To "American Idol" fans, for the past eight seasons [artist id="1397"]Paula Abdul[/artist] has been like that wacky aunt at a wedding who puts her arm around you and says things that sound really, really nice, but kind of make no sense. And that's why America fell in love with Abdul all over again, more than 20 years after the former Laker Girl first made a mark on the entertainment industry.
Abdul, 47, who announced on Tuesday that she will not be returning for season nine of "Idol," began her Hollywood career in 1979, when she joined the cheerleading squad for the Lakers. Within three months, she was the group's head choreographer. She later went on to choreograph for the Jacksons, ZZ Top, George Michael, Duran Duran, Janet Jackson and several major films like "Big" and "Coming to America" before moving on to a successful music career.
Her multiplatinum debut album, 1988's Forever Your Girl, spun off five top three singles, including "Straight Up," "Forever Your Girl" and "Opposites Attract." After two more albums, Abdul took a break from the music industry in 2000.
She re-emerged in 2002 as one of the three judges on "Idol," alongside session veteran/producer Randy Jackson and British baddie Simon Cowell, who had anchored the show in its first incarnation in England, where it was called "Pop Idol."
On "Idol" Abdul's quirky personality quickly became one of the main attractions of the show, highlighted by her spirited banter with Cowell, who seemed at times amused and slightly annoyed by Abdul's perennially upbeat, but often hard-to-decipher jewels of wisdom for the aspiring singers.
Abdul often served as the mothering voice of hope to the endless string of hopeless singers who paraded across the "Idol" stage, counseling them to keep reaching for their dreams, glumly advising them to chase other dreams instead or leaping from her seat to dance, sing and slap her palms together when she approved.
While her eccentricities became the butt of endless parodies on late-night talk and variety shows, Abdul was a perennial audience and "Idol" contestant favorite, not to mention a tabloid target. Following a fine and two-year probation sentence for a hit-and-run accident in 2005, Abdul drew even bigger headlines later that year when former contestant Corey Clark alleged that the two had an affair while he was on the show. Abdul denied the allegations. Fox said an investigation found insufficient evidence of his claims and none that any relationship between Abdul and Clark had helped his performance on the show.
For years, Abdul's bizarre behavior and sometimes slurry, indecipherable speech led to claims that she was a substance abuser. Abdul attempted to debunk those theories in 2005, when she told People magazine that she suffered from chronic pain due to a cheerleading accident as a teen and had been diagnosed with reflex sympathetic dystrophy the previous year. Two years later, after a loopy appearance on a morning talk show, Abdul again said she'd never been drunk or used illegal drugs in her life.
Abdul did little to tamp down reports of her odd behavior when she premiered the 2007 Bravo reality show "Hey Paula," in which she was seen bumbling around and babbling incoherently, allegedly due to insomnia. While Abdul initially put her musical career on the shelf during her "Idol" run, she made a return in 2008 when she lip-synched her vocals to "Dance Like There's No Tomorrow," a chipper dance tune from Randy Jackson's album. She made different headlines in April 2008, when a confused Abdul rendered a verdict on a song dreadlocked singer Jason Castro had not yet sung, lending credence to long-running rumors that the show's judging is rigged. The flub, explained by a last-minute change in the show's format, led to "Idol" producers denying reports that she might get fired from the show.
Tragedy struck in November 2008, when a 30-year-old fan named Paula Goodspeed was found dead inside her car near Abdul's Los Angeles home. Goodspeed, whom Abdul had characterized as a stalker in the past, auditioned for "Idol" in 2005, over the judge's objections. Abdul lashed out at the show's producers following Goodspeed's death, noting that the woman had been writing disturbing letters to her for more than 17 years and that she had strenuously objected to them allowing her to audition.
Things got even rockier later in the year, when Abdul first said she was "concerned" about plans to add second female judge Kara DioGuardi for the 2009 season, then reversed field and said she was excited to have another female voice on the panel. By the middle of the eighth season, rumors began to swirl that the addition of DioGuardi might lead to the exit of Abdul, despite the sometimes difficult relationship between songwriting pro DioGuardi and Cowell, whose joking jabs at Abdul's Byzantine comments are a staple of nearly every performance and audition program.
In May 2009, Abdul admitted in an interview with Ladies Home Journal to a nearly fatal, long-running addiction to painkillers that landed her in rehab. A week later, though, she backpedaled and said she had never been in rehab or had addiction issues. That same month, she made another tentative step back into the music world when she lip-synched along to her new single, "I'm Just Here for the Music," on an "Idol" performance show.
After a long run of making an otherwise predictable show infinitely more enjoyable — especially with some stellar non sequiturs in praise of season-eight runner-up Adam Lambert — Abdul vowed in early July that she'd be back for another go next year. But two weeks later, her new manager said she might not return. On Tuesday, she confirmed via Twitter that negotiations had broken down and that she was leaving the show.
Abdul may have been the butt of sneering jokes and endless water-cooler imitations during her years on "Idol." But it's hard to imagine the show without her, and you can be sure she'll be snapped up by another program — possibly "So You Think You Can Dance," if Nigel Lythgoe has any say in the matter — where she'll unleash her unique perspective all over again.
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