01/14/2009 at 07:00 PM EST
Kara DioGuardi's engagement was both romantic – think candles and a Mexican vacation – and humorous.
"I was in, of course, my thermal smiley-face pajamas that one of my best friends gave me for Christmas," recalls the new American Idol
judge of getting engaged
on her 38th birthday in December.
DioGuardi says her fiancé Mike McCuddy, 34, lit some candles before popping the first of two questions.
"He said, 'I have a question: Do you know where my shoes are?'" she told reporters at FOX's Television Critics Association after-party on Tuesday.
When she said she didn't know, McCuddy responded, "All right, well then will you marry me?"
The songwriter-producer, who met McCuddy, a schoolteacher-turned-general contractor, a year and a half ago, says she was hesitant to disclose her occupation at the beginning of their relationship.
So, at the suggestion of one of her friends, McCuddy checked out the Grammy-nominee's Web site
and called her to say he didn't think the relationship would work because she had "a Hollywood life," DioGuardi remembers.
Her response? "I have no Hollywood life, believe me," she told him. "I'm working 18-hour days, going home and catching a Law & Order
episode and calling him at night."
Reporting by SCOTT HUVER