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Paula Julie Abdul (/ˈæbduːl/; born June 19, 1962) is an American singer-songwriter, dancer, choreographer, actress and television personality. She began her career as a cheerleader for the Los Angeles Lakers at the age of 18 before rising to prominence in the 1980s as a highly sought-after choreographer at the height of the music video era. Abdul later scored a string of pop music hits in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Her six number one singles on the Billboard Hot 100 tie her with Diana Ross for seventh among the female solo performers who have topped the chart. She won a Grammy for "Best Music Video – Short Form" for "Opposites Attract" and twice won the "Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Choreography".
After her initial period of success, Abdul suffered a series of setbacks in her professional and personal life. She saw renewed fame and success as an original judge on American Idol in the 2000s, which she left after the eighth season. She went on to star on CBS's short-lived television series Live to Dance, which lasted one season in 2011, and was subsequently a judge on the first season of the American version of The X Factor along with her former American Idol co-judge Simon Cowell, the creator and producer of the show. She was also a guest judge on the All-Stars edition of Dancing with the Stars in 2012 and the tenth season of So You Think You Can Dance in 2013, and more recently became a permanent judge for that series along with the Australian version of the show for its 2014 revival.
Abdul was born in San Fernando, California, to Jewish parents. Abdul's father, Harry Abdul, was born into the Syrian-Jewish community in Aleppo, Syria, was raised in Brazil, and subsequently emigrated to the United States. Her mother, the concert pianist Lorraine M. Rykiss, grew up in one of the two Jewish families in Minnedosa, Manitoba in Canada, and has Ashkenazi Jewish ancestors from Ukraine. Abdul holds dual citizenship in the United States and Canada. She has a sister named Wendy. In 1980, she graduated from Van Nuys High School.
An avid dancer, Abdul was inspired towards a show business career by Gene Kelly in the classic film Singin' in the Rain.
Abdul began taking dance lessons at an early age in ballet, jazz, and tap. She attended Van Nuys High School, where she was a cheerleader and an honor student. At 15, she received a scholarship to a dance camp near Palm Springs, and in 1978 appeared in a low-budget Independent musical film, Junior High School.
Abdul studied broadcasting at the California State University, Northridge. During her freshman year, she was selected from a pool of 700 candidates for the cheerleading squad of the Los Angeles Lakers NBA basketball team—the famed Laker Girls. Within a year, she became head choreographer.'
1982–1986: Dance and choreography era
Abdul was discovered by The Jacksons, after a few of the band members had watched her while attending a Los Angeles Lakers game. She was signed to do the choreography for the video to their single "Torture". "My only problem was how to tell the Jacksons how to dance," Abdul later recalled. "Imagine me telling them what routines to do. I was young, I was scared. I'm not quite sure how I got through that." The success of the choreography in the video led to Abdul's career of choreographer in music videos. It was also due to the success of the video that Abdul was chosen to be the choreographer for the Jacksons' Victory tour.
Abdul choreographed videos for several singers throughout the 1980s, including many videos for Janet Jackson during her Control era. In 1995, Abdul released a dance workout video entitled Paula Abdul's Get Up and Dance! (re-released on DVD in 2003), a fast-paced, hip-hop style workout. In 1998, she released a second video called Cardio Dance (re-released on DVD in 2000). In December 2005, Abdul launched a cheerleading/fitness/dance DVD series called Cardio Cheer, which is marketed to children and teenage girls involved with cheerleading and dance.
In film, Abdul choreographed sequences for the giant keyboard scene involving Tom Hanks's character in Big. Other credits include appearances in Coming to America, Action Jackson, Jerry Maguire, The Running Man, American Beauty, Can't Buy Me Love, and Oliver Stone's The Doors. Her television appearances include The Tracey Ullman Show, American Music Awards, the Academy Awards, and several commercials, such as The King's touchdown celebration, as seen in a string of popular Burger King television commercials that aired during the 2005–06 NFL season.
1987–1994: Forever Your Girl and Spellbound
In 1987, Abdul used her savings to make a singing demo. Although she had appeared in the musical film Junior High School years earlier, her singing voice was relatively untrained, but her exceptional dancing proved marketable to the visually oriented, MTV-driven, pop music industry. She was a tireless worker, and relied on input from her vocal coach and producers to improve her sound.
