It's amazing what a little career setback can do for one's image. A few months ago, there were all the usual complaints about how Paula Abdul was ruining American Idol with her automatic praise of even the worst efforts, her meandering that forced the live shows to run long, and her boring "feud" with Simon Cowell.
But after her decision to walk away from Idol over money, Paula is on a sympathetic roll in the media, amidst much speculation about what she will do next. Let's examine the possibilities:
So You Think You Can Dance: This is the most obvious place for Paula to wind up. It's another Fox series. Its key honcho, Nigel Lythgoe, dealt with Paula from his time producing Idol, and he's a big fan. Most importantly, SYTYCD will be airing in the fall for the first time beginning next month, and it will be facing much tougher competition than Criminal Minds reruns. There's real concern about how well the show will fare, coming off a fifth season many fans found lackluster. It's questionable that Paula could become a permanent fixture on SYTYCD, given the tenure of Lythgoe and Mary Murphy; and one also has to wonder how her content-free style will clash with the more substantive critiques that are more common on the show. But she would definitely fit in as an occasional judge, and I expect to see her there no later than October.
Dancing With the Stars: Paula's name has been linked with this series for a few years, and in many cases, it's Paula herself who has done the linking. It never seemed likely that Fox would permit her to perform on DWtS, but she's free now, and one has to think ABC is salivating at the prospect of having Paula there for the spring run of the show, whose results hour occasionally competes directly with Idol. Of course, Paula, a former professional dancer who still dabbles in choreography, is seriously overqualified to compete on Dancing With the Stars. But there's always a little unfairness built into DWtS, as anyone who was outlasted by Marie Osmond can attest to. ABC Entertainment chief Steve McPherson suggested Paula could also serve as a judge, but while the Bruno/Len/Carrie Ann trio is well established, they could certainly bend the rules to use her as a guest.
Red carpet coverage: The job requirement to work the red carpet for awards shows is that viewers have to recognize your name and like you -- that's it. Paula has that covered nicely. Also, stars can be wary on the red carpet, since you never know if Kathy Griffin will zing you or Joan Rivers will call you by the wrong name or Isaac Mizrahi will feel you up. There's an opening in the market for someone who will say nice things to every star who crosses her path, and who, when asked what film will win Best Picture, will answer that everyone is a winner so she can't just pick one. Stars can also feel reassured by the knowledge that no matter how risky their fashion choice, the person holding the red carpet mike is bound to be the worst-dressed person out there.
Guest panelist on The View: The timing here couldn't be better, as Elisabeth Hasselbeck has just given birth yet again. There's a need for someone to temporarily fill the role of View Panelist Who Never Makes Sense And Can't Control Her Emotions, so Paula's suitability should be obvious. Besides, the circumstances of her departure from Idol are resonating with some women, given the numerous reports that the show refused to pay her even as much as Ryan Seacrest will be making, and given that all of her named replacements on Idol -- Kara DioGuardi, Katy Perry, Victoria Beckham -- are younger. It's safe to say the woman who gave us "Forever Your Girl" has never been much of a feminist hero before, but we live in interesting times.
American Idol: Sure, it looks like she's going to miss all of the auditions. But Hollywood Week won't happen till November, and the Season Nine contestants won't perform live until February 2010. Whenever the primary issue is money, there's always a chance for compromise. Idol is getting hit hard over the Paula news, and no one should kid themselves that the doors are closed for her to make a triumphant return.