Straight up, now tell me — Interview with icon Paula Abdul

Straight up, now tell me — Interview with icon Paula Abdul

Paula Abdul is one of the most celebrated pop icons in the world. Recognized as an award-winning choreographer, dancer, singer, actress and television personality, she began her career as a cheerleader and choreographer for the Los Angeles Lakers, then her talents were utilized by artists such as Janet Jackson and George Michael.

In 1988, she launched her solo career and went on to sell more than 60 million records with six No. 1 hits including “Straight Up,” “Forever Your Girl,” “Opposites Attract,” “Rush Rush” “(It's Just) The Way That You Love Me,” and “Cold Hearted.” She was awarded seven MTV Awards for groundbreaking videos, Grammy and two Emmy Awards, plus she was also recognized for her nine-season run as an original judge on the global sensation television series American Idol, followed by her presence on The X-Factor and So You Think You Can Dance.

After 25 years, Abdul returns for her first solo tour and will perform at the Golden Nugget in Lake Charles on Friday, Oct. 19, at 8:30 p.m. A few tickets remain on sale for $30-$75 and can be purchased online at

“For the longest time I wasn’t able to tour,” said Abdul, in an exclusive interview with The Examiner.

While on the Spellbound Tour in the early ’80s, Abdul was a passenger on a seven-seat airplane that crashed after an engine had blown causing the right wing to catch fire. On the plummeting descent, Abdul hit her head on the top of the plane.

“I ruptured my entire C-spine,” she said. “I ended up having 15 cervical spine surgeries, paralysis on my right side and non-stop pain.”

Abdul had to disappear at the height of her career and seven years later, she was back in 2002 on a new television show called American Idol. Still, then, she was having health issues.

“I had three of the surgeries during that time while on Idol,” she said. “I wasn’t able to dance and I had my vocal chords scraped. For me to rehabilitate and be able to do this again — from learning how to walk, talk and dance again. Even rebuild my vocals.”

Last summer, Abdul returned to the stage on the Total Package Tour, which featured New Kids on the Block and Boyz II Men.

“Last summer was an incredible experience,” said Abdul. “It was such a great time. I hadn’t been on stage in decades, so I wanted to do this again. I’m grateful that I can reconnect with my fans and to be in front of the audience that meant so much to my career.”

Abdul’s debut album called Forever Your Girl on Virgin Records was released in 1988, and was one of the most successful debut records of all time with four No. 1 songs, which was also a first for a debut record. Everyone had a copy of it whether CD or cassette tape.

Virgin was a new label with only a handful of artists on its roster including Roy Orbison, Steve Winwood, the Cutting Crew, and Warren Zevon. The label existed in a studio apartment on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. Abdul explained that she would barter with acts that she worked with by exchanging a discounted choreography for a tour or video. In return, the artist would write her a song.

“I was doing choreography for Dan Aykroyd and Tom Hanks in a movie called

Dragnet,” she said. “This R&B group called The Deele came by to get their autographs. They told me if they made it really big one day, would I come choreograph for them? Well, the next day, two of them told me they were leaving their group and focus on writing and record for me.”

The two men were Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds and Antonio “LA” Reid. Abdul got them their very first publishing deal at Virgin and they wrote the song “Knocked Out,” which appeared on her first album and was a Top 10 hit.

Abdul also tells an amazing story of how her one of her biggest hits came to life. Her mother once worked for a very prolific director named Billy Wilder, who was responsible for discovering Marilyn Monroe. Wilder was grooming Abdul to become a director based on her career in choreography.

“One day while at their office, I told them I wanted to make a record,” said Abdul. “He and my mother were very disappointed.”

Overhearing the conversation was a young assistant of her mother’s. Her boyfriend was an aspiring songwriter and wanted to submit something to Paula. The songwriter, Elliot Wolff, had never written a song for anyone before, yet Paula’s mother took the one-track demo. The song consisted of Wolff “plucking on a computer and singing completely off key.”

“My mother said it was the worst thing she had ever heard, it was hysterical. We were laughing and crying so hard, she threw it in the trash.”

Despite the laughs, Abdul thought there was something interesting about the song and retrieved it from the trashcan.

“Mom said the record label will laugh at me, but I believed in the song and I submitted it to the label. They gave Elliot $2,500 to produce it and I recorded it in a studio apartment bathroom shower.”

The label thought the song was merely a B-side, so Abdul said “Good, he is going to write me another song.” That other song was “Cold Hearted.” Another No. 1.

Abdul said she worked hard and had fun, not knowing how successful the album would be.

“When I recorded those songs, I didn’t tell anybody,” she said. “In case it didn’t happen, I didn’t want to lose my day job as a choreographer.”

She did lose her day job, after “Straight Up” was heard on the radio.

“I stayed the head Laker Girl until I had my first big hit,” she said. “I came back to LA selling out the Forum three nights in a row and they retired my Laker Girl uniform. It was the sweetest thing in the world. Being a Laker Girl, I knew all the employees — front office, ushers, peanut vendors...They rolled out a purple carpet for me. It was the coolest most proud moment.”


Chad Cooper is the Entertainment Editor. Contact cooper [at] theexaminer [dot] com