Paula’s back! Whoo! Wide-fingered hand clap! I’m all kinds of excited to see America’s Favorite Pushover back on TV, I have to admit. And let’s face it – as much as we loved watching her love/hate relationship with Simon, she was always an odd choice to judge a singing competition. Yes, she’s sold a bajillion records (fine, 60 million if you have to be technical about it), but the reality is that she landed a recording career on the strength of her dancing. That made perfect sense during the height of the video age, because we could distract ourselves from her thin, somewhat nasal voice by focusing on her exceptional dance moves. The girl’s a kick-ass dancer, so “Live to Dance” seems like a perfect fit.
[Full recap of Tuesday's (Jan. 4) premiere after the break...]
 
But now that Paula is where she should have been all along, I still have to wonder if this show is actually as perfect for her as it seems to be. Was she always so sweet and forgiving on “American Idol” precisely because her own singing abilities were limited? And do we even want that sugary goodness when there’s none of Simon’s bitterness to undercut it? Now that she’s operating sans Simon and judging a contest that plays to her strengths, maybe she won’t be such a pushover. Still, she won’t be the yin to Simon’s yang (or yang to his yin, whatever). Some of the best moments on “American Idol” were the ones in which Paula rose up in righteous but futile indignation to protest one of Simon’s more caustic criticisms. In other words, is Paula without her yang (or yin) might just be a peanut butter sandwich, hold the jelly. I’m hopeful, but I’m not optimistic. 
 
Andrew Gunsberg is our dapper Australian host. Is there an actual rule that all reality competitions must have a host or at least one judge who is Australian or British? I know everyone thinks a foreign accent is super fancy, but it’s not like any of them are reading Shakespeare.
 
We meet our judges. Kimberly Wyatt was a founding member of the Pussycat Dolls, otherwise known as one of the girls who wasn’t Nicole Sherzinger. I’m sure she’s very talented, but in the opening credits her hairdo can best be described as a bleached-out wad. Really, it’s pretty distracting. Joining her is Travis Payne, who worked with Michael Jackson. And, of course, Paula. Let’s not forget that this is Paula’s show. Not that the producers will let you, as they put together an introductory montage that’s comparable to what they run on the news when an A-list celebrity dies prematurely. Okay, we get it, she’s a Very Big Deal.
 
Finally, we get down to business. The auditions start in L.A. and first up is a tiny little seven-year-old named Jaylen. Jaylen has never taken a dance class. I’m not sure the complete lack of training in a very small child is something that should be rewarded. Yes, I’m a big mean Grinch, but too many kids have this belief that if they copy the dance moves they see on television and their parents give them a round of applause because they don’t break a lamp that they’re going to be stars. Worse, you put them on a TV show and how can a judge look in that sweet little face and give them the boot? I’m not saying Jaylen isn’t talented, as he’s clearly got something going on. But maybe Dad should have saved the money he spent to get them from Seattle to L.A. and put it into a college fund. Or real dance classes.
 
I’m getting a sinking feeling in my gut, because the next act is inspirational, too. They’re from Cuba, but their passion is for dance! But One Night in Havana is completely out of synch. While they’re passionate, they look like a passionate train wreck. But lo and behold, all three judges give them red stars! Paula even delivers a slap on the wrist, telling them their lack of practice is evident. Okay, I have hope for Paula. Neither Kimberly or Travis has Simon’s caustic wit, but maybe Paula has what it takes to administer some tough love. And if she can do it while acting loopy, that would be killer!
 
Bev and Hap are older than God and I’m hoping this isn’t another cutesy-poo act that will make me miss “America’s Got Talent.” And trust me, I really don’t think it’s possible for me to miss “America’s Got Talent.” But the old geezers bust a move to a James Brown song and I’m totally suckered. They won’t make it far in this competition, but they are, yes, a hoot. Plus, Bev gets points for having a much younger man. Sixty-eight isn’t a boy toy, but when you’re over 80, well, it’s still impressive.
 
Jill and Jacob are mostly memorable for Jill putting Jacob on ice as boyfriend material because they need to focus on dance. Riiiiiight. Jacob, move on, you’re wasting your time on this princess. Du-Shaunt is memorable because Paula calls him a bright ray of sunshine.
 
Before we continue, it’s time to declare that we need a Paula drinking game. If she says “bright,” drink. If she says “shining,” drink. If she calls someone a “bright, shining star,” down the whole beer. You’ll be wasted in no time!
 
Paula always claps like her nails are wet. Could someone please tell her that clapping will not ruin your manicure?
 
The entire state of Utah is in The Vibe. But they get on the short list. Inside the Box appears to have enlisted the entire city of Pomona, but Pomona is not as talented as Utah. However, they get points for having a cute routine which recreates a Warner Bros. cartoon. Still, even Paula admits she’s torn about putting them through to the next round. I understand why they did (and hey, after you put through Bev and Hap, you have to stick with the points for cleverness thing), but I hope the judges don’t make it a habit when dancers are a total mess on stage.
 
Time for wacky! Stone Fleshman is a flight attendant who says he learned to dance from watching Paula Abdul videos. Yeah, he just wanted to get on TV. So, he gets what he wants, plus a hug from Paula. Steve Slater should have considered dance. Maybe then he wouldn’t have  had to cuss out an airplane full of people before zipping down the emergency slide.   
 
