She is a singer, dancer, record producer and TV personality born Paula Julie Abdul in North Hollywood, California, to a Syrian father raised in Brazil who owned a company dealing with sand and gravel and a Canadian mother who was a pianist that had been an assistant to Billy Wilder.
She started taking ballet lessons when she was seven years old, took her education at Van Nuys Junior High and was an honours student at Van Nuys High School, where she was also a cheerleader. This led to her attending a dance camp on a scholarship when she was fifteen years old. A year later she was given a role in 1978’s Junior High School.
Moving into further education she entered the California State University at Northridge to study broadcasting and in her first year there she was chosen to be one of the Los Angeles Lakers’ cheerleaders known as The Laker Girls. This proved to be the start of her career as she found herself as head choreographer of the cheerleaders within three months, within six months had abandoned her studies to concentrate on dancing and was signed by The Jacksons as their choreographer for the single “Torture” after they had seen her at a game. She remained with them for the tour that followed their album Victory.
Her work with The Jacksons catapulted her into working as a choreographer with Janet Jackson and George Michael and many other artists during the 1980s. She also moved into television working on The Tracey Ullman Show and onto the big screen by choreographing on 1987’s Can’t Buy Me Love and The Running Man, the keyboard scene for the 1988 movie Big and that same year worked on Coming to America and Action Jackson.
The 1980s were also the start of her singing career when she made a demo in 1987 and released Forever Your Girl in 1988 which eventually reached No. 1 on the Billboard album chart after 62 weeks, but remained there for 10 weeks and became multi-platinum in 1989. This produced the four No. 1 singles “Straight Up”, “Forever Your Girl”, “Cold Hearted” and “Opposites Attract”, which won a Grammy Award for best video with her starring opposite the animated MC Skat Kat. Other chart songs from the album were “The Way That You Love Me” which reached No. 3 and “Knocked Out” which went to No. 41. She later won a court case in the early 1990s which was brought against her and the Virgin label by the backing vocalist Yvette Marine who claimed she had sung as a co-lead on Forever Your Girl.
In 1990 she released the remix album called Shut Up and Dance which went to No. 7 on the Billboard album chart. She then released another successful album Spellbound in 1991 which gave her the further No. 1 its “Rush, Rush” and “Promise of a New Day”. Further charting singles were “Blowing Kisses in the Wind”, “Vibeology” and “Will You Marry Me?”. Another track called simply “U” was written for her by Prince. The accompanying Under My Spell Tour ran from 1991 to 1992. In 1992 she married the movie star Emilio Estevez but they divorced two years later.
She became ill from an eating disorder but after tackling bulimia nervosa she returned with Head Over Heels in 1995. The single “My Love Is For Real” reached No. 28 n the Billboard Top 100 and No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart, “Crazy Cool” went to No. 13 on the Billboard Dance chart, “Ain’t Never Gonna Give You Up” went to No. 12 on the Billboard Bubbling Under the Hot 100 chart and the release of the single “If I Were Your Girl” was cancelled by Virgin. Two years later, in 1997, she signed up with Mercury Records and co-wrote “Spinning Around” with Kara DioGuardi but due to no release of a new album, the song was recorded by Kyle Minogue instead and became a massive international hit.
Also during the 1990s she choreographed on further films that include 1991’s The Doors, 1996’s Jerry Maguire and 1999’s American Beauty. She also starred opposite a digital image of her hero Gene Kelly in a commercial for Diet Coke and released Paula Abdul’s Get Up and Dance! DVD in 1995 and Cardio Dance in 1998.
In the 2000s she decided to take a break but Paula Abdul: Greatest Hits was released by Virgin in 2000. Altering the course of her career she became a judge on American Idol in 2002 and remained there until 2009. She also appeared as a guest judge on the UK’s The X Factor and was signed up for the new US version.
On the business side of things she launched her own jewellery collection on QVC, which resulted in 15 items being sold out with a total of over 34,000 sales on the first day. She released the dance and cheerleading DVD Cardio Cheer in 2005 and her work was regularly seen on Burger King commercials during the 2005-6 NFL season. She also revealed that she suffered from the painful disorder Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy.
In 2007 the TV channel Bravo debuted the reality show Hey Paula which followed her day to day activities and her Greatest Hits: Straight Up! was released by Virgin and her six No. 1 videos were made available on iTunes. Almost thirteen years after her last chart appearance she went to No. 2 on the Billboard Hot Dance Club Play chart and No. 62 on the Billboard Hot 100 with the release of “Dance Like There’s No Tomorrow” in 2008 which appears on Randy Jackson’s Music Club Vol. 1. In 2009 she premiered her “I’m Just Here for the Music”
In 2009 she premiered her 90-minute special RAH! on MTV, was a host on VH1’s Divas that same year where she performed a medley of her hits and was a judge on Drop Dead Diva.
She has appeared as a reporter on the TV series Entertainment Tonight and is a judge on the show Got to Dance for the 2010/11 season. Involved with the Guide Dog for the Blind charity she has recently been making people aware of National Guide Dog Month and working in collaboration with Dick Van Patten to provide assistance to blind people. From 2010 onwards she made many more appearances as a guest judge on several TV shows.
In 2013 The Carnival: Choreographers’ Ball presented here with a Lifetime Achievement Award for her contribution and work in choreography and in 2015 was a co-winner of the World Choreography Award for Outstanding Choreography Digital Format for the video “Check Yourself”.
Paula has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Here’s Paula performing “Opposites Attract”…