Calls to ‘The Sweetheart’
flirt with disaster

Why does Paula Abdul hate me? I loved her as a L.A. Laker cheerleader. I think she is the sweetest judge on "American Idol" -- even to those with no talent. I even felt badly when I saw her arguing publicly with her second husband -- they're divorced now -- during their honeymoon at the Four Seasons Hualalai on the Big Island.

Abdul is dubbed "The Sweetheart" on "American Idol," the runaway hit Fox TV show that has filled glossy magazines with endless "idol" tales, including Paula's, whose career has had more resurrections than the Star-Bulletin.

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So it would seem that "The Sweetheart" would be happy to talk about her long, storied, stalled, then born-again career, especially because "American Idol" begins its first round of Hawaii judging tomorrow at Aloha Stadium.

"The Sweetheart" is very busy. So busy that she missed four -- nearly five -- telephone interview appointments initiated by "American Idol" execs and "The Sweetheart's" patient assistant, Ashley.

One missed call was because a meeting went on longer than expected; the second was because the assistant forgot that "The Sweetheart" had to fly to San Francisco for "Idol" tryouts. (Couldn't she have called from the first-class lounge before taking the 45-minute flight from L.A.?) The third miss was the morning after the Emmy Awards, which "The Sweetheart" attended with the two other "Idol" judges -- Randy Jackson and Simon Cowell." Perhaps "The Sweetheart" was too fatigued from cruising post-show parties, or disappointed that the show lost.

The fourth miss was a doozy. "The Sweetheart's" assistant asked if 7 a.m. Hawaii time would be too early. Desperate to chat for my designated "8 to 10 minutes," I was at my desk at 6:30 a.m. reviewing my notes about "The Sweetheart's" career. I was ready and alert.

I don't have to tell you what happened. "The Sweetheart" didn't call at 7 a.m. or 7:30 or any time with a 7 in it.

"The Dummy" -- that would be me -- sat there, I'm embarrassed to say, until 8:30 a.m. hoping that "The Sweetheart" hadn't dumped me again. It brought back awful memories of high school.

My wife and daughter advised me to forget about the interview and chanted the mantra, "Dump 'The Sweetheart.'"

But I was hooked on getting through.

Then came Thursday and a ray of hope.

"Paula is on her way to a meeting and she will call you in 15 minutes on her mobile," Ashley said.

I believed. The phone rang 30 minutes later but that's OK, I was so ready.

"Aloha, Ms. Abdul," I said.

"Uh, this is Tom Moffatt," Uncle Tom said, laughing. "Still haven't reached 'The Sweetheart'?"

I said something nasty, then my call waiting beeped. It was Ashley.

"Paula is driving through a canyon and her cell phone isn't working. As soon as she's out of the canyon she'll call, like in 10 minutes or maybe 25."

"Can we talk, Ash?" I say. "Paula dislikes me, doesn't she? Why do people call her 'The Sweetheart' if she doesn't call when she says she will call?"

"Paula doesn't hate anybody; she's a people person."

An hour later goes by -- well, two.

It's sick, I admit, but I call Ashley back in my pursuit of "The Sweetheart."

"Why is Paula doing this to me, Ashley?"

"She still hasn't called you? Well, she just pulled into her garage. She'll call you on a land line, like in 30 seconds."

My daughter walks into my office, looks at me, shakes her head in disgust and leaves.

"Poor Dad," she says.

Then it rings. I can hardly bring myself to lift the receiver. My hand is shaking, but I muster the courage and say "Tim Ryan, Star-Bulletin."

"Hi Tim, this is Paula Abdul," says a voice obviously suffering from laryngitis. "Please don't be mad at me, Tim. I've been a little sick. I apologize, OK?"



Ambition helps Abdul
endure the tough times

Paula Abdul is the 5-foot-2 firecracker who exploded on the charts in 1989 all sassy, sexy, and in perpetual motion, singing, dancing and choreographing. Over the next few years Abdul earned two multi-platinum albums, six No. 1 singles, a Grammy and two Emmys.

