Of the many hyphens between Paula Abdul‘s career turns – Laker Girl-choreographer-singer-American Idol judge – she most loves the latest: producer of the new reality show competition Live To Dance, which premieres Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET on CBS.
“You have to be true to who you are,” Abdul, 48, tells PEOPLE. “I am my brand. I lead with my heart. I have tremendous expertise behind the scenes helping build, mold and shape other performers to help them take flight. I’ve learned from some of the best there is in the business on the technical side, so for me being a producer is a deep-rooted passion.”
And as a producer, Abdul breaks down how her new show, which enters a live-competition phase on Jan. 12, compares with other reality competitions:
• No Mean Auditions: “It’s not about being goofy or silly to get on television because that’s not going to happen,” Abdul says. “It’s okay to be eccentric but it better be backed up with dancing chops and technique.”
• No Age Limits: “You are never too old!” says Abdul. “It’s for all ages, and some of these beautiful performers had a career at one time, dancing in the background for shows like West Side Story. You’re going to see diverse ability and talent where the young-at-hearts, the over-50s and senior citizens are inspiring the 6-year-olds and the 26-year-olds.”
• No Harsh Judging: “I have leading experts, Travis Payne and Kimberly Wyatt, and our job is to help make these glorious beings understand what they need to do to land the next audition,” Abdul says. “And if they have made it, giving them tips on how to up the ante to make it to the semifinals and what will be expected of them. It’s a different perspective that I felt very strongly about.”
• No Boring Dances: “We are not going to be telling people, ‘Now try as a ballet dancer to do krumping,’ ” she says. “No, we are going to be celebrating what they do. But one of the things I wanted to do was fuse dance styles. Dancers today are like Transformers. They are not normal! They are bionic and they don’t excel in just one area.”
• No Seacrest: Although Abdul misses the chemistry of her old Idol team, including host Ryan Seacrest, she will introduce a new host, Andrew Gunsberg, an Australian. “Andrew was a little gift that came wrapped up in a beautiful box and he’s magical,” Abdul says. “His spirit embodies the heart of the show.”