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Image: Paula Abdul
Chris Pizzello  /  AP
Paula Abdul isn't exactly a judge on her new show "Live to Dance," but an expert offering her opinion.
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updated 1/5/2011 11:39:18 AM ET 2011-01-05T16:39:18

The past six months have flown by for Paula Abdul as she raced to get her new show, "Live to Dance," on its feet.

The morning before this dance competition's Tuesday premiere (8 p.m. EST on CBS), Abdul is calmly sipping tea at her Manhattan hotel as she confronts a final whirlwind of publicity. Meanwhile, across the country, the first episode of "Live to Dance" is still being tweaked.

"I've been on the phone to L.A. already five times, making sure it's OK," she reports. Back at the start of the series' gestation, "They probably didn't know what to expect when I said, 'No, seriously, I really AM going to be an active executive producer. No, seriously, I am!'"

The two-hour premiere will highlight early auditions. Then, when the show settles into its regular time slot (Wednesday at 8 p.m. EST), more contestants will be chosen to round out the cast of 18 dance acts that will travel to Los Angeles for subsequent, live broadcasts.

The winning act will get a grand prize of $500,000.

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But the question persists: What sets "Live to Dance" apart?

"As my parents say, 'You always pick the hardest jobs, Paula! Why a dance show coming behind five OTHER dance shows? How are you going to make it different?' But that's where my juices get flowing. I love rising to the challenge of that, especially since I have so much vocabulary in dance that I want to explore, and I also do things aesthetically that haven't been seen before."

Story: 'I am intelligent,' Paula Abdul insists

What she means is, she's rooting for a robust fusion of dance styles from contestants.

"It's no longer that you're just hip-hop or just ballet," she says. "You're ballet and hip-hop and contemporary, and you should know how to do a little bit of gymnastics. So it's, 'Bring me something I haven't seen!'"

The contest invites dancers of all backgrounds and ages, either solo or as a group.

"A show that allowed for amateurs of any age — I loved that!" she says.

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Abdul will evaluate their performances, with choreographer Travis Payne and singer-dancer Kimberly Wyatt joining her on the panel.

As everybody knows, Abdul has done this before. She reigned for eight seasons on "American Idol" as the nice, if sometimes dizzy-seeming, judge who often clashed with bullyboy Simon Cowell. They were a potent, crowd-pleasing pair. "I choose the word 'kind' over 'nice,'" Abdul says, recalling the bare-knuckle advice she got from dance great Gene Kelly: "Fail to prepare, and prepare to fail." So please don't call her "nice."

"'Nice' is often linked with being a pushover, naive," she says. "I'm kind — and I think that's powerful."

On "Live to Dance," she will serve not as a judge, but, with her two fellow panelists, in the title of "expert." This suggests her new show will strike a more supportive tone.

"I became a famous judge on 'American Idol,' but I'd always be, 'Who am I to judge?'" Abdul says. "I never looked at myself as a judge. I represented hope and keeping your dream alive. (Cowell) represented the intensity of how difficult and hard this business is. You have to have both."

And she expects to redouble her efforts as "a mentor and coach and perpetual cheerleader."

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But will a certain Simon-esque counterbalance be missing?

"Not at all," declares Abdul. "Watch the show. I'll let the show speak for itself. People will get to see me in a different element, an element that is very natural for me."

The 48-year-old Abdul notes that in her quarter-century career as a dancer, choreographer, recording artist and TV personality, she has regularly drawn on her Inner Drill Sergeant, and insists on it from others.

"We didn't have people coming in who were quote-unquote embarrassing ones who were delusional and just wanted to get on television," she says, though acknowledging, "a couple snuck through, charming ones that deserved to let their passion be seen."

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Paula Abdul

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  1. Phill 'er up!