In 1988, Abdul released her pop debut album, Forever Your Girl. The album took 64 weeks to hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200 album sales chart—the longest an album has been on the market before hitting No. 1—and spent 10 weeks there. The album eventually became multi-platinum in the spring and summer of 1989, and it spawned five American Top Three singles, four of them No. 1s (three in 1989 and one in 1990): "Straight Up", "Forever Your Girl", "Cold Hearted", and "Opposites Attract". A remix album, Shut Up and Dance, was also released and reached No. 7 on Billboard's album chart, becoming one of the most successful remix albums to date. The Grammy award-winning video for "Opposites Attract" featured an animated cat named MC Skat Kat.
At the 33rd Grammy Awards, Abdul won her first Grammy for Best Music Video for "Opposites Attract", She was also nominated for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for her song "Straight Up" but lost out to Bonnie Raitt's "Nick of Time".
In early 1991, Yvette Marine, backing vocalist on Forever Your Girl, claimed that she sang "co-lead vocals" on the album and sued Abdul and Virgin Records for compensation. After one month of court proceedings, Abdul and Virgin won the case.
Abdul's follow-up album, 1991's Spellbound, contained another string of hits, and sold 7 million copies worldwide. The first single from Spellbound was the ballad, "Rush, Rush", which topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart for five consecutive weeks, and was noted for its music video and Rebel Without a Cause motif featuring Keanu Reeves in the James Dean role. "Promise of a New Day", the second release from the album, also hit No. 1, and was followed by the Top 10 hit "Blowing Kisses in the Wind" and two Top 20 hits: "Vibeology" and "Will You Marry Me?". Many of these songs were written by Peter Lord, Jeffrey Smith and Sandra St. Victor, who were members of The Family Stand. The album, Spellbound, retained much of the dance-oriented formula heard on her debut album. The track "U" was written for Abdul by Prince.
Abdul promoted the album through the "Under My Spell Tour", which was named by an MTV contest for fans. This tour was nearly cancelled due to an accident during rehearsals. The tour began on schedule and ran from October 1991 to the summer of 1992. In 1991, Abdul embraced advertising and starred in a popular Diet Coke commercial in which she danced with a digital image of her idol, a young Gene Kelly.
Abdul was honoured with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in December 1991.
1995–2001: Head over Heels
By 1995, Paula Abdul had recovered from her battle with the eating disorder bulimia nervosa and prepared to return to the spotlight with her new album Head over Heels. The first single off the album, "My Love Is for Real" featured a fusion of R&B and traditional Middle Eastern instruments, and was performed with Yemeni-Israeli singer Ofra Haza. Its accompanying Lawrence of Arabia-inspired music video was played in theaters across the world as a prologue to the film Clueless. The single was a hit in the clubs (peaking at No. 1 on Billboard's Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart), and made it to No. 28 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart.
The second single, "Crazy Cool", peaked at No. 13 on the dance charts. "Ain't Never Gonna Give You Up" was the album's third and final single. To date, Head over Heels has sold 3 million copies worldwide.
In January 1997, Abdul starred in the ABC television movie Touched By Evil, playing a businesswoman who discovers that her boyfriend is a serial rapist. Also that year, Abdul co-wrote the song "Spinning Around" with songwriter and producer Kara DioGuardi, who became a fellow judge on American Idol in 2009. "Spinning Around" was a dance-pop track intended to be the lead single on Abdul's follow-up album to Head over Heels. But the album never materialized, and "Spinning Around" was instead given to Kylie Minogue. The song was highly successful, reaching No. 1 in numerous countries.
While Abdul took a break from the music industry, she remained busy behind the scenes. Abdul served as the choreographer for several film and theater productions, including the 1998 musical Reefer Madness and the cheerleading scenes in the 1999 film American Beauty (she had previously also choreographed the 1991 film The Doors). Abdul also co-produced a 2001 pilot episode of Skirts, a dramatic series that would have aired on MTV about a high-school cheerleading squad; Abdul was also set to appear as the head coach. The pilot never aired.
In 2000, Abdul's Paula Abdul: Greatest Hits CD was released by Virgin Records (with whom Abdul was already no longer affiliated). It included all her hit singles and other noteworthy tracks. The song "Bend Time Back 'Round" had previously been heard only on the 1992 soundtrack for the hit television series Beverly Hills, 90210.
