As rude as Simon Cowell may be to Paula Abdul on "American Idol," he helped save her two years ago during an alleged sex scandal, Paula told The Post.

"I have to be honest about Simon," Abdul said yesterday. "There's the times when he's like a big brother - or a lover. He was extremely distraught and protective and supportive of me when that happened."

Abdul was accused of an inappropriate relationship with a contestant from the show's second season, though an investigation by the network cleared her of any wrongdoing.

Still, producers of the hit show reportedly discussed replacing her because of the bad publicity.

But it was Cowell - who has a famously cat-and-dog relationship with Paula - who stepped up for her, she says.

"Truthfully there are times that we get along just great. And other times, when he's just annoyed, I get the brunt of it," she says.

"And when I can't stand some of the things he says and then we go at it. It's just weird," Abdul says.

"It's chemistry that you can't duplicate or describe. There are times when we get along famously and then there are those times when we just don't. And on those days I just close my dressing room door." Cowell - who produces several other talent shows here and stars in his own version of "Idol," called "X Factor," in England - is spreading himself thin these days, she says.

"There are days when he wakes up on the wrong side of the bed . . . or something that's happening in England," she says.

"When that happens, he's got his cigarettes, his phone and that's it. He doesn't know how to turn it off sometimes and focus on our show. Simon's moody."

"Idol" represents Abdul's third career -following a run as an '80s pop star and then as one of the most sought-after choreographers in show business.

But working on the highest-rated show on TV - it begins its new season next Tuesday - is bringing in the kind of money most stars only dream of.

Right now, she's backing a live-action movie based on the popular fashion dolls, Bratz.

She cannot even imagine a time when she is no longer on "Idol."

"If people don't mind seeing me with a full head of gray hair," she says. "But by then I don't know if I'll have so many nervous twitches that my body will get in the way of watching the talent."

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