Paula Abdul: No One Can Replace Me on 'American Idol'

Call her the unsinkable Paula Abdul. During eight seasons of "American Idol" there have been over 300 episodes filmed, thousands of ambitious contestants judged and jilted, and any number of controversies involving judge Abdul.

VIDEO: Backstage With Paula Abdul

The award-winning choreographer and recording artist has helped make "American Idol" the number one show in the U.S., with 20 million people tuning in each week. From week one, Abdul has played the role of the "nice" judge, the person to whom contestants can turn for a kind word when the notoriously tough -- some might even say nasty -- Simon Cowell pounces.

"This is my last season under contract," she told "Nightline" in an exclusive interview. "I love the show, I do. I love what I do on the show and I'm loving it more this season than ever."

Paula Abdul

And whatever the future holds, don't count her out.

"Don't bet against me," she said, "because the most powerful kryptonite I possess is the connection with the people."

Extensive interviews with Abdul are rare, but "Nightline" was invited backstage with her before sitting down for a wide-ranging conversation.

"This is where we all congregate right before the show," Abdul said backstage at CBS Television City, where the "Idol" finals are shot. "And then the judges, we walk up behind the curtains and the doors open up ... and Simon grabs my hand and messes with me."


Cowell has played Abdul's foil, supporter and tormenter on the hit show.

"I'm not nervous," Abdul said before the show. "I'm more nervous about what he is going to try to do to mess me up. ... I've been the Raggedy Ann to his Andy."

Abdul Blindsided by Fourth 'Idol' Judge

For "Idol" fans, the on-screen antics of the judges and host Ryan Seacrest are crucial to the show's success, and the famous snipes between Abdul and Cowell are a reason, beyond the contest itself, to tune in.

"He's a bully, he's a masterful bully," Abdul said. "The first day I went to work on Season One, I quit seven times. Seven times. I couldn't believe that someone was actually getting away with crushing fragile kids."

But is the laundry list of screaming, name calling, and angry storm-outs real, or is it all just for the cameras? After all, for years, rumors have swirled that Cowell and Abdul are having a hot love affair on the side.

"Yeah, I know he started those rumors from Season One," she said. "As a girl growing up, when you're young and the boys punch you and you come home crying, 'why are they so mean?' And your parents say, 'it's 'cause he likes you?' Well then, my theory is that he's madly in love with me."

If Cowell is in love with Abdul, he certainly has a strange way of showing it. This season they brought in a new female judge: Kara DioGuardi,leading some to speculate that producers are planning to replace Abdul. Abdul said she found out about the addition of a fourth judge while en route to the first round of auditions for the current season.

"I just got out of this hospital this past August," she said. "I had three days to pack and go on the road. I found out on the way to the airport. ... Randy found out hours before me.

"I was surprised because Simon has always been against the fourth," she said. "We've had guest judges come in before and he banned that from happening anymore. I didn't understand the concept of what was happening."

Fellow judge Randy Jackson said that the four judges have a family dynamic, with "friendly camaraderie."

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