And, overarching all this, is the little thing called "American Idol."
It's an honor to be on that judging panel. It's kind of like winning a Grammy. Of all the people they could have picked, I can't believe they picked me.
Last year was really difficult. I don't think people understood what it took to go from the back of the studio, writing, to "Lights! Camera! Action!" I was wearing Gap sweat pants and a wife beater up until six months ago. I look back on last year and I see bad hair and the wrong accessories. I was moving as fast as anyone could move and learning as I went. You know, "Maybe I'll try a ponytail this week?" Oh, no. "Maybe I'll tease it up like Peg Bundy?" Uh, that doesn't look good.
There were moments when we were doing the show and I'd forget I was on television. I remember some guy was heckling me and I said, "You know, shut the f...oh, wait a minute, I'm on national television." I think towards the end I got more feisty and opinionated. In the beginning I was like, "That's great! Paula? What do you think?" Because I wanted the camera off me.
This year I got to really engage and do more with the contestants and really concentrate on them, whereas last year they'd be speaking or singing and I would be, "Holy shit. What am I going to say?"
What are the contestants like this year?
I would say that there were more than a few times this season that someone walked in and sang and I was shocked that they didn't have the appearance to have that voice. It was just kind of a "Whoa, where did that come from? Hold up." It's like Susan Boyle.
Do you ever have any qualms about the water-cooler elements of the show? Do you think it's the best way to find a recording artist?
I can remember when I was trying to break in, and I knew nobody until I got to Billboard. What this does is bypasses a bunch of that footwork that you would have to do. It says to somebody, "If you're great, we're going to find out."
And let's be honest -- traditional A&R is not what it was, especially with the way the economy is. People are not going out into the middle of the country. This show is picking up where A&R from record labels is not being able to do it right now because they can't hire the scouts. It's able to go into a small town and find Carrie Underwood or to Arkansas where Kris [Allen] was from.
Is it a TV show? One hundred percent it is a TV show. You can be a big celebrity on the show, but at the end of the day, you're entering into the music business afterward. You're going to compete with Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, Dierks Bentley -- whatever genre you're in. So yes, there's a water-cooler thing going on because it's a TV show, but it's also enabling people who would never have the opportunity to showcase their voice. It's giving them that chance, and I think that's why people respond to it. It's that American dream -- if you have it, someone will recognize it.