2002–2009: American Idol
In 2002, Abdul appeared as one of three judges for the reality television music competition show American Idol. Abdul, along with fellow judges Simon Cowell and Randy Jackson, evaluated thousands of amateur contestants in their ability to sing. Abdul won praise as a sympathetic and compassionate judge. She seemed especially kind compared to fellow judge Simon Cowell, who was often blunt in his appraisals of the contestants' performances. When she realized that Cowell's over-the-top judging style was heartbreaking for many young contestants, Abdul was so horrified that she considered leaving the show. Although their differences often resulted in extremely heated on-air exchanges and confrontations, Cowell says he played a major role in convincing Abdul not to leave the show.
While serving as a judge on American Idol, Abdul accepted a second assignment as reporter for Entertainment Tonight.
In March 2006, Fox announced that Abdul had signed to stay on American Idol as a judge for at least three more years. Later that year, fellow American Idol judge Simon Cowell invited her to be a guest judge at some of the early auditions for the third series of his similar UK talent show The X Factor. Abdul was present at the initial audition of the eventual winner, Leona Lewis.
Paula Abdul's second greatest-hits CD, Greatest Hits: Straight Up!, was released by Virgin Records on May 8, 2007. Virgin Records also released the music videos to all six of Abdul's No. 1 singles to iTunes. Meanwhile, Bravo began airing the reality television series Hey Paula, which followed Abdul through her day-to-day life. The series was produced by Scott Sternberg Productions and debuted on June 28, 2007. Abdul's behavior as depicted on the show was described as "erratic" by comedian Rosie O'Donnell and decried by numerous fans and critics. The show aired for only one season.
In 2007, Paula Abdul Jewelry launched its nationwide consumer debut on QVC, with the tagline "fashion jewelry designed with heart and soul." Abdul's first QVC appearance resulted in 15 sellouts of her first jewelry collection involving more than 34,000 pieces.
In January 2008, Abdul returned to the music charts for the first time in nearly 13 years with the single "Dance Like There's No Tomorrow," the first track on the album Randy Jackson's Music Club Vol 1. The song debuted on On Air with Ryan Seacrest., and Abdul performed it during the pre-game show for Super Bowl XLII. "Dance Like There's No Tomorrow" was a modest comeback hit for Abdul, peaking at No. 62 on the Billboard Hot 100, No. 11 on iTunes and No. 2 on the Billboard Hot Dance Club Play chart. Abdul has reported other songs that she is working on such as, "Boom Box." Abdul also made a brief guest appearance in season 3 episode 1 of the British television Comedy-Drama Hotel Babylon, which aired in the United Kingdom on February 19, 2008.
In February 2008, it was reported she was to be working on a new album.
In January 2009, Abdul hosted "RAH!," a 90-minute cheerleading competition on MTV. "RAH!" featured five collegiate squads competing in a series of challenges with Abdul crowning one the winner. In May 2009, Abdul debuted her latest song "I'm Just Here for the Music" (originally an unreleased song from Kylie Minogue's ninth album Body Language) on the Ryan Seacrest Radio KIIS-FM show and performed the single on the American Idol results show. "I'm Just Here for the Music" reached No. 87 on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming Abdul's 15th song to appear on the chart.
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times on July 18, 2009, Abdul's manager David Sonenberg told the newspaper that, "Very sadly, it does not appear that she's going to be back on 'Idol'." This came about as a result of stalled negotiations between Abdul and the show. On August 4, 2009, after numerous contract negotiations, Abdul confirmed that she would not be returning to Idol for its ninth season. The Times cited reports Abdul had been earning as much as $5 million per season and that she was reportedly seeking as much as $20 million to return. Abdul was replaced by Ellen DeGeneres.
On August 18, 2009, it was reported that Abdul was negotiating to return to Idol after not taking part in season nine of Dancing with the Stars. Two days later, Abdul's manager said that there were not any talks with Fox, but they were not ruling anything out.
Abdul claimed her departure from Idol was not about money, but that she had to stand on principle.
2010–present: Live to Dance, The X Factor and So You Think You Can Dance Australia & America
In January 2010, Abdul presented a Lifetime Achievement Award to choreographer Julie McDonald at the 11th Anniversary show of The Carnival: Choreographer's Ball. In November, Abdul launched and co-founded AuditionBooth.com, a website that allows aspiring talents to connect with casting directors, producers, and managers.
