Paula Abdul was feeling all the feels while attending the star-studded premiere of The Color Purple at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles on Wednesday.
The celebrated TV personality and musician cut an elegant figure in her red gown on the purple carpet, where she opened up to ET’s Kevin Frazier about her unexpected connection to the cinematic history of the story made iconic in the 1982 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Alice Walker.
“I saw Whoppi [Goldberg] on Broadway, then Whoopi and I became roommates,” Abdul said of Goldberg, who was the first actress to portray the character of Celie in an adaptation of the book.
Golberg starred alongside Oprah Winfrey in the 1985 drama directed by Steven Spielberg. The story follows Celie, a young Black woman living in the South from the early to mid-1900s, who finds strength in an extraordinary sisterhood and unbreakable bond.
This year’s Blitz Bazawule-directed reimagining of The Color Purple features a star-studded cast, including Fantasia Barrino as Celie, Danielle Brooks as Sofia, Taraji P. Henson as Shug Avery, Colman Domingo as Mister, Phylicia Mpasi as Young Celie, Corey Hawkins as Harpo, H.E.R. as Squeak, Louis Gossett Jr. as Ol’ Mister, David Alan Grier as Reverend Avery, Tamela J. Mann as First Lady, Halle Bailey as Young Nettie, Ciara as Adult Nettie, Deon Cole as Alfonso and Stephen Hill as Buster.
Of course, Abdul is also famously connected to this adaptation’s Celie! Abdul served as one of the three American Idol judges when Barrino became the season 3 winner in 2004.
“I feel like a proud mom to Fantasia; I was there at the very, very, very, very beginning,” Abdul told ET of the film’s leading lady.
The former judge recalled meeting Barrino while auditioning singers for the third season, sharing, “When she auditioned the second day in Atlanta, she wasn’t being allowed in. I was going to the bathroom on a break and Simon’s taking a cigarette break and I saw a girl going, ‘Please let me in, please!’ I beelined [in], I said, ‘Let her in!’ She was the last contestant to audition and she went on to win that season!”
“Fantasia knows that she’s my favorite in the world — I love that woman inside and out,” Abdul added. “She is so beautiful; every performance she ever performed on that stage was memorable, and it was bone-chilling. And the goosebumps and everything! She was incredible.”
The Color Purple marks Barrino’s feature film debut, but the actress has been candid about initially feeling hesitant to take the role after she first portrayed Celie in her Broadway debut in 2007.
Speaking with ET at the Variety Power of Women in Hollywood 2023 event last month, Barrino confessed that, at first, she “didn’t want to take the role.”
“I did it on Broadway, and it was hard. Our lives were so similar and at the time, I was young, and I didn’t know how to separate the two,” the singer recalled of her time doing the Broadway musical from 2006 to 2007, when she was in her early 20s. “But I’m glad that I did. She freed me this time, so thank you, Celie.”
“We have good times together,” she added about the talented cast of actors. “And I think that is more special to me because when you think of Queen Oprah, you feel like, ‘You got to be like this [around her].’ But it’s like, no, you can be free. She has conversations with us, and she pulls us to the side. So, I thank her for being a woman who has done some great things but still can get down to earth with us.”
Looking back on her journey, the Variety Power of Women honoree called the current era of her life “a second time around.”
“I feel like God has given me a second time around. This feels like Idol to me again,” the 2004 American Idol winner told ET. “I had to go through some things as we all do. Some of us are not always willing to share that. I’m willing to share that because that is real life, and people need to hear it. I can fall, but get back up.”
The Color Purple opens in theaters on Dec. 25.