Paula Abdul is famous for so many things — singing, dance and choreography, jewelry design, cheerleading camp director, “American Idol” judge — that she's become famous for being famous.
Now, she's subjecting her very public life to even closer scrutiny with a new reality show called "Hey Paula." But if it shows her in her many moods, some nicer than others, it doesn't answer all the questions that have been raised.
Is she a drunk? Is she addicted to painkillers? Is it true she has no social life? What was the deal with that word-slurring, incoherent television clip?
To address those issues, TODAY co-host Matt Lauer suggested a game when Abdul appeared on the show Wednesday.
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"Let's play Truth or Dare," he said. "I don't know what the 'Dare' would be, but let's play 'Truth,' okay?"
Abdul, wearing a white suit and black top accented with a necklace of many strands and big, showy earrings, smiled broadly, saying, "If it's kissing you, Matt ..."
"No," said Lauer. "No. We both would have problems, wouldn't we?"
He asked the first question, about "the now famous, or infamous, interview where you were said to be slurring your words. People said, 'Paula Abdul was drunk.' What was the truth?"
"I've never been drunk in my life, Matt," Abdul said, mouthing the words she and her publicists have been repeating ever since January, when the clip showed up on YouTube. It was a taped session with the “American Idol” judges explaining their votes and came at the end of a long day of question-and-answer sessions related to the hit show.
On it, Abdul slurred words, said some things that made little or no sense, and finally collapsed dramatically on fellow judge Simon Cowell.
"The whole thing about me being a judge on ‘American Idol’ is, it is the toughest job for me, because I have to think about something positive to say even when they're trying to rise above adversity, " she said. "So sometimes when I'm excited and want to get something out to say, I'll stop."
But, Lauer repeated, has she ever been drunk?
"I'll have an occasional sip of wine or a drink that has an umbrella in it and sugar," she said.
"There's a report that you were addicted to painkillers," Lauer then said.
"I've never been addicted to painkillers," she said. "Painkillers don't work for me."
In 1992, Abdul suffered serious neck injuries in a plane crash and for years was in constant pain that, she has said previously, no drugs could combat.
"I've had 14 cervical spinal surgeries," she told Lauer. "The hardest thing for me is I've had to learn to live in pain."
Now, she said, she gets injections of a biogenic drug called Emo that is normally used for skin disorders. She called it "a Botox for nerves to stop them from glomming on to each other."
So, said Lauer, "There is no smoking gun, there is no scandal here that people need to know about?"
"There absolutely isn't any scandal," Abdul said. "I'm open and willing to talk about it. It's not my job as an entertainer that I have to talk about it, but I'm willing to, and I've helped a lot of people."
‘Just as goofy’
The 45-year-old pop icon has also entertained a lot of people. She got her first brush with stardom what seems like a lifetime ago as a dancer on the Los Angeles Lakers cheerleading squad. She became a choreographer for the famous team and still runs cheerleading camps.
She also launched a singing career, recording six No. 1 singles from 1989-91 and selling more than 30 million recordings. She also won a Grammy Award, seven MTV Awards, two Emmy Awards, two People's Choice Awards, and two Kid's Choice Awards.
In 1992, she waged a public war with bulimia, and in 1994 her marriage to Emilio Estevez ended in divorce. A second marriage to clothing heir Brad Beckerman lasted just 17 months.
Finally, six years ago, came an invitation to become a judge on Fox's new show, “American Idol,” and through that she's become even more of a star as she built a reputation of being "the nice judge" and counterpoint to Cowell's acerbic style.
"Hey Paula" is an attempt to show what her life is really like, she told Lauer.
"I didn't go into this thinking, ‘Let's try to create more controversy.’ I have a 21-year history in this business of many things that I do and many hats that I wear. And when I was doing this show, it was a very concentrated period of time — launching the new season of ‘American Idol,’ launching my new jewelry line, launching a fragrance. For me it was, 'Let's document all that.'"
"So what do you think is going to surprise all your fans?" asked Lauer. "What are they going to learn that they didn't know about you before?"
"Probably that I work around the clock and that I was very much sleep-deprived," she said. "Most of all, that I'm just as goofy and just as normal as everyone else. I go through hard times, I go through good times."
Among the already famous hard times on her show is a scene where she is changing in her limo for an overnight plane flight and discovers that her assistant had packed a pair of ultratight jeans instead of the sweat pants Abdul had requested.
In the clip, when the assistant says, "I didn't realize they were that tight," Abdul tells her to "shove it down your throat." It was, Abdul told Lauer, a joke about her weight and nothing more.
Love life looking “upwards”
The one thing missing from the reality show is anything about Abdul's love life, which, Lauer reminded her, she once called "a horror movie."
"It's looking upwards," Abdul said, smiling. "Things are good right now. There is someone in particular."
Asked if the someone was the person who escorted her to the premiere of "Hairspray," restaurateur J.T. Torregiani, the co-owner of Ketchup, a West Hollywood hot spot, Abdul said, "Yeah."
It was the last question in Lauer's game, after which he said, "That wasn't so hard, was it?"
Abdul patted Lauer on the knee and said nothing.
"Hey Paula" airs at 10 ET on Thursday on NBC's sister cable station, Bravo.
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