Abdul kicked off 2011 by serving as lead judge, executive producer, creative partner, mentor and coach on CBS' new dancing competition, Live to Dance (formerly Got to Dance) Abdul said that unlike American Idol, her new show is less about "competition" and more about "celebration." After its first season of seven weekly shows, it was canceled by CBS.
On May 8, 2011, it was announced that Abdul would rejoin Simon Cowell on the first season of the American version of The X Factor. The judging panel consisted of Abdul, Cowell, music executive L.A. Reid and Girls Aloud singer Cheryl Cole. However, Cole was axed after two audition cites and replaced by Pussycat Dolls lead singer Nicole Scherzinger who served as co-host alongside Steve Jones. The series premièred on September 21, 2011. She was the mentor for the "Groups" category. She was called by the show's producers about the news of her category whilst at home in Los Angeles, California. During the Judges' Houses stage of the competition, Abdul was aided by guest judge Pharrell Williams in Santa Barbara, California. Abdul's contestants were all eliminated from the competition, her final act Lakoda Rayne were eliminated by the public vote on week five of the Live Shows. They were the Groups category's most successful act.
In January 2012, Abdul announced that she would not be returning as a judge for the show's second season. Fellow season one judge Nicole Scherzinger and host Steve Jones were also axed from the show that month. Abdul was replaced by Demi Lovato. On October 15, 2012, Abdul served as a guest judge during week four of the All-Stars version of Dancing with the Stars. In week seven, she performed the "Dream Medley", a compilation of four of her No. 1 singles: "Straight Up", "Cold Hearted", "Forever Your Girl" and "Opposites Attract". The medley was a re-recording with live instruments. On April 18, 2013, Abdul appeared on the Top 5 results show of season 12 of American Idol to compliment contestant Candice Glover on her performance of Straight Up.
In January 30, 2013, The Carnival: Choreographers Ball 14th Year Anniversary, Abdul was honored with Lifetime Achievement Award for her contributions and works in the choreography world.
On July 9, 2013, Abdul was a guest judge on So You Think You Can Dance (season ten). In October 2013, Abdul was named as a judge on the revamped So You Think You Can Dance Australia, which aired on Australia's Network Ten from February 9 through May 1, 2014. Abdul was present as a permanent member of the judge's panel for all episodes of this season. Details about the likelihood of the show's return for a fifth season, and of Abdul's continued involvement with it, have yet to be released. She later became a permanent judge on the twelfth season of the American version.
In April 2014, Abdul was a guest judge on RuPaul's Drag Race (season 6). The episode put Abdul face to face with previous Idol competitor, Adore Delano. In June 2014, Abdul made a cameo appearance on the Australian soap opera Neighbours and shared scenes with established character Karl Kennedy (Alan Fletcher).
On 2015 Abdul made a guest appearance on the comedy sitcom Real Husbands of Hollywood on its Season 4 premiere. She was shown having a conversation with Arsenio Hall. On the show Abdul was trying to kick Hall out of her pool house. The duo made a comedic scene.
In November 16, 2015, Abdul along with Charles "Chucky" Klapow, Renee Richie and Nakul Dev Mahajan won the World Choreography Award for Outstanding Choreography Digital Format for the video 'Check Yourself'.
In November 22, 2015, Paula Abdul and Donnie Wahlberg presented Favorite Female Artist – Pop/Rock at the 43rd American Music Awards; the award Abdul won in 1990 AMA's, presented to her by Wahlberg.
On August 6, 2016, Paula Abdul performed a full headling set for the first time in 26 years at the Mixtape Festival in Hershey, Pennsylvania.
Marriages and relationships
Abdul was married to Emilio Estevez from 1992 to 1994. She married clothing designer Brad Beckerman in 1996 at the New England Carousel Museum in Bristol, Connecticut. They divorced in 1998, citing irreconcilable differences.
Abdul is observant in her Jewish faith, and is proud of her heritage. She once stated, "My father is a Syrian Jew whose family immigrated to Brazil. My mother is Canadian with Jewish roots. My dream is to go to Israel for a real holiday." In November 2006, when Israeli Tourist Minister Isaac Herzog invited her to Israel, Abdul responding with a hug, adding, "I will come; you have helped me make a dream come true." In 2013, at the age of 51, Abdul had her bat mitzvah in Safed, Israel, at a Kabbalah center.
In 2003, Abdul was reported as a practitioner of Transcendental Meditation.
