Paula Julie Abdul (born June 19, 1962) is an American singer-songwriter, voice actress, 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". She is best known for the role of herself in Opposites Attract, Skat Strut, and Looney Tunes: Back in Action, and the voice of the wristwatch in Robots.
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 eight 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.
Paula Abdul was born in San Fernando, California, to Jewish parents. Abdul's father, Harry Abdul, is of Mizrahi Jewish (Syrian-Jewish) heritage and was born in Aleppo, Syria, raised in Brazil, and emigrated to the United States. Her mother, the concert pianist Lorriane M. Rykiss, grew up in one of the two Canadian-Jewish families in Minnedosa, Manitoba, and has Ashkenazi Jewish ancestors from Ukraine. Abdul has a sister named Wendy. As an avid dancer, Abdul was inspired towards a show business career by Gene Kelly in the 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. In 1980, she graduated from Van Nuys 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.
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 music video to their single "Torture". Abdul recalled feeling intimidated by having to tell the Jacksons how to dance, stating that she was "not quite sure how [she] got through that." The success of the choreography in the music video led to Abdul's career as choreographer of music videos, notably Janet Jackson's "What Have You Done for Me Lately", "Nasty", and "Control" 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 also choreographed sequences for the giant keyboard scene involving Tom Hanks's character in Big (1988).
In 1987, Abdul used her savings to make a singing demo. Soon thereafter, she was signed to the newly formed Virgin Records by Jeff Ayeroff, who had worked in marketing at A&M Records with Janet Jackson. Although she was a skilled dancer and choreographer, Abdul was a relatively untrained singer, and worked with various coaches and record producers to develop her vocal ability. She has a mezzo-soprano vocal range. Ayeroff recalled signing Abdul to a recording contract years later, stating: "She said, "I can sing, you know. I want to do an album." Paula's in our industry. Here's someone with a personality and she's gorgeous, and she can dance. If she can sing, she could be a star. So, she went into the studio and cut a demo record, and she could sing."
Abdul's debut studio album, Forever Your Girl (1988), would become the most successful debut album in history at that time, reaching number one on the ''Billboard'' 200 chart after 64 weeks (where it would spend 10 weeks at number one), and set a record for the most singles from a debut album to reach number one on the ''Billboard'' Hot 100 chart in the United States. The album was later certified 7x platinum. A remix album, Shut Up and Dance: Mixes, was also released and reached number seven in the United States, becoming one of the most successful remix albums to date. At the 32nd 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 "Straight Up", but lost to Bonnie Raitt's "Nick of Time".
In 1989, Abdul made her way to celebrity stardom, beginning her acting career by playing the leading role in the music video for her song, "Opposites Attract", in which she dances and cavorts with some of the iconic Warner Bros. characters created by legendary animator Michael Patterson - MC Skat Kat, and some of the Stray Mob members, Micetro, Fatz, and Taboo. In 1990, Abdul reprised the role of herself in the Skat Strut music video, which starred Skat Kat, Micetro, Fatz, Taboo, and the remaining Stray Mob members, Leo, Katleen, and Silk.
In 1991, singer Yvette Marine filed a lawsuit against Abdul and the Virgin label, alleging that it was her vocals that were used on several tracks from Forever Your Girl, most notably "Opposites Attract". A jury sided with Abdul and the label two years later in 1993, rejecting Marine's claim to credit and copyright compensation.
Abdul saw continued success with her second studio album Spellbound (1991), which saw two additional number-one singles: "Rush Rush", and "The Promise of a New Day". A third single, "Blowing Kisses in the Wind", reached number six for three consecutive weeks. Spellbound retained the dance-pop sound from Forever Your Girl, and introduced elements of R&B, and sold 7 million copies worldwide. The music video for "Rush Rush" featured a Rebel Without a Cause motif, starring Keanu Reeves in the James Dean role. The album's other singles, "Vibeology", and "Will You Mary Me?", saw moderate success on the Billboard Hot 100, reaching the top 20. During the same year, Abdul starred in a popular Coca-Cola commercial, in which she danced with a digital image of her idol, a young Gene Kelly. Abdul was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in December 1991. Abdul promoted Spellbound through the Under My Spell Tour, which was named by an MTV contest for fans. The tour was nearly cancelled due to an accident during rehearsals, but began on schedule in October 1991 and concluded in August 1992.
After her initial period of professional success, Abdul's career entered a brief hiatus while she sought treatment for personal and physical issues. Her third studio album, Head over Heels (1995), retained both pop and R&B elements and saw moderate commercial success, peaking at number 18 on the Billboard 200 chart in the United States, and later becoming her lowest-selling release. The lead single from Head over Heels, "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 performed well on the Billboard Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart, where it reached number one, and peaked at number 28 on the Billboard Hot 100. "Crazy Cool" and "Ain't Never Gonna Give You Up" served as the album's second and third singles. To date, Head over Heels has sold over 500,000 copies in the United States. During the same year, 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 1997, Abdul co-wrote a song called "Spinning Around" with record producer and composer Kara DioGuardi, which was intended to be her comeback single from a new album, but the plan never materialized, and the song was later given to Kylie Minogue. That year, Abdul appeared in the ABC television film Touched By Evil, playing a businesswoman, who discovers that her boyfriend is a serial rapist. In 1998, she released a second workout video called Cardio Dance (re-released on DVD in 2000). Thereafter, Abdul served as the choreographer for several film and theater productions, including the 1998 musical Reefer Madness, and the cheerleading scenes in American Beauty (1999).
