The X Factor - Paula Abdul
Paula Abdul speaks with television critics at the 2011 Summer TCA © 2011 Fox

When Paula Abdul left her job as a judge at American Idol, many felt it would be the last time she would ever appear with Simon Cowell, as their contentious banter became the mainstay of the series. But surprise, surprise – here they are again on another competition series created by Cowell, The X Factor.

The premise of the show is different. This time there are four categories, boys, girls, groups and older contestants, who are mentored by the judges, Cowell, Abdul, LA Reid and Nicole Scherziner.

I spoke with Paula following the press conference for the series at the TV Critics tour.

How much did you and Simon talk after you left Idol?

The X Factor - Paula Abdul
Paula Abdul © 2011 Fox

Believe it or not, we became really good friends and we’re really good friends when we talk on the phone, it’s just when we get in front of each other, [the camera] brings out the worst in both of us, and also the best. I will say this, after nine years of working together with Simon, I really got a sense of understanding the complex man that he is and he got a chance to really understand me. And it became a very comfortable, back and forth.

How is this show different from American Idol?

This show is completely feeling different. It’s a grand scale. It’s an epic feeling. I’ve never witnessed so much talent, in each of the four categories there are stars that are going to emerge, not just one winner. And Simon is a completely different species on this show.

How so?

He’s turning into me! He [still] gets on my nerves.

The members of this panel seem to have a contentious relationship – is that real or is it for the audience?

The X Factor - Paula Abdul
Paula Abdul at the Los Angeles taping © 2011 Fox

The banter that goes on between all of us is real, it gets heated at times, there’s a real camaraderie. I will say this, this panel feels real solid and tight, we all know what our positions are; we all come from an area of expertise and success in our own lives. We bring experience, we bring stage performance, we bring amazing success as record producers and executives, there’s a tremendous amount of talent there.

You’ve been away from the public eye for a while, are you prepared for the press to pay attention to everything you say and do on the show again?

The best part of time and age is I cannot say I’m not used to it. It is a whole different experience for me in the sense that I get Simon, he gets me, I understand the nature of reality television. For me, I’m here to help make the best show ever and Simon knows that, and that’s why he contacted me immediately, after I left Idol, basically with an idea that he would like to work with me. You need that sense of familiarity and security in knowing that there’s something that works. This show is completely different, I’m thrilled to be back and it’s like riding a bike, it’s just I’m riding the next level of 10-speeds with a power pack on the back.

With your background as a performer, will that give you an edge with the mentoring?

The X Factor - Judges and host: Nicole Sherzinger, Steve Jones, Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and LA Reid
Judges and host: Nicole Sherzinger, Steve Jones, Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and LA Reid © 2011 Fox

Everyone’s said for all these years, ‘You are so kind and nurturing,’ well, guess what? My whole career started behind the scenes nurturing raw untapped talent and helping the iconic talent to continue to soar. That’s my experience. This area behind the scenes and getting these acts ready and out there performing, I have a background in set design, I have a background in stage directing, I have a back ground in understanding cameras and lighting. Simon is going to wish he never hired me.

Did you watch Idol last year?

I didn’t get a chance to watch it much because I was in the production with Live to Dance. What happens is that you don’t get a chance to watch the other shows because you’re working 18 to 21 hours a day. Everyone is asking, ‘Are you worried about Idol? Are you worried about The Voice?’ We can’t go into this worrying about anything. We become ‘inside the bubble’ too, and we’re focusing on putting on a great show.

Idol was such a big part of your life, do you look at it as that was then and this is now?

The X Factor - LA Reid, Nicole Scherzinger, Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell
Judges LA Reid, Nicole Scherzinger, Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell © 2011 Fox

I’m very grateful. I was part of something extremely big that made history, and is continuing to make history.  But I’m excited about this show now and all the differences. For me, this is a great experience and a chance for people to see what I’ve done for my whole career behind the scenes.

What have you learned from the past?

When Simon and I appear together on The X Factor, it will have been three years since we sat next to each other. I will say that I sit differently. And that’s about all you’ll see different. I don’t think about what I’m going to do, how I’m going to be. This is a real reality show, and you are going to get a real inside view without manipulation, because I think that the television-viewing audience, they are too savvy.

Do you want to beat Idol in the ratings?

We’ve been asked that many times. I was part of the start of Idol and it was amazing. If we get as successful as that it would be outstanding. It would be phenomenal. Simon said, ‘We’re going to get bigger ratings.’ I said, ‘You know what? Let’s just put on a great show.’ I’m not concerned about ratings. I’m concerned about showing the public something new.

Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.