While most people these days think of her tenure as an original host on American Idol when they hear her name, Paula Abdul has been working in entertainment since the early 80s. Now that American Idol’s final season has been announced, let’s look at where Paula’s career has been, and where she went after leaving that show.
Paula Abdul – The Beginning
Born in San Fernando, California, in 1962, Paula Abdul began taking dance lessons when she was eight, inspired partially by Gene Kelly’s role in the film Singin’ in the Rain. Seeking a career in show business, Abdul took lessons in ballet, jazz, and tap dancing, and was a high school cheerleader, as well as honor student. When she was 15 she won a scholarship for a dance camp, and when she was 18 appeared in an independent musical film, Junior High School.
While studying at California State University, Northridge, Abdul was selected for the Los Angeles Lakers cheerleading team, famous in the world of cheerleading. Three months later she was promoted to head choreographer of the Laker Girls, and by the end of the academic year had left CSU to focus on her career.
While dancing at a Lakers game, The Jacksons took note of her, and hired her to do the choreography for their upcoming single, “Torture.” Due to the success of the video, The Jacksons chose her to be the choreographer for their 1984 Victory tour.
Throughout the 80s, Abdul helped choreograph multiple music videos, for contemporary stars like ZZ Top, George Michael, Duran Duran, and Janet Jackson, most notably for Jackson’s hit video, “Control.”
Paula Abdul’s Music Career
It was after earning an Emmy for her dancing on The Tracey Ullman Show that Paula Abdul began her own musical career. Aided by a stellar roster of big-name producers and the financing to create high budget videos, Abdul became a celebrity with the release of her album Forever Your Girl, released in 1988.
The album, eventually certified multi-platinum, took an unprecedented and unmatched 64 weeks to hit #1 on the Billboard sales charts, but once there spent over two months in that top spot. Abdul created four #1 singles, won a Grammy for Best Music Video (”Opposites Attract”) and released a remix album, which is still one of the most successful remix albums.
In 1991 Abdul released a follow-up, Spellbound, which included more charting singles. Featuring even more celebrities, Spellbound was a massive success, and in addition to other awards, she was also honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Paula Abdul’s hip-hop inspired workout video Get Up and Dance! was released in 1995, and was commercially popular, and well-received after struggles with eating disorders which the tabloids had highlighted since the release of Spellbound. That year she also released Head over Heels, which featured even more dance singles, and also did sold well.
By the end of the 90s, Paula Abdul had sold more than 30 million albums, with six #1 singles between them, and made a career out of marketing her dance and herself on television and in advertising. So, in 2000, she decided to take a hiatus from performing and producing. That same year, Virgin Records, no longer affiliated with Abdul, released Paula Abdul: Greatest Hits.
Paula Abdul on American Idol
Abdul’s absence from the public eye was short lived, as she was cast one of the three judges for Fox’s American Idol in 2001. The show was an instant hit, and Abdul served as a firm balance to co-host Simon Cowell’s belligerent pessimism.
While Paula Abdul faced some controversy during her tenure as a judge on the show, overall the period was good for her. Back with Virgin, she released a second compilation album, Greatest Hits: Straight Up!, and even had her own reality show for one season in 2007. She was even able to use the success of American Idol to launch her own jewelry line. In 2008, Abdul released her first single in over twelve years, “Dance Like There’s No Tomorrow,” which she performed before that year’s Super Bowl.
After nine seasons, Paula Abdul left American Idol, reportedly over contract disputes though Abdul herself specifies it was over objections to the show’s production. During the late 2000s, Abdul was a judge on several other competitive TV shows, eventually rejoining Cowell as judges on the newly branded American version of The X Factor. However, none of these shows were as successful as American Idol, and none had the same chemistry as what she had developed with Simon Cowell on American Idol.
Paula Abdul Now in 2018
In 2013, Abdul was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award at The Carnival: Choreographers Ball, for her contributions to the field of choreography. Later that year she became a guest judge on So You Think You Can Dance, and a permanent host of So You Think You Can Dance Australia.
As of late 2015, Abdul is a permanent judge on the American version of So You Think You Can Dance, in addition to continuing to guest on other similar shows. She’s secured a name for herself as one of the best popular choreographers available, and will likely continue to find work both contributing to and working as a critic in the entertainment world.