She was by all accounts a superstar.

Now Abdul is the only female among the three "American Idol" judges. She sees her role partly as a buffer to the war of words between Simon Cowell and Randy Jackson, and as the voice of compassion to contestants.

"I think, being a woman, that it's natural for me to be more nurturing, patient and understanding," she says. "I don't take it personally when someone isn't most talented and makes some basic mistake auditioning.

"I do think Simon sometimes is over the top with his remarks and I have told him that."

Abdul said she knew she had attained fame when she, along with the other judges, started being parodied on the late-night comedy and talk shows.

"We've become cartoon characters of ourselves," she said. "There's nothing funnier."

But there was nothing funny when the princess of pop needed some compassion of her own after seemingly disappearing overnight from public life seven years ago.

"I had three discs that were completely ruptured and worn out," Abdul says. "It was causing a paralysis. I was losing all of the ability to even feel down my right side. Then it started radiating through my lower back and through my right hip into my legs."

But Abdul never stopped performing, suffering through 30 shows on tour with a torn knee. Finally, a plane crash in 1992 put her in constant pain.

"It's something that is so aggressive that it takes your breath away and makes your teeth start chattering because it's so uncomfortable," she said. "They gave me pills that would put a 300-pound man out. And there were no answers. Sometimes medicine doesn't work."

She had 10 spinal surgeries, three metal plates put in her neck, and lost an inch in height.

"But I'm back and working with dancers and a new album. No one ever expected anything ever out of me. Paula Abdul just was a girl who always believed in herself against all odds, when no one else believed in me. I've always had to prove myself."

"I think, being a woman, that it's natural for me to be more nurturing, patient and understanding," says Paula Abdul.

Abdul knows a little something about what it takes to become an "idol." Her ambition put her in overdrive beginning in high school, where she was head cheerleader, class president, orchestra flutist, and -- lest you think she was an airhead -- a member of the science team.

Her American idol was singer/dancer Gene Kelly, but at 5-foot-2, she was always the short one, rejected at auditions. "I'd go home and I'd cry. And I'd say, 'One day people are going to notice my talent.' "

The rejections didn't stop her and in 1980 she became one of the L.A. Lakers cheerleaders.

"I was the short girl who didn't -- who wasn't defined by the 't' and the 'a' and the blonde hair and the legs up to here," she says. "I was the least likely candidate."

By age 19, she became the squad's head choreographer. Her Laker girl moves impressed the Jackson family and by 1986 she was side by side with Janet Jackson, creating the pop star's signature dance move, the snake. She choreographed music videos, the "Tracy Ullman Show," and movies like "Coming to America."

A record deal followed, and in 1989 "Straight Up" shot up to the top of the music charts.

Her career "was on a bullet train," she said. "But me, I was running to catch up, all the time. And it's scary."

Suddenly Abdul couldn't catch up, and by the mid '90s the train started veering off track. Her third album sold just a fraction of what her previous ones had. She went through two divorces.

Today, Abdul is keeping a more even pace and says, "I love my job as judge.

"I count my blessings when I sit down in that seat and I wait for the contestants to get out there," she says. "I can't wait to let them see my excitement. You only dream of roles like this. I'm living my role in life."

What about her advice to aspiring singers?

"Realize the capacity of talent and what you have and set a time limit," she says. "If you don't reach your goal then you might be missing out on being a great doctor, lawyer, chief, whatever. If you have what it takes, keep going.

"I've never climbed the conventional ladder to success of success or fame. I've always gone through the side routes, around, where you don't least expect it. I think that's what it takes. You can't just rely on one outlet, you just gotta go for it and keep going."

Abdul gives "American Idol" finalists medallions she designs, offering the kind of encouragement that she says she never had. One medallion reads, "When you wish upon a star ... you might just become one."

It's "The Sweetheart's" happy ending.

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