An Interview with Paula Abdul!
Growing up a basketball fan in Southern California in the late 80’s, not only was I always aware of Paula Abdul as a powerhouse pop singer who put out Forever Your Girl, a well-loved record that I still play often to this day, but I also knew of her background as a Lakers Girl cheerleader.
On her most recent tour, I got to speak to her about her background in cheer, dance and singing, and was absolutely blown away by her story of how she made the Lakers squad to begin with, and how everything unfolded from there.
The conversation still feels surreal to me, but here it is: my interview with Paula Abdul…
“I was young, I was 17 years old,” recalls Paula Abdul on the event that would put into motion a life in the entertainment industry.
On Sunday, November 4th, Paula will be bringing her Straight Up Paula! Tour to Reno, where showing off the music and choreography that were the foundation of her career. Though, as she explains, even having had albums on the charts and all over radio and a spot on a prime time television show, her career hasn’t been outside of those serendipitous coincidences that many people look back on experiencing which guided them from their initial path and into uncharted territory.
“So many things have affected my career, starting with being a Laker Girl.” She would eventually become the basketball team’s lead choreographer, but she recalls to me how even making the team almost didn’t come to be.
“went down with several of my girlfriends to try out, and I was number 742 – there were close to 2000 girls there. I got cut before I even got to dance. But I was the only one out of my friends who brought a dance bag, and I went into the bathroom and changed my hair, changed my name, put on a new leotard and tights, and entered as a different person.”
When you think her story is leading to a logically simple, ‘Keep Trying’ lesson, she explains the determination it took in this circumstance.
“I got cut a second time!” she laughs. “By this time my girlfriends were already cut and they left. I had one more outfit. It was the third attempt of me changing my leotard and tights, my hair, and the spelling of my name that I got to be a Laker Girl!”
For Paula Abdul, it was this young entrance into LA’s performer scene that led to other doors opening.
“I started saving up my money from choreography and I started recording some demos. As a Laker Girl, a lot of record label presidents were season ticket holders. Two of my favorite label heads called me to have dinner and told me they were leaving their respective record companies and forming Virgin Records America, and I was one of their first signings.”
Paula’s debut album, Forever Your Girl, shot to success with songs like “Straight Up”, “Cold Hearted” and “Opposites Attract”, not to mention her bubbly personality and dance background lighting up a young tastemaking television network known as MTV.
But while touring in support of her next record, Spellbound, she was forced to leave the entertainment industry and her star momentum.
“I was in a small plane at the tail end of my tour, and one of the engines blew up. The right wing caught on fire and we plummeted. We did a crash landing, and I hit my head on the plane. I ended up crushing my C Spine. For many years I wasn’t able to do anything. I had 15 spinal surgeries, I had partial paralysis of my whole right side.”
Paula re-emerged from a 7 year recovery period as one of three original judges on the show American Idol. Following her obligations to the show, it started to feel like the time was right to perform her music again.
“The fact that I wasn’t able to do music or dance for so long, I just really wanted to get up and go onstage again.”
For two months in 2017, Paula was a part of the Total Package Tour, which also featured Boyz II Men and New Kids On The Block.
“I was really excited and surprised at how many people were happy to come back and see me!”
Following the tour, she started laying plans in motion for her first solo headlining tour since that 1992 outing that almost ended tragically. She created most of the choreography for 2018’s Straight Up Paula! Tour, emphasizing her feeling that her style of dance, originally under the mentorship of Tony and Academy Award winning choreographer Bob Fosse, has withstood the test of time.
Her tour also gives her a chance to interact with fans, as her shows each include Meet & Greet ticketing options.
“I love getting a chance to meet the fans, because if it weren’t for them, I’d be nothing. Some of the nostalgia they bring, from very first concert tickets that they have me sign, to the stories that they tell me are incredible!”
In the end, Paula is continuing her work in different parts of the entertainment industry.
“I’m doing some producing now. I started my career behind the scenes, and I love that as much as being in front of the camera and onstage.”
She acknowledges coming up with a production that combines her dance and vocal work in a performance where she feels confident with her team and the crowds that she goes in front of each night.
“For me it’s always been about the quality of people that I surround myself with. As I get older I realize the quality of friendships in life are very important, and I’m enjoying this second part of my career in music because I’m having a blast!”
check out PaulaAbdul.com for more information on new music and appearances.
or head to KWNKradio.org for Nocturnal Transmissions and other freeform programming in the Reno area.