Pop Culture

Paula Abdul: Don't call her crazy anymore

What has happened to “American Idol” judge Paula Abdul?

The judge known for being motherly and frequently crazy hardly resembles herself. Instead of her typically soft, meaningless answers, she’s actually started to offer criticism; instead of occasionally slipping into absolute weirdness, she’s been relatively calm and sedate.

Paula was best known as the “American Idol” judge who .  Instead, she’d critique performances by offering as much positive praise as possible, leaving the substantive discussion of the contestants’ performances to her fellow judges Simon Cowell and Randy Jackson.

Her comments in previous seasons mostly consisted of empty platitudes. “What I love about you is your spirit, you put everything into it,” she told Ace Young last season.

That has not been the case this year. Paula has actually offered real criticism, including of lovable/hateable contestant Sanjaya Malakar. She has not morphed into Simon Cowell, but she’s been vocal when talented singers go home before less-talented performers. For example, during a semi-final round, when viewers saved Antonella Barba and sent four others home instead, Paula said, “Truthfully, this is a singing competition. I don’t feel tonight reflects this.”

Later, on the night when Sanjaya wore his ponytail fauxhawk, Paula had some harsh words, saying that Sanjaya’s singing couldn’t match the entertainment value of his hair. “If you had the gumption, if you had the ability to totally go for it, it would fit the wackiness of the fauxhawk,” she said. She could have been more direct, of course, but this was a decided change.

Even more incredibly, Paula Abdul recently admitted that she is no longer capable of offering blind, unequivocal praise. “I just can’t say that they’re really good if they’re not. I just can’t anymore,” Paula confessed to Entertainment Weekly.

Who is this woman, and what has she done with the crazy person who used to occupy her chair at the “American Idol” judges table?

A whole new Paula?Last season, a performance by Elliot Yamin left Paula Abdul bawling; she said random, crazy things during critiques such as “Simon said because one of them ate pizza and the other ate salad”; and Ryan Seacrest regularly accused her of being drunk. (She finally responded to that accusation this January, saying in multiple interviews that she’d never been drunk before, nor was she using drugs.)

Before season six began, all signs pointed to another season of entertainment courtesy of the former pop star. During multiple satellite interviews with local TV affiliates conducted on a single day, she swayed back and forth, giggling and dancing, and answered questions with often incomprehensible comments.

One of those, her has now been viewed nearly three million times on YouTube; it’s that entertaining. At one point, Paula says, “Hey, you know what, it is what it is. And it was brilliant! You’re going to love that.” We did love that, although only because of the way she said it.

The network and Paula blamed “technical difficulties” with her audio feed, and FOX said she “forged ahead and decided to have fun with the increasingly challenging situation.” But St. Petersburg Times critic that this wasn’t an aberration; during two in-person interviews with him, Paula “slurred her words, seemed to have a tough time following conversations around her and offered disjointed answers to simple questions,” he said, just like she did during the satellite interviews.

In other words, all signs pointed to a straight up, crazy cool train wreck occupying the seat between Randy and Simon for “American Idol 6.” While everyone hopes Paula is physically and mentally healthy, “American Idol” derives a lot of its entertainment value from its cast, and Paula’s wackiness is a big part of that.

Wackiness was not to come, however. The audition episodes, which were taped last fall, offered hints that a new Paula was emerging, although they chronologically predated her televised interviews. While she played her part and argued with Simon occasionally when he offered particularly harsh criticism a few times, those were the exception.

Instead, Paula frequently doubled over with laughter, clearly amused when Simon ridiculed delusional or ridiculous contestants.

She even regularly said no to contestants who looked to her as though she was their ticket to Hollywood. Paula loves everyone, after all.

When the regular, live performance and results shows began, Paula did the strangest thing of all: She faded into the background.

Competing against Sanjaya might not have been possible, at least in terms of the raw entertainment he provided, but Paula Abdul has spent most of this season quietly observing. Her critiques tend to be short, and frequently, she agrees with Randy — or more shockingly, finds Simon agreeing with her.

There have been a few moments when she seems about to slip into her former persona, but it’s usually just to offer kind words, not to freak out. Her critical language is also not as direct as it could be. Still, she’s a different judge than she has been before.

The day after Paula Abdul gave her crazy TV interviews, Bravo announced that she will have her own docudrama reality series on Bravo this summer. The announcement from Bravo promised that “Hey Paula!” would be “a candid real look at ... her professional and personal life.” The timing for the announcement couldn’t have been better; her interviews seemed to preview both what she’d offer on “American Idol 6” and on her reality show, which was sure to be epically captivating.

That’s especially true since it was filmed at least in part during that period of craziness. When Paula cancelled all remaining interviews to promote the sixth season after those “technical difficulties,” her spokesperson also blamed fatigue and revealed that she was “exhausted” from interviews and from being filmed for her new Bravo series.

“Hey Paula!”, then, may offer insight into her behavior, never mind hours of entertainment. But if it’s as boring as she’s been this season, Bravo shouldn’t even bother.

is a writer and teacher who publishes reality blurred, a daily summary of reality TV news.

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