On Sunday, May 8, Simon Cowell's new TV venture "The X Factor" taped its first live auditions show at USC's Galen Center in Los Angeles. But Simon was almost upstaged when, shortly before his own arrival, a blackened-windowed SUV pulled up to the curb and out stepped...Simon's old "American Idol" sidekick, the one and only Paula Abdul.
Long rumored to be Simon's first choice for "The X Factor USA" judging panel, Paula's participation in the show was still seriously in question (despite anonymous insider reports that she had indeed signed on) until, really, the moment she walked out of the car--and then walked right into Simon's arms, as the two enjoyed a reunion hug on the L.A. sidewalk.
Simon later revealed that Paula's "X Factor" deal wasn't sealed until 11pm last Friday, and even added, astonishingly, "I would've canceled today [if Paula's deal wasn't finalized]...I couldn't have sat in front of you lot and said she wanted to do the deal and we couldn't."
But Simon also stressed that despite the last-minute nature of the negotiations, he'd been waiting for this day for a long time. "I missed her when she left 'Idol'; I was always very clear about that," he told L.A. reporters. "Paula came up to my house one afternoon, and I've got to be honest with you: The second she walked in the door, she looked terrific, she had a real energy about her, and I mentally went, 'You've got the [X Factor] job. As soon as she walked in, she was different--something about her."
Joked a radiant, purple-clad Paula: "I am thrilled. I am beyond thrilled. I am exhilarated. I am terrified...of Simon! I've really missed him. It's been a while. It's awkward and wonderful and beautiful at the same time. I have no idea what to expect!"
It has indeed been a while since Simon and Paula sat on a TV judging panel together; Paula pointed out that by the time "The X Factor USA" airs on Fox in September, it will have been almost three years. Mused Simon, "I think [Paula is] going to feel a lot of pressure, because there is a lot at stake here. I want to see her like when we were really happy, which was probably the middle of 'Idol,' maybe Season 4 or 5. I'd like to get back to those times again."
Well, Paula certainly seemed happy this sunny Sunday afternoon. Speaking with confidence to reporters, she said: "I am who I am, that's all I can say. I don't try to be or become anyone else. I am passionate; I get to do what I love to do. I have mentored and sought out talent for the past 20-plus years, and this is exactly where I'm supposed to be."
"The X Factor USA," whose judging panel will also include Island Def Jam mogul Antonio "L.A." Reid and "X Factor U.K." judge Cheryl Cole, premieres in September on Fox.