The reunion between the former love-hate American Idol colleagues was preceded by plenty of offstage drama, so much so that it was in doubt much of the weekend whether Abdul's deal would be ready in time for Sunday's first day of auditions, which were held at the University of Southern California's Galen Centre.
The 48-year-old singer and choreographer overshadowed Sunday's auditions and now joins, along with her old Idol friend, Cheryl Cole and L.A. Reid as judges on the show.
Though the huge audience cheered and groaned at a variety of amateur acts in the state-of-the-art basketball arena, it was Cowell and Abdul who were clearly the star attractions. Their opening remarks were interrupted by cries of "We love you, Paula." After a few moments Abdul, wearing a purple dress, purple shoes and purple eye shadow, took her place at the long white table between Cowell, who sat on the end, and Cole. (Reid sat at the opposite end of Cowell.) Smiling behind shades and wearing a gray T-shirt, Cowell said he would not have moved forward with Sunday's taping without Abdul.
"If Paula had not worked out, I would have cancelled today," Cowell told reporters, his cheery pre-show demeanor in sharp contrast to his characteristic acerbic manner that helped make American Idol the most popular series on television. "I could not have come out in front of you lot."
The reunion will almost certainly fire up viewer interest in The X Factor, which is offering a $5 million (Dh18.36 million) prize and a recording contract to the winner. And despite an ever-crowded field of singing competitions, including his former home American Idol and NBC's new hit The Voice, Cowell asserted that his new show will emerge as the best.
Cowell added that having Abdul on the judging team was critical for the success of the new show. Although Cowell and Abdul seemed to spar frequently on American Idol, he maintained that their relationship is friendly and produces television magic.
"We get on really well," Cowell said. "We have the kind of chemistry that's not easy to replace. We can argue and go at each other and it's not uncomfortable. ...And she's unpredictable and funny."
Abdul also seemed thrilled to be back with Cowell, explaining that the pair's relationship was something only they truly understood. She also appeared excited by the glow of anticipation surrounding The X Factor, which is patterned after the hit British programme of the same name.
"I'm thrilled, exhilarated — beyond exhilarated — and terrified," she said. "It's been three years since he and I have sat next to each other. I really missed him. It's awkward and wonderful and beautiful all at the same time."
Still, even just a few hours before the first taping, speculation continued on whether Abdul would show up. Reports circulated on Saturday that she was holding out on a deal to be the fourth judge. The back-and-forth negotiations delayed by several hours the taping of Sunday's show, which was supposed to start in the early afternoon.
But together again, Cowell praised Abdul's last-minute manoeuvring: "I admire that at the 11th hour, she decided to play hardball. It's a little nuts." He added that her stint on The X Factor would put her under a harsh spotlight. "She has got to feel a lot of pressure," he said. "She's got a lot at stake here."
Abdul's reputation for melodrama has been a lightning rod that has endeared her to legions of fans while also generating considerable ridicule and alienating many of those who have worked with her.
The behind-the-scenes drama was all forgotten when the panel finally sat down at the table to judge their first act. Cowell was more critical, while Abdul tried to be more complimentary in her criticism. — Los Angeles Times