Paula Abdul Dishes on Her Relationship With Simon Cowell: 'It's an Acquired Experience'

american idol pkg ONLY
Paula Abdul photographed in 2014.

When singer-choreographer Paula Abdul first joined the American Idol judges panel in season one, she had no idea what to expect, least of all that the show would be a ratings juggernaut (averaging 35 million viewers during its season-five height, according to Nielsen) and that the program, along with her snippy tablemate Simon Cowell and the jovial Randy Jackson, would become instant pop culture phenomena. “Simon and I had a very authentic, interesting, eclectic relationship that played out on TV very well,” says the 53-year-old, who now fills a similar role on Fox’s So You Think You Can Dance. “It’s an acquired experience,” she says, in looking back on eight years spent in the hot seat.

‘American Idol’ Special FeatureAdam Lambert on First Post-‘Idol’ Single |‚Äč Paula Abdul on Simon Cowell | Ryan Seacrest on Eliminating Contestants Constantine Maroulis on Seducing the Camera | Harry Connick Jr. on Being a Judge | A Tribute to ‘Idol’ | Lee DeWyze on Singing ‘Hallelujah’ | Allison Iraheta on Her ‘Idol’ Gig |Todrick Hall on Post-‘Idol’ Fame | Inside ‘Idol’: Show Creator Simon Fuller and More

Give It Back
“Simon had been doing the show in the U.K., but it was all brand-new to me. I came from an entirely different background as a performer, so I know what it’s like to be up onstage and to be vulnerable and to put yourself out there. It took me a while to learn how to give it back [to Simon], but boy, was it fun once I did.“

Threaten To Quit
“In the beginning, it was appalling and shocking that someone could speak so harshly of these people. A soundman from season one told me I had quit eight times just during the first taping. I fought for the artist and at the same time was fighting with the brothers that I never had.”

Let The Boy Have His Toy
“As with most boys, sometimes you have to let them have all their toys and let them win, or else it’s going to be a very, very long day.”

-- Reporting by Michele Amabile Angermiller

This story originally appeared in the March 25 issue of Billboard.