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Posted at 1:30 PM ET, 01/ 5/2011

Paula Abdul makes her triumphant return on 'Live to Dance'

By Lisa de Moraes

Left to right: Kimberly Wyatt, Paula Abdul and Travis Payne appear on "Live to Dance" as the panel of experts. (CBS/Monty Brinton)

(This post has been updated with ratings.)

The seal clap, the Mad-Hatter's-tea-party-esque-speak, the ants-in-her-pants gyrations from the judges' desk, the too-glitzy-for-prime-time outfits.

Paula Abdul is back.

Tuesday night, 10.2 million people watched Paula's return to reality competition TV. Once again, she's choc-a-bloc full of "I came to teach people what oozes out of you" and "When the hair on my arm stands up and I get goosebumps, you have me!" Only this time, instead of playing Loopy Den Mother to thousands upon thousands of young wannabe pop stars, she's spewing her love on precocious moppet zombie dancers and botoxed "Solid Gold" relics.

Her new dance competition series, "Live to Dance," debuted Tuesday on CBS, and is based on the British show "Got to Dance."

Paula Abdul made her triumphant return to broadcast television Tuesday night. (CBS/Miranda Penn Turin)

Really, CBS? You couldn't clear "Got"?

Paula is joined by co-judges Kimberly Wyatt - who is a founding member of the Pussycat Dolls and who might want to re-think that hair - and Travis Payne, who, we are told, choreographed with the late, great King of Pop Michael Jackson. Wanna bet he talks about his dear friend Michael Jackson at least once per episode?

"I love Paula so much! Oh my gosh!" gushes one of the many people we were told turned out to audition for the show in Dance Domes across the country.

"We're here to bring it - for Paula!" raves another.

"We love you, Paula!" screams a troupe of precocious moppets.

Tuesday's show begins with adorable 9-year-old Jaylon, who has never been to a dance class but has learned his bag o' moves from watching people in movies that dance, he explains while his dad sobs buckets of tears. Jaylon hands Dad a tissue. Each judge gives Jaylon a gold star - two or more gold stars would get him through to the next round.

"You are an amazing bright light to this show and this is exactly what this show is about," Paula exudes.

"There is so much joy coming out of this little face of yours, I just want to squeeze it. When you smile and you put that character into your movement, it is pure magic. Do you know you make so many people happy - are you aware of that?" she barks at Jaylon.

He has no idea what she is talking about.

"Live to Dance," Paula Abdul's new series, premiered on CBS Tuesday night. (CBS/Monty Brinton)

"You have mad skills, little man," Kimberly translates. That, Jaylon understood.

The dance group One Night in Havana is from Cuba. "We are very excited to be able to live in the United States because we have a million of opportunities," says one member.

But their dance was ragtag and they got three red stars - get it?

"In all honesty, do you think you rehearsed enough to come on this stage?" Paula asks.

"No," admits one dancer.

"God bless you for being honest," Paula responds.

"You have lightning in a bottle here but you're not committed to rehearsing and that is a responsibility you should all take very seriously, especially when you are as talented as every one of you. . . . You have magic together. Commit to each other. And show everyone how damned talented you are."

They were followed by Bev & Hap, an adorable old dancing couple. They are terrible. But they get three gold stars - because, Paula explains, "you two exemplify what dance is like and what it does to your spirit. What it does to your soul. What it does to your mind. What it does to your body. What it does to the entire world."

And on, and on, and on for two hours the first night, followed by more one night later, we're promised.

" 'Live to Dance' - it suggests terminally ill people are given the will to live," CBS late-night star David Letterman suggested when he interviewed Paula on the eve of her triumphant return to broadcast TV.

Paula Abdul on "Late Show With David Letterman." (AP)

"That's right - only if they do it with passion," responded Paula, clearly not in on the gag, which has always been part of her charm. On the other hand, Paula looked tanned, rested and slimmed down, and she was sporting toned arms and long, flowing, glossy hair that other middle-aged women - CBS's sweet spot - would kill for.

In her own special way, Paula explained her new show to Dave as he appeared to comfort himself by calculating in his head how much money these few minutes of his life he would never get back were costing CBS:

"It's a lovely little gem. It's a dance show that is very unique - it's open to all ages, so we say from 6 to 106," Paula prattled on perkily.

"Well, nobody wants that - 106, really?" Dave sniped.

"The oldest person that came in, I think, she was all of a young 92," Paula said proudly.

"And we have little - even 6-year-olds. And you can enter as a solo, duo or group of any size, and you can dance any style dance."

As Dave continued to tabulate, Paula continued to explain the show:

"How it works is, out of thousands and thousands . . . . First of all, we built a 90-foot dome in New York at Liberty State Park."

"Liberty State Park - is that Liberty Island?" Dave stopped her to ask.

But Paula seemed firm on her position that it was not.

"Where is it?" Dave shot back, smelling victory.

"New Jersey . . . and I'm not from here!" Paula finally remembered from somewhere in the recesses of her mind.

God, how we've missed Paula.

On Tuesday morning, she appeared "exclusively" on CBS's "The Early Show" to see whether she could fry Erica Hill's head the way she had Dave's the night before.

"The preview really sucks you in, I have to tell you - and that's not just because I work for CBS, too," Erica gushed, demonstrating for all you skeptics out there why it was so very clear to CBS News that Harry Smith simply had to go and that Erica be brought in.

"When I was taking time off after I left 'Idol,' I wanted to get back to what drives me with passion and heart, and this show just had the through-line of my brand all over it," Paula explained to Erica. "And it's been a labor of love, one of those things on my bucket list.

". . . If I was not part of producing a show that had to do with dance, then life would not be fair," she said, setting a new personal best in cliches-per-answer.

Just last May, CBS announced that it had snagged Paula to be executive producer, "creative partner" (whatever that means), mentor, coach and lead judge on the new reality series.

That came not quite one year after Fox and "American Idol" producers had to disentangle themselves from the wreckage the morning after Paula lobbed a grenade into their midst when she tweeted that "with sadness in my heart I've decided not to return to 'Idol,' " after failing to persuade Fox and show producers to hike her salary from about $4 million a year to something substantially higher - the exact amount of which reporters could never settle on.

Since then, we have not seen much of Paula except for the occasional appearance on home shopping networks and on Lifetime's "Drop Dead Diva," in which she played, yes, a judge, but in a courtroom, not on a talent competition.

Paula also stole the show at the "Idol" season finale last May when she popped up onstage to say goodbye to outgoing snarky judge Simon Cowell: She looked gorgeous and super-sexy in this hot pink strapless miniskirted number - while, just a few feet away, her replacement on the show, Kara DioGuardi, looked like Jane Eyre on one of her bad days.

By Lisa de Moraes  | January 5, 2011; 1:30 PM ET
Categories:  "American Idol", TV News  
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Next: Old actors acting adorable on first day of Winter TV Press Tour 2011


As I was first scanning, I misread the Erica Hill quote as, "The preview really sucks." Something tells me that will be a more accurate description of the program.

Posted by: MyPostEgo | January 5, 2011 7:41 AM | Report abuse

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