Eighteen years ago, Paula Abdul had a front-row seat for the TV revolution.
It was the very front row, as an “American Idol” judge alongside Simon Cowell (shown here, after they settled their differences). The show spurred endless variations – including “The Masked Dancer,” where she’s now a judge.
That starts Sunday (Dec. 27), then jumps to Wednesdays on Fox … which is where this all started.
In the summer of 2002, Fox tried a variation on the British “Idol,” with Abdul judging alongside Randy Jackson and Simon Cowell … whose acerbic comments startled her. Twice, Cowell wrote in “I Don’t Mean to Be Rude But …” (Broadway Books, 2003), she walked out of auditions. “The tension was so tremendous, the bad feeling so strong, that I didn’t know how we could continue together.”
But they did and viewers approved. When “Idol” moved to the regular season, it finished No. 5 in the annual Nielsen ratings … then had two years at No. 2 … then reached No. 1. Abdul stayed eight years.
In the decade since, she’s done occasional judging gigs – one season on Cowell’s “X-Factor,” two on “So You Think You Can Dance” (plus another on its Australian version), a winter run of her own “Live to Dance.” Then a Fox executive asked her to be a “Masked Dancer” judge.
“I was smiling from ear to ear,” Abdul said in a Television Critics Association virtual session. “I’m such a big ban of ‘The Masked Singer.” The only thing I kept saying is, ‘How are we going to be able to guess who is dancing?’ ”
He promised her there would be more emphasis on clues; that has worked out, Abdul said. “You have to pay a lot of attention to the clues, because we don’t have a voice to base it on. And the clues came everywhere – from the costume, the (clues package), even in the stage setting and choreography.”
She got the hang of it quickly, said producer Craig Plestis. “There was one moment when I thought Paula was too good to be on the show … She figured it out in literally five seconds.”
He produces both “Masked” shows and Ken Jeong hosts both. “I am the most long-winded judge on two shows,” Jeong boasted.
Also hosting are Ashley Tisdale (“the most fun show I’ve ever done”) and Brian Austin Green, who’s seen the non-fun side. As a recent “Masked Singer” contestant, he had to deal with a giraffe suit (“the little window you have to look through definitely makes it difficult”) and with keeping a secret.
“I didn’t even tell my kids,” Green said. “And they would sneak in the room while I was doing vocal training and film me with iPads. Luckily, they didn’t know that I was doing the show.”
He was the third person dumped. Now he’s on the other side, doing the dumping.
– “The Masked Dancer,” Fox.
– Debuts at 8 p.m. Sunday (Dec. 27), to take advantage of a football lead-in
– Then moves to Wednesdays; the first episode reruns Dec. 30, the second is Jan. 6. There are nine in the first season, before “Masked Singer” returns.