The juices on her career are running clear. The toothpick on her personal empire has come out clean. And the top of her cookware line is firm but not yet set. Paula Deen's collective, loaded potato is baked. She's done.
The famed television chef, restaurateur and cooking family matriarch experienced an extraordinary fall last week as word spread that she used racial slurs in the past and allegedly exhibited a pattern of discriminatory behavior. Food Network announced that her contract would not be renewed at the end of this month.
I have written about celebrity falls from grace in the past, and my typical refrain is that in America anyone can make a comeback. But I think this one's an anomaly. In this case, Deen's got her rear-end in the deep fryer with little hope of coming out crispy and delicious.
Sure, she could have done better from a PR perspective. Standing-up Matt Lauer and The Today Show is never a good idea, but remember Tom Cruise a few years ago weaseled around with Lauer about psychiatry, and we still go to see the Mission Impossible movies. And while Deen's YouTube apology was ill-timed and ill-edited, the damage had already been done. She could have handled the situation better, but the facts are too damning. The proof is in the pudding (likely banana with an extra-large dollop of whipped cream.)
And yes her lawyers could have done a better job for her. When this lawsuit was filed, her lawyers should have negotiated a settlement quickly and quietly. And clearly she wasn't properly prepared for her now-infamous deposition. Whoever prepped her for that deserves the Gordon Ramsay "Hell's Kitchen" treatment. Without question, Deen would stroke a seven figure check if she had the opportunity for a do-over. Too bad for her, there are no second takes when it comes to racism - no magic television oven that miraculously covers up your miscues.
Racism and prejudice, while still present in America, are simply not tolerated by our beloved celebs.
Radio host Don Imus, hardly beloved, was dropped from MSNBC and CBS Radio for racist remarks in 2007 but later hired by Fox Business. One big difference between Imus and Deen is that Imus gets paid to be controversial. He crossed a line, but he gets ratings for walking it.
Recently, golfer Sergio Garcia made an incredibly offensive remark aimed at Tiger Woods. But Garcia's from Spain (not an American icon), was already feuding with Woods, and was trying to make a joke. He doesn't get a pass for any of these reasons, but he quickly apologized and took it on the chin from his sponsors. He's still golfing professionally.
The difference is that we don't invite Garcia or Imus into our home to help us make dinner. We just watch and listen to them, typically in a villainous role.
Paul Deen is the exact opposite: While Garcia or Imus play the devil, she's angel food.
Ask my wife about her, and she, like other fans, would say "I love Paula Deen." It made sense: She's real, women relate to her and her classic Southern comfort dishes make us feel good.
So when we find out that someone we "love" is a racist, it makes the fall that much steeper. Imus gets paid to be obnoxious. Garcia's a knucklehead golfer. But Deen's a lady we would all have over for dinner. Not anymore.
Perhaps a heartfelt apology tour, starting with Lauer and Today could start her on the path to redemption, but I think the damage is too extensive. If she does come back, it will be in a greatly limited role, perhaps just to serve us leftovers.