In 2000, Virgin Records, with whom Abdul was already no longer affiliated, released the first of two compilation albums by Abdul, Paula Abdul: Greatest Hits. Abdul co-produced the 2001 pilot for Skirts, an MTV television series about a high school cheerleading squad; Abdul was also set to appear as the head coach. The pilot never aired. In 2002, she began appearing as one of three judges on the Fox reality competition series American Idol, where she won praise as a sympathetic and compassionate judge and mentor. 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 horrified, and she considered leaving the series. Although their differences often resulted in heated on-air exchanges and confrontations, Cowell says he played a major role in convincing Abdul not to leave the series. While serving as a judge on American Idol, Abdul accepted a second assignment as reporter for Entertainment Tonight.
Abdul's career as a judge in American Idol is lampooned in the 2003 Warner Bros. live action/animated film, Looney Tunes: Back in Action, notably the Warner Bros Studios Commissary scene, in which she made a cameo appearance as herself, clad in her American Idol judge uniform whilst having lunch with an angry and humiliated MC Skat Kat and Yakety Yak, who both criticize her newfound career as a judge in American Idol. According to the comical scene, when Skat Kat asks Abdul what kind of musical performances she calls them in American Idol, referring to the show itself as "that stupid song and dance competition TV show", he tells her that she not only might have made him wear down, but she also might have made him feel down in the dumps like Yakety, as he shows her his said yak friend and associate, who is thinking up ways to do something about Abdul, and her newfound career. Abdul apologizes to Skat Kat that she is sorry he feels that way, and at that, she then tells him that she is trying to do some work as a judge in American Idol, referring to the said show as "the "American Idol" TV show". Skat Kat then threatens Abdul that if she doesn't return to the world of singing and dancing in the future music videos with him, along with her days of "music video show business", even if she doesn't sing and dance with him, he is going to scratch her in the face (a pun on slapping someone in the face with one's hand) when he'll never forgive himself, as he shows off his claws and demonstrates his scratching abilities, causing her to jump back a little bit in the process, to which Yakety has an idea, and then threatens Abdul that he is going to headbutt her in the rear end with his horns (a pun on kicking someone in the rear end to the curb with one's foot), if she doesn't "take her new career back". He then angrily raps and recites one line from the Yakety Yak, Take it Back music video (and his signature catchphrase), "Yakety Yak, Take it Back!", at Abdul, and finally bellows like a yak and snorts a gust of air through his nostrils out of anger in her face, as Skat Kat looks at the audience with a disturbed look on his face. The camera then pans right over to Kate Houghton (played by Jenna Elfman) and Bugs Bunny having lunch together, as they both discuss about Bugs's would-be popularity without the assistance of Daffy Duck.
In 2005, Abdul voiced a wristwatch in the computer animated film Robots, which is directed by Chris Wedge, and Carlos Saldanha, produced by Blue Sky Studios, and distributed by 20th Century Fox. In the month of December of the same year, Abdul launched a cheerleading/fitness/dance DVD series called, Cardio Cheer, which is marketed to children and teenage girls involved with cheerleading and dance. Abdul also choreographed The King's touchdown celebration, as seen in a string of Burger King television commercials that aired during the 2005-06 NFL season. In 2006, Abdul appeared on the third series of ''The X Factor'' UK as a guest judge during the auditions, sitting alongside judges Cowell, Sharon Osbourne, and Louis Walsh.
A second compilation album, Greatest Hits: Straight Up!, was released in 2007 by the Virgin label, who also made all of Abdul's releases under their label available for digital download on iTunes. That year, Bravo began airing a reality television series centered around Abdul, Hey Paula, which followed her through her day-to-day life. Abdul's behavior as depicted on the series was described as "erratic" by comedian Rosie O'Donnell, and was criticized by audiences and critics, and Hey Paula was cancelled after a single 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 2008, Abdul returned to music charts for the first time in nearly thirteen 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 number 62 on the ''Billboard'' Hot 100 and number 2 on the Billboard Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart. The moderate success led to reports of Abdul beginning work on a new album, but this never materialized. Abdul also made a brief guest appearance on an episode of the British television series, Hotel Babylon, which aired in the United Kingdom in February 2008.
In January 2009, Abdul hosted "RAH!", a 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 original song to date, "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 American Idol. "I'm Just Here for the Music" reached number 87 on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming Abdul's fifteenth song to appear on the chart.
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times in July 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 series. In August, after numerous contract negotiations, Abdul confirmed that she would not return 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. Abdul claimed her departure from Idol was not about money, but that she had to stand on principle.
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.
