“I wanna just squish you, squeeze your head off and dangle you from my rearview mirror.”
Such words from anyone else might have led sweet-faced “American Idol” runner-up David Archuleta to rush out of the studio in search of a restraining order. But since they came from dear, loopy Paula Abdul, David simply giggled and blushed, as if the woman at the table hadn’t insinuated she longed to decapitate him and turn his severed skull into the auto-accessory equivalent of fuzzy dice. This was just her Dahmeresque yet completely harmless way of saying she loved his season seven performance of John Lennon’s classic “Imagine.”
That’s the voice we came to know and (sometimes) love on eight seasons of “American Idol.” Paula’s confirmation this month that she would not return for a ninth season of America’s No. 1 show means we will no longer bear living room witness to her quirky wit and wisdom. Case in point, Paula proverbs such as this one:
“The moth who finds the melon finds the cornflake always finds the melon—and one of you didn’t get the right fortune cookie.”
So, it doesn’t make much sense when she spouts Intoxicated Buddhist lines like that apropos of a simple pop performance on a TV reality show. But it’s a refreshingly odd change of pace compared with her predicable cohort: Randy “Dawg” Jackson, Simon Cowell and Kara DioGuardi, the songwriter-producer added to the judging panel last year. Paula reportedly took it as a sign from the Fox producers that she was replaceable, and when she didn’t back down on salary demands (Cowell made almost 10 times more per season), Fox balked and she walked. Now we’re all left to wonder how “Idol” will fare in a post-Paula world.
Simon won’t have his cheery, dancing, sometimes-disoriented co-judge to kick around anymore, nor for that matter will he have someone to banter with in the juvenile fashion of two schoolyard kids who bicker endlessly but secretly fancy each other — unless Fox wants Kara to assume that position from her current role as a music executive shill and aspiring mathematician (to Adam Lambert: “I’ve got six words for you: One of the best performances of the night!”). As often as Paula and Simon’s interplay would come off as manufactured contretemps, there could be real sparks and emotion there, as well — especially when Paula felt the need to stand up to a belittled contestant. She was their protector; it was almost as if she felt a kinship with the less-talented singers of the bunch. When she would go out of her way to commend a middling performer’s appearance or personality, I could imagine the invisible subtitles: “Look at me. I’m not that great a singer. Learn to dance and maybe you could be a TV judge some day!”
And it’s silly to think that even with her limited artistry and vocal skills that Paula is not highly employable elsewhere in this world of reality programming. There’s word that several producers and studios are courting her, and it’s easy to imagine her on one of those dance programs or a creation of her own that incorporates music and dance. There’s no truth to the rumor that Showtime has approached her about a competition program based around stripper poles: “So You Think You Can Erotically Dance.” Not that Paula doesn’t play the cougar card on occasion (remember that Corey Clark scandal?).
If all else fails, I would think Paula could have a successful career as a spokesperson for a psychic hotline. Let’s not forget that prophetic episode in which she judged a song by Jason Castro before he even sang it. You see, the contestants were doing two songs each. The judges were supposed to reserve all comments for the end of the show, but, in a last-minute change, comments were offered after the first round of singing. But Paula, being the visionary she is, decided to judge both songs and had a unfavorable opinion of Jason’s second, unsung Neil Diamond number. Paula tried to play it off as an issue of poor note-taking, but America once again wondered about the constituents of her medicine cabinet.
You see, the great underlying drama of Paula’s tenure on “Idol” is the question of “Is she or isn’t she?” And the adjective following the questioning verbs would be “shit-faced.” While Paula has vociferously and with many a slurred word denied the abuse of drugs and alcohol, I’m pretty sure most viewers have presumed some kind of intoxication on her behalf at various points in the show’s history — that her Coke cup contained something other than Coke. And if so, I say: Good for her. First of all, have you ever had Coke without rum? Not so good. And secondly, she has to deal with the rambling inanities of Randy Jackson and the cruel putdowns of Simon Cowell, and now Kara DioGuardi’s vacuous musings. It’s enough to make a girl want to chug her Coke and get her dance on.
I think that’s what I’ll miss most about Paula on “Idol” — her blissful ability to stand up and shake her aging booty to the tuneless stylings of the likes of Sanjaya Malakar then offer him incoherent but kind words of wisdom. She’s like the drunk aunt at the wedding who made the staid affair a little bit more interesting. And even her most bizarre moments were tinged with sweet bemusement, like those comments she made after Archie sang “Imagine.”
Imagine there’s no Paula?
That’s something that’s certainly hard to do.
Colin Powers is a Madison, Wisconsin-based editor and graphic designer. He has more than a dozen years of newspaper experience, including a stint as Life and Arts Editor of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer before its demise in March.
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