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Simon Cowell & Paula Abdul: It’s Complicated

Lyndsey Parker
Reality Rocks

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Monday brought the shocking news that Paula Abdul had been fired from "The X Factor" by her old "friend" Simon Cowell--according to TMZ, via a lawyer's letter, with no personal communication from Simon himself (sort of the reality TV equivalent of a being broken up with by a bad boyfriend via Post-It). But Paula is taking the high road. Refusing to bad-mouth her former boss, Paula tweeted a characteristically sweet statement Tuesday, saying: "Simon is, and will remain a dear friend of mine and I've treasured my experience working this past season with my extended family at Fox and Fremantle. I want nothing more than for 'The X Factor' to exceed ALL of their wildest dreams. This truly has been a blessing and I am most grateful."

Simon, who also issued considerably less surprising pink-slips to host Steve Jones and judge Nicole Scherzinger this week, released his own blandly, warm-and-fuzzily worded official statement, saying: "I want to say a massive thank you to Paula, Nicole and Steve for being part of 'The X Factor' last year. We had a lot of fun making the show together and importantly, we found some real talent and stars. You do develop friendships with the people you work with and Paula, in particular, is a very close friend and I expect to be working with her on another project in the near future. I'm sure all three are going to have massive success in what they do next, but now is the time to thank them all for everything they did last year."

This is all fine and good, although irate Paula fans (myself among them) aren't quite feeling the love over what they perceive to be a kiss-off as cruel and cold as the unceremonious firing of Paula's original "X Factor USA" castmate Cheryl Cole last year. (Cheryl, a longtime "X Factor U.K." sidekick of Simon's, was brought over to the States to be a judge on the American version of the show, but was abruptly let go after taping only a couple episodes, and was replaced with the ironically now-also-unemployed Scherzinger.) Despite Paula's rationalization that "business decisions often times override personal considerations," Simon's dumping of America's sweetheart after hyping the "Saula" reunion so aggressively throughout "X Factor" Season 1--presumably because the classic "Idol" duo failed to bring in classic "Idol"-esque ratings--seemed like a cutthroat move, considering Simon and Paula's long relationship.

But of course, theirs has always been a complicated relationship.

According to an interview Simon did with Barbara Walters on her "Most Fascinating People" special last year, "The truth was, on the first two seasons, we couldn't travel on the same plane together. We really disliked each other that much." (My guess is Simon and Paula won't be sitting in First Class together any time soon, and not just because Paula's layoff means she'll probably have to fly coach for a while.) Simon, egomaniac that he is, of course claimed he and Paula's friction was a sexual one, because Paula supposedly fancied him and he'd rebuffed her. (Simon somewhat ickily admitted to Barbara that he'd considered sleeping with Paula, "But then I thought, I don't think the after would be as good as the before. I'd let her stay for a few hours, but then it would have to be goodnight." Ugh.)

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Throughout their "Idol" years, Simon and Paula actually poked fun at the idea that they were a secret real-life couple, even starring in a skit in which they played footsie under the judging table, made goo-goo eyes at each other on the set, and indulged in romantic after-hours champagne dinners. And you know what? Their shtick was somewhat convincing. They kind of seemed made for each other.

Later, after Paula left "Idol" (announcing her bombshell resignation on Twitter) when negotiations with Fox for a larger (read: Simon-level) salary backfired, she returned to salute/roast her old crony on the "Idol" Season 9 finale (Simon's last night on the show), joking: "There's a baby backstage with Simon's haircut, and sweetheart, it's your time to feed him." It was...awkward.

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Even when Simon decided to hire Paula for "The X Factor"--a huge opportunity for her to reboot her career, after the colossal failure of her CBS show "Live To Dance" only a few months earlier--it was not an easy process, with last-minute negotiations right up until "The X Factor's" first taping at Los Angeles's Galen Center on May 8, 2011. In fact, until Paula actually showed up at the Galen Center, no one was really sure if she was officially on board. But when she did show up, she sure seemed thrilled to be there, wrapping her arms (and legs!) around her old co-star and smooching him for all the paparazzi to see. Simon later likened her grateful attitude to that of an "old dog." Nice, huh?

But now it seems the "Saula" era is over--at least for now. In addition to Simon's cryptic mention that the two may someday work together again, Fox president of alternative entertainment Mike Darnell said in a statement: "We love Paula. She is a remarkable talent and we appreciate all of her contributions. We're lucky that she is a part of the Fox family, and we look forward to working with her again soon."

I look forward to seeing Paula back on television, too--but if she chooses to work with Simon again, she'd better make sure she has some backup job offers, just in case.

Related links:

Steve Jones announces his firing on Twitter

L.A. Reid signs Chris Rene, Marcus Canty & Astro

Biggest shockers of "X Factor" Season 1

More on "The X Factor"

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