Paula Abdul’s Reality

Paula Abdul is TV's most famous cry baby. She tears up when contestants are voted off "American Idol." She bawls when they win the grand prize. At one point last season, Abdul even started wailing when one finalist—Melinda Dolittle—sang really well, because she was just so happy for her. So it's no surprise that the tears flow in Abdul's new reality show, "Hey, Paula," airing on Bravo tonight.

The shocker is how quickly Paula Abdul blows up—for the strangest reasons. In the premiere episode, the former pop singer is on her way to Philadelphia to film a QVC spot for her jewelry line when she realizes her two assistants have forgotten to pack her sweat pants, and she'll need to squeeze into a pair of jeans instead. "Why these pants?!" she asks. "I could kill you guys ... it's supposed to be a comfortable trip ... take your foot and shove it down your throat." By the end of the scolding, it's not just Paula who's crying but her two intern-like assistants as well.

Train-wreck reality TV about B-list celebrities—from Bobby Brown to Anna Nicole Smith to Danny Bonaduce—is nothing new. But it's surprising that Abdul would submit herself to the experiment, considering she's a washed-up celebrity who became America's sweetheart again with "American Idol." She may not be the most coherent judge on the show (we never figured out what's in her red cup), but Abdul's trademark has always been her kindness.

"Hey, Paula" is hugely entertaining, for those of us curious about Paula, but it also suggests that in real life, the "Idol" judge can be just as nasty as Simon Cowell. She seems to be constantly snapping at people, dissolving into tears and making everyone feel bad about being around her. Early in the episode, she lashes out against her publicist because the people behind the "Bratz" movie didn't get back to her quickly enough about her designs for the film's costumes. In Philadelphia, she yells at the QVC people because her jewelry doesn't look good enough to carry her name. She eventually drops the issue, but what happens to the shopper wearing a Paula bracelet who now realizes she's been had?

If there's a plus side to the show for Paula (and it's marginal), it’s that it at least helps us understand her erratic behavior. At one point, her publicist comments on how little she's slept—so maybe the reason she slurs is that she really is tired, after all. (The second episode follows her during the now infamous interview with a Fox affiliate, where Abdul was incoherent and spinning in her chair.) When we do finally see the "American Idol" Paula, it's only for a few seconds. She is on QVC's screens, selling her jewelry, when a viewer calls in to tell her how much she loves her. Abdul smiles, wells up and cries. The tears seem remarkably genuine. "Hey, Paula" might be too much reality TV for its star, but it also hints that if "Idol" were to ever end, she's got a promising career ahead of her as an actress.