In January 2011, Abdul began appearing on the short-lived CBS reality competition series Live to Dance, where she was also an executive producer. Abdul said that unlike American Idol, Live to Dance is less about "competition" and more about "celebration". After its first season of seven episodes, it was cancelled by CBS. In May 2011, it was announced that Abdul would rejoin Cowell on the first season of the American edition of The X Factor. In January 2012, Abdul announced that she would not return as a judge for the series' second season. Abdul was replaced by Demi Lovato. In October 2012, Abdul served as a guest judge during week four of the All-Stars version of Dancing with the Stars. In April 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".
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. She later became a permanent judge of the American version starting with its twelfth season. In January 2017, Abdul announced that she would not be returning as a judge for its fourteenth season, because of her tour schedule.
In April 2014, Abdul was a guest judge on RuPaul's Drag Race, which reunited her with previous Idol contestant, Adore Delano. In June 2014, Abdul made a cameo appearance on the Australian soap opera Neighbors and shared scenes with established character Karl Kennedy (played by Alan Fletcher). In 2015, Abdul made a guest appearance on the comedy sitcom Real Husbands of Hollywood on its season 4 premiere. She was shown in a comedic scene with Arsenio Hall, where she was trying to kick Hall out of her pool house. On 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 music video "Check Yourself". On November 22, 2015, Abdul and Donnie Wahlberg presented Favorite Female Artist - Pop/Rock at the 43rd American Music Awards; the award Abdul won at the 1990 AMAs, presented to her by Wahlberg.
On August 6, 2016, Abdul performed a full headline set for the first time in 26 years at the Mixtape Festival in Hershey, Pennsylvania. In November 2016, New Kids on the Block announced that Abdul would be touring with them, and Boyz II Men on their Total Package Tour in 2017; her first tour in 25 years. The tour began on May 12 in Columbus, Ohio, and concluded on July 16, 2017 in Hollywood, Florida, for a total of 47 shows. In an interview with Elle magazine, Abdul stated there were "many reasons" she decided to return to the stage after over two decades, saying: "I took a long break and had sustained some injuries in the past. Then I returned to television with American Idol and that took up a good decade of my life. Then I went out to do some more television, as well. I always wanted to get back on stage, because I missed it. I wanted to get back in close contact with the people who have supported me all throughout my career and be able to see them again. Plus, I was getting asked all the time if I would ever do it again! I finally said, "You know what, I want to and I'm going to make it a priority.". I'm really passionate about it and it's fun, and I want to connect with my fans around the country." In July 2018, Abdul announced that she would embark on a solo headlining tour across North America that fall, entitled Straight Up Paula!, as part of the celebration of the 30th anniversary of her debut studio album Forever Your Girl. The tour began in Tulsa, Oklahoma on October 18, and concluded in Los Angeles, California on June 7, 2019, for a total of 25 shows.
Abdul performed a medley of her greatest hits at the 2019 ''Billboard'' Music Awards, closing out the show. On May 1, 2019, Abdul announced her first Las Vegas residency, Paula Abdul: Forever Your Girl. The residency's first leg began August 13, the first of 20 dates, ending January 2020. On June 7, 2019, Abdul opened LA Pride.
Abdul also performed at the fourteenth series finale of America's Got Talent with Light Balance Kids, Brian King Joseph, and Tyler Butler-Figueroa to surprise Cowell. In October 2020, it was announced that Abdul would serve as a panelist for Fox's reality competition, The Masked Dancer. In April 2021, ABC announced that Abdul would return to American Idol as a guest-judge, while Luke Bryan was out sick after being diagnosed with COVID-19. In July 2021, Abdul made a cameo appearance as herself in the 2021 Warner Bros. live action/animated film, Space Jam: A New Legacy, the sequel to the 1996 Warner Bros. live action/animated film Space Jam, along with MC Skat Kat, Micetro, Fatz, Taboo, Leo, Katleen, Silk, Yakety Yak, Tibi the Take it Back Butterfly, Honey B., the Praying Mantis, the Firefly, the Ant, the Fly, the Ladybug, the Cockroach, the Grasshopper, the Cricket, and the Spider.
- "I'm sorry you feel that way. I was just trying to do some work as a judge in the "American Idol" TV show."
- Opposites Attract (1989) ... Herself
- Knocked Out - Version 2 (1989) ... Herself
- Skat Strut (1990) ... Herself
- Coca-Cola (1991) ... Herself
- American Idol (2002) ... Herself/Judge
- Looney Tunes: Back in Action (2003) ... Herself
- Robots (2005) ... Wristwatch #1 (voice)
- Space Jam: A New Legacy (2021) ... Herself
- Opposites Attract (1989) -- (Main role)
- Knocked Out - Version 2 (1989) -- (Main role)
- Skat Strut (1990) -- (Supporting role)
- Coca-Cola (1991) -- (Main role)
- American Idol (2002) -- (Supporting role)
- Looney Tunes: Back in Action (2003) -- (Cameo)
- Space Jam: A New Legacy (2021) -- (Cameo)
- Paula Abdul's nationality is that of Jewish, Syrian, Brazilian, Canadian, and Ukrainian descent.