Single Ladies Remix is a bunch of adorable little girls. That’s not inherently cute. What is cute is the little girl who thinks her group is going to win the contest, buy a mansion with the winnings and dance together forever. It’s perfectly adorable and yet wrong for many, many reasons. One reason it’s wrong is they’re not very good and get the boot in the first round. But if that kid can figure out how to buy a mansion for $500,000 in Orange County, I am hiring her to be my real estate agent!
 
Oh. Ma. God. It’s three of the Solid Gold dancers! These ladies look remarkably well-preserved, but unfortunately they dance like they’re afraid to break a hip. Still, they’re the Solid Gold dancers! This is like having Meryl Streep show up at your crappy reality TV show, asking to audition. Sadly, Paula’s the only one who votes for them, because Travis is the tough guy and Kimberly doesn’t know who they are, I suspect. Paula gives Travis the Glare of Death and convinces him to change his mind. Alright, Paula!
 
Paula tells Kendall Glover to stop putting on whore-riffic make-up because she’s just 11 years old. Okay, she says it in a much nicer way, but still, Kendall looks like she’s up for a Jon-Bonet Ramsey biopic. But she got three gold stars, so if the worst thing Paula can say is put the make-up in a drawer, she’s good.
 
The Dance Dome moves to New York. Betty Buchner hobbles onto the dance floor and shuffles around, which excites everyone because Betty is 90 years old. Betty is carefully escorted off stage because the producers do not want to deal with the liability issues if she spontaneously becomes a pile of dust. But you go, Betty!
 
We finally get a kiddy showstopper from Shore Thing. These kids have amazing costumes, a fun concept (they’re dead! And they’re dancing to a Michael Jackson song that isn’t “Thriller”!) I’m sorely disappointed we don’t see the whole routine. Travis gets choked up, because they’re living out Michael Jackson’s dream to inspire young people. I realize there is an easy joke to be made here and I’m just not going to do it. These kids were THAT good.
 
C-Bunny is hearing impaired. Dance is her outlet. For this to be a heartrending story, C-Bunny needs to bring it. Unfortunately, her dancing is only okay. Not terrible, which would have been plain olddepressing, but just okay. Paula is the only softy to give her a gold star. Travis tells her to come back and, you know, practice.
 
Peaches is a delusional soccer mom who thinks two very good popping and locking moves will get her through. Paula tells her to do stand-up. Travis gives her a gold star for some unknown reason. He must really love popping and locking.
 
And it’s time to get back to adorable kids who don’t take dance lessons. Sigh. I know, they probably don’t have the money, but maybe someone could teach them some grammar. Chi-Town Finest Breakers? If they went through all the trouble to get T-shirts made, they should have asked a teacher to look over their work first. As expected, lots of raw talent but some of the kids are much better than others. Still, they get three gold stars.   
 
Paula calls Dax and Sarah the shiniest present on Christmas day. Drink!
 
Anthony is the only boy in Twitch. That’s not the only reason he stands out. He also seems to be the strongest dancer. This routine has a lot of attitude and style, but there’s more attitude than dancing. Still, they get three gold stars. Paula says they are, collectively, a bright shining star. Drink up!
 
Jazz Unlimited is coached by Nikki Hacker. When Nikki was 12, she was hit by a car that drove through her dance studio. Nikki is unlucky, because not only did she get hit by a car in an extremely random way, she has to chorograph for a bunch of kids who aren’t very good dancers. Anyway, she got backstage passes to see Paula after the accident, and it made her a very happy girl. I hope she still felt that way when Paula (along with Kimberly and Travis) give Jazz Unlimited a collective thumbs down.
 
But wait! Paula notes that the choreography was very good. So, Andrew drags her backstage for a big, huggy moment with Kimberly. This is adorable, because Paula clearly doesn’t remember the moment that changed Kimberly’s life, plus Paula also takes this as an opportunity to remind us that she’s danced through her horrible back pain. We know, Paula, and even if you don’t take painkillers or drink as you claim, we’d be fine if you did. But I hope you don’t mind if we drink in your honor. Say Kimberly is a bright, shining star! Come on!
 
Amanda is ten and D’Angelo is nine and they are very little kids who happen to be in a relationship and plan to get married when she’s 24. D’Angelo would like to wait until he’s 30 to get hitched. I love that D’Angelo is already commitmentphobic! But seriously, these kids are A-MA-ZING. Not just by kid standards, but by any standard The judges give them a standing ovation, which is thoroughly deserved. And, of course, three gold stars.
 
So, was “Live to Dance” must-see TV or just a retread of “America’s Got Talent”? I think the truth falls somewhere in between. So far, I like this new, feistier Paula. No, she’s not stepping into Simon’s shoes, but without him she seems more confident, less mushy and she’s doling out some tough love. While I may miss goofy, flirty, loopy Paula, Paula 2.0 is worth watching. At least, so far.
 
Do you think Paula is a better judge now? Do you take her judgment of dance more seriously than her opinion on singing? Who do you think is making it to the finals?