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Paula Abdul Interview: "I’d Much Rather Watch Drag Queens Play Me"

Aug 17th, 2011

Posted by Chris Eggertsen

Paula Abdul stood facing me intently, chattering away in that slightly mechanical stop-and-start cadence that’s become her unfortunate trademark. Paula Abdul, international pop sensation. Six number one singles. Millions of albums sold. I hung on her every word – though it was hard to hear them with her soft voice nearly drowned out by the din of the party around us.

We stood on the outside deck at Malibu institution Gladstone’s, a swanky seafood restaurant located just steps from the Pacific Ocean. She wore a champagne-colored pantsuit, accessorized with silver – silver handbag, silver necklace, silver fingernails. She focused on me as if I were the only person in the room.

“I love my gay fans,” she said, her delicate voice barely registering. “I’m asked all the time, ‘When are you going to perform your hits in a big performance and go play [at] the White Party [an annual gay circuit party that takes place in Palm Springs]?’ And I’ve almost done it. But I always think, ‘I don’t know if people really would be interested in hearing me perform my hits. I think it would be fun, but I’d much rather watch impersonators do it. I’d much rather watch drag queens play me.”

Abdul was at a Fox event, put on to promote their new fall schedule following the network’s TCA panels in Beverly Hills earlier in the day. She was there to promote The X Factor, the upcoming U.S. version of the long-running British talent show on which she’ll be serving as a judge.

“It’s epic. It’s pretty epic. It’s on such a grand scale. It’s very inspirational. It’s awe-inspiring,” she said, clearly running through a list of marketable adjectives in her head. Never having watched the British version, I asked her how it would be different from American Idol.

“We have from 12-year-olds on up,” she said. “It’s not just about the powerhouse voice. It’s about… do these artists, even as young as 12 years old, do they know who they are? Are they okay going out on that stage in front of thousands of people? And are they nailing it? Are they getting who they are and [do] they know how to communicate [that]?”

Joining Abdul and Simon Cowell – together once more following a brief separation – on the judging panel are former Pussycat Dolls frontwoman Nicole Scherzinger and Grammy-winning producer, songwriter, and record executive L.A. Reid.

Reid, responsible for signing countless mega-successful artists during his tenure at LaFace and later Arista Records, contributed a track to Abdul’s breakthrough 1988 album Forever Your Girl.

“I have a great panel. I’m reunited with the man who wrote me my very first number one hit,” she said of Reid, though the track in question (first single “Knocked Out”) did not, in fact, make it to #1. “It’s like being home. It’s like home… and you know what? We go way back, which is really great for me, because it’s like, ‘uh huh, Simon, don’t talk about how you give chances!’”

Speaking of chances, Abdul stated her appreciation for the fact that unlike Idol, X Factor allows older performers a chance to shine. Indeed, she knows better than anyone how cruelly ageist the industry can be, and she seemed happy to be able to open the door to others who are viewed as being past their prime. Of course, going head to head with an ambitious, fresh-faced teenager isn’t exactly a cakewalk for someone over 40.

“The younger ones are so savvy that the older performers are going ‘Shit! I am competing against this 13-year-old, and I’m 59 years old!’,” she said. “This gentleman [on the show] is 59-years-old, he’s gonna be 60. It’s amazing. And then there’s a little 13-year-old girl!”

With her publicist standing nearby and keeping one watchful eye on the conversation, as Abdul offered her thoughts on gay marriage I knew my time was running short. “I’ve always been in support of same-sex marriage,” she said. “I think it is absolutely ridiculous not to be able to do that. Everyone has a right to be in love and consummate that love.”

And then the publicist was at our side, reminding her they had somewhere to be.

“No, we’re bonding here!” Abdul protested. He apologized but told her it was time to go, and she turned back to me.

“Are you coming to any of the shows?” she asked me. I told her I’d love to, simultaneously keeping my fingers crossed for a backstage invite. “You’ve got to come to the shows,” she continued. “We go live in… first week of November, I believe… we go [live] all the way to Christmas. You’re gonna be in awe of all the different kinds of talent.”

I told her I was sure that I would be, and as she leaned in to give me a peck on the cheek, I complimented her on her sparkly silver nails.

“Oh, thank you!” she exclaimed, then offered up her hand. “Feel them, they’re smooth!”

I did; they were. And then she was gone, her petite form swallowed up by the crowd.

The X Factor premieres Wed Sep 21 on Fox at 8 PM.

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