Someone needs to send a message to celebrities trailed by reality - TV crews: When the cameras are on, they're on. So when you're sitting in the back of your limo, bound for the airport just after the Grammy Awards, whimpering because the two assistants who packed your luggage have provided you with jeans instead of sweatpants, you will not look charming, empowering, empowered, or especially deserving of your fame.
This means you, Paula Abdul.
Such are the inauspicious beginnings of "Hey Paula," a seven-episode series about the dancer-turned-singer-turned-nobody-turned-"American Idol"-judge that debuts on Bravo tonight. It's a star-in-her-natural - habitat show in the tradition of "Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List," though Paula is no Kathy, and vice versa.
Griffin might not always come off as likable in real life, but at least she's sharp enough to know what the cameras are doing, and why. Abdul doesn't seem blessed or cursed with that sort of self-awareness. Her current claim to fame is her incoherence, so it's a mystery why her agent would allow unfettered access to her rambling stream of consciousness.
But cameras are seductive, and Abdul apparently has some things to share. For instance, she wants us to know that she is a businesswoman. This means that she designs jewelry, which she sells on QVC -- though she is relegated to hawking it live on the air at 1 a.m. (It is amazing how many people are awake and buying jewelry at 1 a.m.)
She has also, at her "own expense," designed a prototype wardrobe for an upcoming live-action movie based on the Bratz dolls. And while the film's producers give her the cold shoulder sometimes, Abdul tells us that she is a "warrior," and thus will persevere.
This backstage version of Abdul is the focus of the show; we're supposed to understand the woman outside the "Idol" set, busy with business ventures and dabbling unsuccessfully in romance. But what we really learn from "Hey Paula" is how little it takes to demand the royal treatment, and to get it. A little money, a little fame, and suddenly you have a team of handlers who smile through your constant whining and self-aggrandizement. Soon enough, you're dispatching your housekeeper to clean up dog poop in your yard, then asking her opinion on your $12,500 Valentino gown, then giving her a bear hug and pretending you love her. (I'd actually like to see a reality show about Abdul's maid. The woman has a killer deadpan, and she clearly sees a lot.)
Indeed, I'd choose to watch this show as a cautionary tale about the perils of too much Hollywood success; each time Abdul has another brush with disaster, we might ask ourselves how we'd avoid the same fate. For instance, I'd hope that if I decided to let my four pet Chihuahuas romp on the bed next to my million-dollar borrowed jewelry, I'd also have some friends nearby to rescue me from myself.
Abdul's friends do nothing of the sort, nor do her employees -- and according to her opening voice-over, her employees are her friends. Her best friend is her hairstylist, Daniel. Her publicist, Jeff, carries her up staircases in times of need. Her "wardrobe assistant," Kylie, is stoic during luggage meltdowns. Another personal assistant does not achieve "friend" status, presumably because she has not mastered the bag-packing process. "Why these pants? Why these pants?" Abdul demands to know, near tears, in the limousine.
At that moment, I could actually drum up a wee bit of sympathy for Abdul. She was late to catch a red-eye flight, and hoping to sleep on the plane before she headed straight to QVC. At moments like that, I know I'd rather look like a hausfrau from Kansas than another celebrity in tight black jeans, trailed by a reality crew. The life of a star is hard, so hard -- a train wreck waiting to happen. Thank goodness there are cameras on hand to record every second.