Paula Abdul may be missing in action on the judge's panel of 'American Idol' this season, but she's certainly not forgotten. And the Grammy-winning singer, producer and choreographer hasn't forgotten the country music that helped shape her childhood.

"My dad was a cattle man -- a cowboy -- and listening to country music was our bond," Paula tells The Boot. [Roger Miller's] 'King of the Road' was our song together that we used to sing. I just remember happy songs as a kid growing up. Coming out of divorce, my parents divorced when I was 7, I just remember country music was a way of telling stories. Whenever I was staying with him for the week, that was our bond. We loved all of Johnny Cash and Patsy Cline, and later on Dolly Parton was one of my dad's favorites and she became one of mine. I got a chance to work with her when I became a choreographer. [Paula choreographed Dolly's 'A Smoky Mountain Christmas' TV special]. I was 17 years old. That was pretty cool! Later on, it was fitting that I ended up being managed by the same manager as Dolly. It was just wild how my career just kind of grew up and paralleled other people's lives."

One of Paula's fondest memories of her stint on 'AI' was the night Rascal Flatts sang 'Bless the Broken Road,' with Carrie Underwood. "Not many people knew that song, and it was so exciting when we had the finale. I remember walking in to watch it early [in rehearsals]. I remember these guys decked out in the tightest leather pants and they were total rock 'n' roll. I had never seen them before and they [said], 'Hey, Paula,' and I could tell by their accents they were country artists. They said, 'We're Rascal Flatts.' I said: 'Oh, my God!' And I said, 'Who's Gary LeVox? ... your voice is amazing!' I just said, 'I think you guys are fantastic!' And I'll never forget when Carrie was sitting on the edge of the stage sitting next to Gary and when he opened his mouth to sing, people looked up and just started screaming. It was just a cool night. And then that became the number one a capella song the contestants sang the following year.'

Paula was particularly excited with one of Carrie's earliest achievements, her Opry induction in 2008. "She's a welcome fixture ... being inducted into the Grand Ole Opry. I mean everything that [has happened] to her is what makes me so proud of 'American Idol.' She adds that she feels like a proud mom when she sees how well some of the AI contestants have done in country music. "I get excited to see Bo Bice on stage, and Josh Gracin. It's fun seeing him rise in country music. I wrote Josh a letter of reference to his academy to let him out so he could pursue his dream. And I'm [so fond] of Kellie Pickler and Bucky Covington. Kellie is my 'sister' -- I love her to pieces!"

Another connection Paula has to country music is a bit unusual. TV host Dr. Phil set Paula up on a date with singer Keith Anderson for a 2006 Valentine's Day episode of his show. "That was fun ... and silly," she recalls with a laugh. "Keith was very sweet. He had great manners ... just a good old-fashioned good guy."

When it comes to country songs, a sentimental Paula says one of her favorites is Alan Jackson's 'Remember When.' "It strikes right to the heart of my whole being," she notes. "It's just a reflection song about the way things used to be and for me it makes me strive to bring back those memories and make them better."

She also has a soft spot in her heart for 'Shiftwork,' the Kenny Chesney/George Strait hit. "I like that for many reasons. No one has grown up in this business like I have. There's no one who's been a crew [jockey] so to speak, that takes it all and is hired to make the star look perfect and bright. Before then, I was just the stupid cheerleader who everyone said would never make it. That song has a lot of meaning to me. My whole life has been just different shifts of work and different jobs and working like a maniac to make it in this business. It's my interpretation of the song. I mean, people have no idea I would work through the clock, work through the hours and wake up at 20th Century Fox [studios]. I'd park my car at 5 a.m., after choreographing George Michael's tour ... Prince, ZZ Top, Janet Jackson ... and then I'd go back in the morning and get ready, take a two-hour nap and get ready for producers' read-through for 'The Tracey Ullman Show.' I mean, it was crazy. I'd secretly make my album from midnight to 5 a.m. I loved every minute of it!"

Paula's third choice, one of Carrie Underwood's biggest hits, also has something of a personal connection for her. "'Before He Cheats' is [Carrie's] version of [my song] 'Cold Hearted Snake,'" she offers with a laugh. "It's like I would incorporate her song into mine and make sure he gets his for what he did wrong!"