VH1.com caught up with pop legend and American Idol judge Paula Abdul to speak about her new song and video (see it here), “Dance Like There’s No Tomorrow,” off of Randy Jackson’s Music Club, Vol. 1. In the final installment of our interview with the pop star, she discusses how hard it is to work with Simon Cowell, how she helped build Virgin records, and why she has the toughest job as an Idol judge — defending her brand against accusations of alcohol abuse.
Paula Abdul on her relationship with Simon Cowell:
“Dance Like There’s No Tomorrow,” that title alone makes me cry. I was told that I’d never dance again, and I was told I’d never sing again. People don’t know. I’m completely misunderstood because I sit next to a guy who gets off on trying to make me look like an idiot. People don’t know that. It’s not a joke. It’s real. We are who we are. For whatever reason, he has fun doing that.
I was given $65,000 to make my record [Forever Your Girl] when I came to Virgin. They were artsy-fartsy and they didn’t want to mention that they’d signed me. But they were like, “You’re unbelievably popular and likeable, and your demos are decent.” I never told anyone I was signed to Virgin. But [A&R guy] Jeff Ayeroff, I worked a lot with his artists — from Prince to ZZ Top to choreographing Duran Duran — and Jordan Harris from Janet Jackson, my two favorites, came together and met me in New York. I was working on a Duran Duran video. I had to pick beautiful extras to be in the video, model-looking girls. I was walking down the street, looking at the girls, and I picked one who looked extraordinarily different. It was Christy Turlington. There’s so many people whose careers I’ve started . . . Elijah Wood, Nikki Cox, just a bevy of people you would not believe. I found directors like David Fincher, always searching for the next new big thing. Anyway, when I was in New York, Jeff and Jordan took me for dinner at Indochine and they asked me to be an artist. I didn’t tell anyone I was still a Laker Girl! I was still a choreographer!
Getting back to the first album, when I got $65,000 to make my record and Virgin Records was a studio apartment on Doheny [in L.A.] with no A&R person, I just made it. I pulled favors. I was working with Kool & the Gang, and I was like, “I’ll do the choreography for free, just write me a track.” I asked Prince to write me a track — I asked everyone. I bargained and bartered. “Straight Up” came to me by my mother, who worked for Billy Wilder as his personal assistant. Honest to god, my life is crazy. Get a load of this. Roy Orbison was signed, and he died that year. Warren Zevon was signed. These are the kind of artists . . . oh, yeah, and the Cutting Crew. And me. And little ol’ me, for $65,000, broke records and stayed on the Billboard charts the longest of any pop artist. I had four consecutive number ones. Anyway, my $65,000 turned into close to $200 million for them, bought [Virgin CEO] Richard Branson two more planes, built Virgin Records, and enabled them to buy Janet Jackson for $50 million. It was fun for me. I think I got raised to $175,000 for my second album. Then they bought Tina Turner for probably $30 million. Then they bought an island called Necker. I would watch and see . . . the Stones, Janet and Tina over there, and I’d be like, “Huh. Where’s my invite?”
I didn’t know that when I signed up for [American Idol] I’d be defending the kids . . . and myself. And my career. You can only imagine kids coming in and seeing me. They didn’t know anybody else, and then they’d see me and be like, “Oh my god!” Well, that didn’t sit well. So you’ll notice in season one that there’s no recollection of my music career. But I held my own. Even though I had to sit there and be accused of things, becoming an object of satire and a caricature. I’ve had to have dignity and grace. I’ve watched my reputation fall down and I’ve felt helpless. Did you ever see me in clubs? Did you ever see me photographed? Absurd! I’ve never been drunk in my life and I don’t do recreational drugs. I’ve watched myself be mocked.
No one takes into consideration the idea that people have the ability to edit together whatever they want to. I’ve been doing satellite media tours for 20 years. I’m so good at it. I’m so good at never making people feel like they’ve asked me a question I’ve been asked 800 times before. I can always see the monitors, but this one time it was like ghetto media productions. There were no monitors to be seen. We were making fun of it. It was crazy. I was down to my last several [morning shows]. I’d been up since four o’clock in the morning doing this and coming off of no sleep, launching my jewelry from QVC in Pennsylvania. The boys didn’t want to do press. They all go, “Paula will do it!” They don’t want to be the first ones. Simon was in London, Randy was producing, Ryan was doing his morning show . . . so I had to do it. Everything went fine, until the end when they experienced technical difficulties. I was told that they were taking a time out to fix it. I started to eat my yogurt. I couldn’t hear one guy from a morning show ask, “How is the talent there?” It sounded like there was a lot of noise, so I was like “Wow, it sounds like there’s a party going on!” [The statement was broadcast as Abdul’s answer to the question.] It was the most cruel thing ever. I was on no sleep, trying to be charming and kind, and got edited together to sound like I’m out of gourd.
I’ve got to tell you, no one cares to know about that. It was very, very hurtful. It ruined my reputation and then all of my endorsement deals [started to disappear]. I’m a brand. I’m lucky to be a brand. Everyone knows who I am, but they don’t know all of who I am. I’m a smart girl. I have the toughest job as an Idol judge because I have to think, coming from my perspective as an artist and as someone with the spirit and psyche of an entertainer, [the kids] will not produce anything if they’re bashed from the word go. If you happen to make positive, constructive criticism after [a judge has panned a performance], it’s too late.
It’s a live show, so I’m always like, “I’m thinking. I’m thinking.” While Ryan throws to Randy, what you don’t see is Simon in my ear, telling me to say the most ridiculous things and bugging me. I’ve had to learn to tune him out as much as I can. Sometimes it’s hysterically funny, but oftentimes it isn’t rewarding. So then it becomes, “Oh, Paula is insane,” or “Paula is drunk.” For him to say there was something in my Coca-Cola cup was hideous. It was horrible. It’s not funny. He could have retracted it, but he perpetuated it.
Guys, I’m a good sport, but there’s a limit here. This is my reputation. I don’t care that you don’t care. I don’t care that you, Simon, don’t even know [the contestants’] names. You can hear what he does to me now, like, “What’s the girl from Ireland’s name?” I mean, come on. Only Simon gets away with that. But the truth is that I started to lose endorsements because of false accusations. Now I’m defending my own intellectual property. It’s not an easy job for me.
I understand Simon. He’s in a bad mood this season. His anger? People see it. It’s not warranted with this group. I know Randy and I worked extremely hard to get the talent. He’s bugged by that. He made Colton Berry feel so bad for being accepted by saying, “I didn’t want you. I wanted you, Kyle, and I’m going to go on record.” I’m like, “Great. Can you congratulate the other guy, Colton, now?” I know that everyone loves the candidness and brutality. But you have to have the yin and the yang. When I have been sick and not able to get up, and it’s just left to Randy and Simon, I get calls all day. “Are you better yet? Can you come down for a little? It’s dreadful.” You need the balance. It’s the sum of all parts. I’m the wizard behind the curtain that makes it a fun family show.