By Michael Slezak
Updated August 05, 2009 at 04:30 PM EDT

To say that I’m having mixed emotions about Paula Abdul’s exit from American Idol would be like saying Girl Scout Cookies are mildly addictive. (Yes, this is a veiled reference to the box of Tagalongs that’s DTWS maven Annie Barrett is hiding away in her desk drawer.) On one hand, in the season finale of Idolatry in May, I suggested Idol‘s production team make massive changes to its judging panel, getting rid of Paula, Kara “package artist” DioGuardi, and Randy Jackson in one clean and satisfying sweep, and replacing them with (perhaps) Elton John and Jody Watley. I mean, let’s be honest: All sentiment about Paula aside — and yeah, I do have a soft spot for the “Straight Up” singer — it’s not like she was known for providing particularly cogent or vital feedback to contestants, even when she raised her game considerably this past year. And what’s more, Idol had an overarching problem in its eighth season: With a fourth seat added to the judges’ table — and each one of those seats (“Dawg!”) occupied by a person (“early Aerosmith”) enamored with the sound (“you look beautiful”) of his or her own voice (“ghastly cruise ship”) — the show barely had time to focus on its amazing roster of contestants. Someone had to go.

But on the flip side, if only one Idol employee was getting a pink slip this year, wouldn’t it have made more sense to hand it to Randy or Kara, one of the two judges whose appearance on TV screens is pretty much a signal to viewers to hit the fast-forward buttons on their DVRs? Say what you will about Paula, but on a gut level, she was like the crazy aunt who shows up every Thanksgiving and leaves you clenching your jaw wondering what off-the-wall, inappropriate thing she’s going to say next. And yet, if that crazy aunt got unceremoniously dumped from your family’s Turkey Day proceedings — and her replacement wasn’t particularly insightful or interesting or witty or entertaining — you’d probably be angry, or at the very least, disappointed. Which is how I’m (quite unexpectedly) feeling right now.

Which isn’t to say I’ll be in mourning for Paula 4-evah. (Sorry, spent too much time following her on Twitter in the last 24 hrs.) For starters, it’s not over till the Mariah Carey wannabe sings. Idol‘s judges don’t even start filming season 9 till tomorrow, which leaves a little time for Paula and the Idol overlords to reconsider their positions and come to an agreement that puts Paula’s paycheck a little closer to her pal Ryan Seacrest‘s. (Seriously, the Idol payscale should undoubtedly go Simon > Ryan & Paula > Randy > Debbie the Floor Manager > The Wonky Backup Singers > Kara.) And even without Paula (and the lovely dose of heart she brings to the program), Idol will make like Gloria Gaynor and survive. After all, this is a show that undergoes massive casting changes every single season. We couldn’t imagine a show without Kelly and Tamyra, then Ruben and Clay, then ‘Tasia, then Carrie and Bo, and now Kradisson and Paula. And yet, every January, we tune in, cynicism meters turned to “high,” and find ourselves falling for a whole new group of singers. That’s what makes American Idol “beautiful,” even if there’s not a judge who’ll be using that word as her default adjective anymore.

What do you think of an Idol without Paula Abdul? Take our polls below, check out my colleague Ken Tucker’s take on Paula’s exit, and be sure to follow me on Twitter @EWMichaelSlezak for the latest Idol updates!

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Photo credit: Michael Becker/Fox