On December 20, 2004, Abdul was driving her Mercedes on a Los Angeles-area freeway when she changed lanes and hit another vehicle. The driver and passenger took a photograph with a cell phone camera and wrote down the license plate number of the car, which was traced to Abdul. On March 24, 2005, Abdul was fined US$900 and given 24 months of informal probation after pleading no contest to misdemeanor hit-and-run driving. She was ordered to pay US$775 for damage to the other car.
On April 4, 2006, Abdul filed a report at a Hollywood police station claiming she had been a victim of battery at a private party at about 1am on April 2, according to LAPD spokesman Lt. Paul Vernon. "According to Abdul, the man at the party argued with her, grabbed her by the arm and threw her against a wall," Vernon said. "She said she had sustained a concussion and spinal injuries."
In April 2005, Abdul said that she suffers from a neurological disorder, reflex sympathetic dystrophy, that causes chronic pain. This disorder is also known as CRPS (Complex Regional Pain Syndrome)
Abdul is a dog lover who raised awareness about National Guide Dog Month in May 2009, and she teamed up with Dick Van Patten to help people with blindness to have more independence through the help of guide dogs. She does not wear real fur.
In May 2005, ABC's news magazine Primetime Live reported claims by season two American Idol contestant Corey Clark that he and Abdul had an affair during that season, and that she had coached him on how to succeed in the competition. The fact that Clark came forward at a time when he was marketing a CD and trying to get a book deal was seen as suspicious by some, but Clark maintains that his career was being prejudiced because of his relationship with Abdul and that is why he came forward with the information to clear his name. For the most part, Abdul refused to comment on Clark's allegations. Simon Cowell came to Abdul's defense, calling Corey Clark a creep and stating "It was just somebody using her to get a lot of publicity for an appalling record, full stop."
At the height of the débâcle, Abdul appeared in a Saturday Night Live skit, making light of the situation. While Fox launched an investigation, Abdul received numerous calls of support from celebrities, including Oprah Winfrey and Kelly Ripa; Barbara Walters addressed the camera during an episode of ABC's The View to say she was sad to be part of an operation that would report Clark's flimsy tabloid claims under the guise of a news story. In August 2005, the Fox network confirmed that she would be returning to the show, as the investigation had found "insufficient evidence that the communications between Mr. Clark and Ms. Abdul in any way aided his performance."
Substance abuse allegations
Substance abuse allegations arose as the result of what some described as "erratic behavior" by Abdul during episodes of American Idol. After reading these allegations on message boards, Abdul told People in April 2005 that she suffered from chronic pain for years following a "cheerleading accident" at age 17 and was diagnosed with reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD) in November 2004. Abdul says she is now pain-free following treatment, including the anti-inflammatory medication Enbrel.
Allegations arose again in January 2007 when videos circulated on the Internet of Abdul appearing to sway in her chair and slur her speech during a set of interviews. Abdul's publicist attributed this to fatigue and technical difficulties during the recording of the interviews. It was revealed on the Bravo show Hey Paula, which had followed Abdul with a video camera prior to the interviews, that Abdul had not been sleeping, perhaps suffering from some mild form of insomnia.
In February 2007, Abdul told Us Weekly that she had never been drunk or used illegal drugs and called the allegations "lies".
In a March 2007 appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman, Abdul joked that her scrutinized behavior was caused by her being "abducted by aliens".
In several interviews given in the late 2000s, Abdul said she had been left in debilitating pain after a 1992 car accident and a 1993 plane crash that required 15 spinal surgeries and which left her dependent on pain medication for years. However, there are multiple inconsistencies in this story; there is no record of any such plane crash having occurred according to NTSB records; nor are there any references to her being in a plane crash in any media at the time.
In May 2009, Ladies' Home Journal posted an article on its website that said that Abdul told them she stayed at the La Costa Resort and Spa in Carlsbad, California for three days the previous year to recover from physical dependence on prescription pain medications. The medications, prescribed due to injuries and her RSD diagnosis, included a pain patch, nerve medication, and a muscle relaxant. According to the article, Abdul said the medications made her "get weird" at times and that she suffered from physical withdrawal symptoms during her recovery.
Later that same week, in an interview with Detroit radio station WKQI, Abdul rejected the article's accuracy. She told the radio station she never checked into a rehab clinic and never had a drug abuse problem.
The Club MTV Tour
The Under My Spell Tour