    Paula Abdul shares some dance moves with the Philadelphia Phillies' mascot Phillie Phantic before the team plays the L.A. Dodgers on June 7, 2012, in Philadelphia. Abdul was there to promote the Major League Baseball's Prostate Cancer awareness program. (Scott Anderson / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Giving back

    Abdul has long been involved with the Lupus L.A. organization; here, she speaks at the 12th annual Lupus L.A. Orange Ball in Beverly Hills, Calif., on May 24, 2012. (Alberto E. Rodriguez / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Up late

    Abdul drops by "Late Show With David Letterman" in New York on Sept. 20, 2011. (Gustavo Caballero / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. X'ed in

    Abdul was one of four judges, including L.A. Reid, Simon Cowell and Nicole Scherzinger for "The X Factor's" first season in 2011. (X Factor via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Comeback girl

    Abdul reunited with "American Idol" judge Simon Cowell as a judge on his show "The X Factor," and are shown here at the world premiere screening event on Sept. 14, 2011. Abdul decided not to return after the show's first season ended. (Chris Pizzello / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Heating up the 'Idol' stage

    After scoring repeated hits from 1987-96, the singer had seemingly put music on the back burner to pursue other interests. But in May 2009, Abdul performed a new single, "I'm Just Here for the Music," on an "American Idol" results show. (R Mickshaw / Getty Images for Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Sitting next to her replacement?

    In January 2009, "American Idol" added a fourth judge, songwriter Kara DioGuardi, second from left. Many critics and fans speculated that DioGuardi was added to eventually replace Abdul, although the four judges worked together for the 2009 season without incident. In August 2009, Abdul and Fox confirmed that she would not return to the show. (Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. On the red carpet

    Abdul is seen here arriving at the premiere of the film "Swing Vote" in Hollywood, Calif., in 2008. (Frazer Harrison / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. What happens in Vegas

    Abdul made an appearance at the gala premiere of Criss Angel Believe," a collaboration between illusionist Criss Angel and the acrobatic troupe Cirque du Soleil, at the Luxor Resort & Casino in 2008. (Ethan Miller / Getty Images for Cirque du Solei) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Time for slime

    Abdul and fellow "Idol" judge Randy Jackson accept the favorite TV show award won by the show at the 2007 Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Awards. During her tenure on the show, despite -- or perhaps because of -- the numerous on- and off-set controversies, "American Idol" dominated the Nielsen ratings. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Star of her own show

    Abdul starred in a brief Bravo reality show called "Hey Paula" in 2007. The seven-episode show was panned by critics, who noted that Abdul came off as much less friendly than she does on "American Idol." One segment features the singer's emotional reaction to being fired from a movie based on the line of Bratz dolls, but Abdul later blamed creative editing for the way she appeared. (Bravo via Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Fashion plate

    Abdul arrives at the YMA Fashion Scholarship Fund AMY awards in 2006. Long interested in fashion, she started her own jewelry line on QVC in 2007, and often displayed her work on "American Idol," even offering pieces to the singers. (Bryan Bedder / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Gone to the dogs

    Abdul is seen hugging puppy Yoda at a fashion show in 2004. Abdul may be an animal lover, but in 2007, she broke her nose and toe when she tripped over her pet Chihuahua Tulip. Tulip was unhurt. (Frazer Harrison / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Dynamic trio

    When "American Idol" launched in 2002, Abdul was paired with sardonic Brit Simon Cowell, left, and affable music producer Randy Jackson, right, as one of the show's three judges. She quickly developed a reputation as the always-positive judge, and just as quickly began to draw attention for her sometimes bizarre and outlandish comments. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Meet the Muppets

    Abdul is famed for performing with cartoon cat MC Skat Kat in her "Opposites Attract" video in 1989, so it perhaps wasn't much of a stretch for her to make an appearance on "Muppets Tonight" in 1996. (Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. It's all about the kids

    In 1993, Abdul and other singers, including Celine Dion and Bobby McFerrin, performed at "For Our Children," a live concert with proceeds benefitting the Pediatric AIDS Foundation. Abdul started off the concert singing a jazzy version of Disney's classic "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah." (Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. She's got the vibe

    Abdul performs her song "Vibeology" at the 1991 MTV Video Music Awards in Los Angeles. Abdul was nominated for best female video for "Rush Rush" that year, but lost out to Janet Jackson's "Love Will Never Do (Without You)." (Frank Micelotta / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Forever your girl -- or not

    Abdul married actor Emilio Estevez in 1992 but they divorced just two years later. She later told People magazine that the split came because she wanted children and Estevez, already a father of two, did not. She went on to marry sportswear designer Brad Beckerman in 1996, but again divorced just two years later. (Ron Galella / WireImage) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Straight up

    Paula Abdul once cheered for the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team, but then moved into choreography and a singing career of her own before taking a seat next to Simon Cowell at the "American Idol" judges' table. (Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
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