very well may have known that way before this actually got off to press, so you never know. I mean -- but I agree. I think it should be solely based on the talent. And that's in the past. You can't relive that or dwell on it. People make decisions and...

KING: So you think if this were then now, Franchelle would have been kept on?

YAMIN: I don't know. You know? Because I really don't know what -- I don't know the details of the circumstances in her case, nor do I know really the details...

KING: And FOX won't say.

DEGARMO: Yes. It's hard.

YAMIN: Right. And nor do I -- but I never got a chance to know her on a personal level like Diana has. And then as far as this Miss Antonella deal, I had not really -- this is really the first I have really kind of heard about it. So I'm really not too familiar with what is... DEGARMO: And if you have not noticed -- every season there's something, if you haven't noticed. "American Idol" always has a little bit of something to kind of keep people watching.

YAMIN: Something to kind of shake things up.

DEGARMO: Yes, you have to.

KING: Bucky Covington in Nashville, what do you think?

BUCKY COVINGTON, FORMER "AMERICAN IDOL" CONTESTANT: I believe they -- well, first of all, Elliott, what's going on, big guy?

YAMIN: What's up, Buck? Good to see you, Buddy.

COVINGTON: How are you doing?

YAMIN: I like your teeth, man.



YAMIN: Looking good, looking good, buddy.

COVINGTON: I believe, first of all, I think they kind of hit the nail on the head. First of all, I would hope it ain't, you know, any kind of race-related, you know. I think the show has done a great job all the way through in everything they have done. You know, I never saw one thing before where it's been racist. And I'm with Elliott and all. I don't know enough about Frenchie and everything. Did she make the top 24 and then get kicked off?

DEGARMO: As far as I know, she actually made it into Hollywood and then didn't -- I don't think made it past that point. But as you see now, she's just going to wrap up her fifth year at "Rent." She's a huge Broadway performer. And so many people -- she was one of the best-known names from season two and she technically wasn't even really on the show.

YAMIN: The power of television.

COVINGTON: I'm sure what has got a big thing to do with it is when it comes down to rules and contracts and the way things are run, is one of them -- one of them was already on the show, so now it's just up to the voters. And the other one, you know, they were actually able to stop. I'm sure if the pictures were to come up before the show started, it probably would be a different situation.

KING: What do you make of that protest in front of the theater today, Diana?

DEGARMO: You know, it's really hard. I see where they are coming from. I totally understand where they are coming from. But I don't believe that anybody should take -- you know, pull the race card at all. Because I don't believe that really has anything to do with it.

KING: We will take a break, come back, maybe include some phone calls as well on this year's controversy surrounding "American Idol." First, let's check in with Anderson Cooper, the host of "AC 360," coming up at the top of the hour.

I know there's one big story tonight, right, Anderson?

ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, "ANDERSON COOPER 360": There are a couple of big stories. Right now some breaking news, a former U.S. sailor charged with giving military secrets to al Qaeda. Why did he do it and what were the secrets? It is a fast-developing story. We will talk to CNN terrorism analyst, Peter Bergen all about it.

Also, we are going to have much more on the Jessica Lunsford case. Her killer found guilty today. We are going to try take you inside the mind of a sex offender. Why can't they be cured? And what can be done to stop them from preying on kids? It's part of our special part of "360" tonight, "The Monsters Next Door." Can they be stopped? That's at the top of the hour -- Larry.

KING: Thanks, Anderson. I'm anxious to see that, "The Monsters Next Door." Anderson Cooper, "AC 360," 10:00 Eastern, 7:00 Pacific.

Tomorrow night, you have seen them on this show, on "Oprah" and on "Ellen." The people who are in on the secret. The runaway bestseller everybody is talking about, number one everywhere, so hot you can't even find it to buy it right now. What is the secret? And can it really help you get whatever you want? Find out tomorrow night. We will be right back.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I thought you were worse than last week.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Simon was wrong about Jennifer Hudson, so hopefully...



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I didn't kick Jennifer Hudson out. If the audience disagree with me about you, you will be here next week.


KING: We are back. Let's take some calls. Amarillo, Texas, hello?

CALLER: Do you think there is a similarity between what happened to the Miss USA controversy and this controversy, where they favor one contestant over the other?

KING: Aha. Do you see any, Bucky, between the girl with the Trump contest? There were two girls involved. One girl, Miss Nevada, got tossed off, the other girl was kept on, the winner?

COVINGTON: I have no earthly idea, to be quite honest with you.



KING: You missed that story. OK. What do you think, Diana? Well, it's Nashville, what do you get there?

DEGARMO: To be honest, possibly, but, you know what, "American Idol" is kind of like a glorified pageant if you want to get down and dirty about it. But the one thing is that they were the same time, the same thing. Frenchie was four years ago and "Idol" was in a different place then. "Idol" wasn't as big.

KING: You don't see a comparison to Miss USA, Miss Nevada?

DEGARMO: I don't see a comparison. Yes -- no, no.

KING: Do you see anything, Elliott?

YAMIN: I kind of -- I'm right there with Buck, you know, with that.

KING: You don't know anything.

YAMIN: I don't even know -- I really don't know what you're referring to as far as...


KING: Did you hear about Donald Trump and Rosie O'Donnell. And Donald Trump kept Miss USA as Miss USA, sent her to rehab but they fired Miss Nevada who had done some -- apparently some escapades.

YAMIN: Oh, OK. Well, that's news to me.


DEGARMO: They were busy doing recording.

YAMIN: Word travels real slow in my neighborhood also.

KING: My spies tell me that you have completely new teeth?

