‘American Idol’ Recap, Super Bowl Edition: Paula Abdul Defies Expectations With Pregame Show

Sure, she lip-synced the pretaped performance, but her dancing skills and infectious smile won over this writer.

For most people, Super Bowl Sunday was all about watching the Big Game. Would the New England Patriots finish with a perfect season or would the New York Giants pull off the ultimate upset?

In my apartment, however, Sunday was about something else entirely. Not Tom Petty and the Pacemakers’ halftime show, not Jordin Sparks’ national anthem (although, can I get a witness?), not the commercials (even the ones with Richard Simmons). For the Cantiello Household, Super Bowl XLII meant one thing.

The return of Paula Abdul, superstar.

Sure, her pregame performance of “Dance Like There’s No Tomorrow” was pretaped. And yes, it certainly looked like she was lip-syncing Cotillard-style. But I have to admit, I thought she nailed it.

Before you start furiously commenting about me “going soft,” hear me out.

Paula Abdul was never famous for her singing ability. She was always first and foremost a performer. Like Janet Jackson before her and Britney Spears after, Abdul’s live shows were all about dancing and spectacle. (She’s shared the stage with an animated cat, a re-animated deceased dance legend and a friggin’ hovercraft! Your move, Beyoncé.) For critics to call her out for not singing live now — 12 years after her last album, and arguably 15 years after her last major hit — is kind of absurd.

“But Jim,” you protest, “if Paula’s going to lip-sync on television, who is she to judge other singers on ‘American Idol’?” My answer is this: Paula Abdul pointing out pitch problems has been ridiculous since episode one (still not as ridiculous as when “Idol” invited Jennifer Lopez to coach singers, though). Plus, anyone who caught Gwen Stefani’s pretaped and seemingly auto-tuned performance on last year’s season finale knows that “Idol” is no stranger to less-than-live vocals when it comes to the occasional celebrity guest.

Take her canned vocals out of the equation and it’s hard to deny that Paula’s return to the stage was nothing short of triumphant. Her entrance was an adorable nod to her past. The former Laker Girl was propped up in a cheerleader formation while she sang the opening lines of her debut album’s namesake, “Forever Your Girl.” She had an infectious, beaming smile that never left her face for the entirety of her performance. And although she may not have moved as much as her background dancers, you could tell that Paula was committing to each hip pop and head roll 100 percent (or, as she would say to an “Idol” contestant, “one million bajillion percent”).

Paula looked amazing too. I love her new haircut (we haven’t seen the bangs on this season of “Idol” yet, but I’m looking forward to seeing them in weeks to come) and her outfit was MILF-tastic. She learned her lesson from her ’91 VMA debacle, avoiding the bedazzled sausage leotard for a flattering, age-appropriate pantsuit that showed off her ripped arms and tiny frame.

If you asked me a week ago, I would have put money on Paula’s appearance being a mess of “Gimme More” proportions. All signs pointed toward “train wreck.” Paula hasn’t performed in over a decade because of serious physical injuries. She’s known more for her occasionally loopy appearances as a TV personality than as a hitmaker. And last summer, she was the star of a reality show that solidified the public’s perception of her as an emotional wreck.

Considering all that baggage, the biggest underdog victory of Super Bowl XLII didn’t belong to the New York Giants. It belonged to Paula.

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