Kimberly Wyatt, Paula Abdul, Travis Payne CBS photo
Paula Abdul’s new CBS “Live to Dance” competition show took a ratings tumble when it ran up against her old show, “American Idol,” in head-to-head competition last week (26.2 million viewers compared to 5.3 million) — but “Live to Dance” judge and Paula pal Travis Payne refuses to go negative about that.
“The only way to look at it is that both shows are perpetuating the arts. Both are so specific. There’s room for both,” insists the renowned choreographer and dancer, known for his work with Michael Jackson as well as dozens of other top names including Beyonce, Shakira, Usher, Lady Gaga, Madonna and (small world!) Jennifer Lopez. As far as all the talk about competition between Abdul’s former and current shows? “Great!” he declares. “It gets people to be interested. As long as it’s not mean-spirited, wonderful.”
But people do get mean-spirited — very — when it comes to Abdul.
Payne, who had his first professional audition with none other than Paula years ago, admits he feels protective. “Absolutely! But I know she’s strong and she’s smart. She’s very aware — very aware — of all that goes on and she’s an excellent sort of mentor and a wonderful businesswoman. And she’s thrilled to be executive producing this show, and getting to use all her talents. You know, we spend a lot of our time lending our names and talents to someone else’s vision. Now, for her, this is her vision. That’s a major accomplishment.”
The fast-paced seven-week “Live to Dance” competition is in semi-finals, with its winner of $500,000 to be determined on the Feb. 9 finale. “We are in just a sort of constant state of excitement,” says Payne, who adds that despite being aware of “American Idol,” he’s “only had time to focus on ‘Live to Dance.'”
He feels that, among other things, the show offers “a nice alternative” to shows that trade on devastating critiques. I think about how my parents were with me, and how instructors were with me, and I was always way better when I was in a positive, nurturing place. That’s how Michael Jackson was — everybody must be happy, everybody must be heard. We give it to the contestants straight, but we also say how to improve, and how to meet a different level of challenges — rather than, ‘Oh my God, that’s the worst thing I’ve seen.'”
MEANWHILE: Payne, who “just celebrated the release of ‘This is It’ in Japan” is also “gearing up for the Michael Jackson, Immortal tour, presented by Cirque du Soliel. We’ve just completed the casting process and are now figuring out scheduling” for the show. He reports it will be heading out on the road this spring, and will consist of “all his music and all-new imagery, new interpretations of his famous work. I’m pleased to be able to be part of it.”