YAMIN: I do, yes. I got a little smile makeover.

KING: What is that called? What did they do to you?

COVINGTON: "Pimp his grill."


COVINGTON: They pimped his grill.

YAMIN: Bucky says to say that they pimped my grill, actually. That's what the kids call it.

KING: There's a name for it. What did they do to you?

YAMIN: It's just reconstructive -- some kind of reconstructive surgery.

KING: OK. I thought there was a name for that?

DEGARMO: Whatever it is, he looks good.

YAMIN: Thank you.

KING: Helena, Montana, hello.

CALLER: Hi, I just have a comment and a question. My comment is, these kids are out there doing everything that they can to make it for themselves. They are not asking for anybody else to help them. They are just out there doing what they can to make it for themselves. My question is, they -- aren't there bigger and better things to worry about than somebody out there posing nude or having something on the Internet or -- I mean, there are just bigger issues in the world.

KING: You have a very good point. What do you think? This hardly is Earth-shaking.

DEGARMO: But like I said earlier, every year, if you haven't noticed by now, there is always something, some little controversy that kind of comes up along the "American Idol" story. And I think sometimes that is accidental, or it could be planned. Who really knows? But...

KING: You think it might be a little planned?

DEGARMO: You never know. You have got to keep people interested. The whole world is one big industry. But "Idol" has done so well and I think that they should possibly go back to focusing on the true competition, not what somebody is doing in their spare time.

YAMIN: It's just such a juggernaut of a show. It's so successful. I really don't understand why they even need that, you know?

DEGARMO: You never know.

YAMIN: You know, TV is -- can sometimes be a very strange thing.

DEGARMO: Yes, very true, very true.

KING: Well, there has never be a show -- a success, never had talent shows...


YAMIN: Welcome (ph) to good TV.

DEGARMO: Exactly.

KING: We will be back with more on this edition of "LARRY KING LIVE" right after this.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you. I think you're better than your friend.





UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And don't make me come back in there and tell you all again! That's good singing! You all better learn what good singing is!


KING: That's my guy. I like that guy. I'd vote for him. There has been another "Idol" controversy, accusations the show basically owns the top two winning contestants, that they get -- they do the recording deals, is that true, to your knowledge?

DEGARMO: I don't know if "own" is the correct term, but you do get a lot of opportunities through them. I was signed with RCA along with Fantasia, right at the end of our finale, before we were done.

KING: Do they -- Bucky, do they control you, for want of a better word?

COVINGTON: Well, I got out.


COVINGTON: No, I don't...

KING: You finished eighth, they don't control you.

COVINGTON: Yes, see, you have got to be smart about it. You have got to go and get out when you know the getting is good. Yes, you know, when I was invited to leave, it was actually a nice thing. Actually the only thing I really, really know is that I have an album coming out April 17th.

(LAUGHTER) KING: And that's good. Elliott, did you feel controlled?

YAMIN: No, I didn't feel controlled. But I definitely wanted to -- I definitely wanted to have control of my -- like creative freedom, you know? And I think that's one of the advantages in my opinion as far as not finishing in the top two. And now I have an album coming out March 20th. And we have all got albums coming out.

KING: And you just closed in "Hairspray"?

DEGARMO: I did, yes. The great thing is with this show, is that in all honesty, it really does not matter, you know, Jennifer has gotten to be able to show it. Bucky and Elliott here are true showers of it, that no matter what place you end up coming out, it's what you do with the opportunity. And as long as you roll with it, you know, we have all gotten to do great things. You know, I have done Broadway. And they have got albums coming out. We have as on Oscar winner among the alum. And...

KING: You're not kidding. Would you tell any friend to go on the show?

YAMIN: I would absolutely recommend to every single person across the country of age to try out for the show. I mean, you learn so much about yourself. Coming from where I come -- and I can just speak for myself, is that I was pretty lost before I tried out, you know? And I didn't really know where I -- you know, I didn't really know...

KING: Helped your self-esteem in a sense?

YAMIN: Oh yes, absolutely. Totally boosted my confidence.

DEGARMO: Especially if you do well.

KING: By the way, what you did to your teeth is veneers.

YAMIN: Veneers, right. That is the word that escaped me earlier.

DEGARMO: So what's the name, Dr. Gray (ph)?


KING: Bucky, you're glad you did it, right? You're glad you did "American Idol," aren't you, Bucky?

COVINGTON: You know, by far the best decision I have ever done. It opened up a lot of doors. And I have got to say, I was with Elliott, you know, I was working in a body shop and playing the bars and everything, you know. But there wasn't a whole lot of exciting things going to happen. And I just -- you know, and for this to happen to me, I just -- hey, thank God I was picked.

KING: All right. Thank you all tonight for being with us.

YAMIN: Thank you for having us.

DEGARMO: Thank you.

KING: Diana DeGarmo, Elliott Yamin, Bucky Covington, you are going to be hearing a lot about all of them.

Our text vote question last night, did you agree with the Scooter Libby verdict? Seventy-eight percent of you said yes. Tomorrow night we are going to talk with the self-help experts behind the phenomenon known as "The Secret." So the question of the night is, do you believe that if you set your mind to something, you can actually make it happen? Text your vote from your cell phone to CNNTV which is 26688, text KINGA for yes, KINGB for no. We'll reveal the results on tomorrow night's show when our topic is "The Secret." Of course, you can always e-mail us by going to And by the way, on Friday night, Joanna Carson, Johnny Carson's second wife on the release of a tape you have never seen.

And now we turn things over to my friend Anderson Cooper and "AC 360" -- Anderson.


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