Abdul, Paula (Contemporary Musicians)
Singer, dancer, choreographer
A multi-faceted performer, Paula Abdul has made a name for herself as a dancer, choreographer, and vocalist. She is one of the most sought-after choreographers in Hollywood, demanded by entertainers of all kinds, and her 1988 debut album, Forever Your Girl, launched her career as a popular vocalist.
Born on June 19,1962, Paula is the second daughter of Harry and Lorraine Abdul. Paula's father, of Syrian and Brazilian extraction, was a livestock dealer, and her mother, a Jewish French-Canadian, worked at the Hollywood film studios and was for many years an assistant to director Billy Wilder. Paula and her sister Wendy, seven years her senior, grew up in North Hollywood in a middle-class area known as the Condos. Paula started dancing at age seven, about the same time that her parents divorced. Soon she was spending her summers performing with Young Americans, a traveling theatrical musical group. At age ten she studied tap and jazz dancing and won a scholarship to study with Joe Tramaine and the Bella Lewitzky Company.
Abdul was influenced by the musical tastes of her sister, who introduced her to the music of such singers as Joni Mitchell, Stevie Wonder, Carole King, and Iron Butterfly. Abdul started singing while in her teens and participated in many activities during her years at Van Nuys High School, which had been attended by such celebrities as Marilyn Monroe and Robert Redford. Abdul was head cheerleader, class president, a flutist in the orchestra, and a member of the science team.
In 1980, Abdul beat out hundreds of others for a job with the Laker Girls, the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team's professional cheerleading squad. In the early 1980s, Abdul was also a student at Cal State Northridge, where she studied radio and television sportscasting. But what had started as just fun became a job that lasted six years. After her first year with the Laker Girls, Abdul was choreographing the routines, in which she emphasized dancing and de-emphasized the gymnastics of cheerleading. Abdul maintains that she did some of her best choreography while with the Laker Girls.
Because there are many people from the entertainment business in the stands at Lakers games, Abdul's work with the Laker Girls was an advertisement for her choreographic skills. In 1984, after seeing her at a Lakers game, the Jacksons asked Abdul to choreograph a routine for the cut "Torture" from their Victory album. Scared and unsure of herself, Abdul nevertheless jumped at the opportunity. "My only problem was how to tell the Jacksons how to dance," she told Dennis Hunt of the Los Angeles Times. "Imagine me telling them what routines to do." She then worked as a private dance trainer for Janet Jackson, with whom she became a close friend. Abdul staged Jackson's hit "What Have You Done for Me Lately" and several follow-up videos.
Following her work with the Jackson's, Abdul was flooded with job offers, becoming so busy that she was forced to quit the Laker Girls. Abdul has choreographed commercials for diverse products and videos for such groups as ZZ Top, Duran Duran, and the Pointer Sisters. On the motion picture scene, she has coached the movements of Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall in Coming to America, and Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Running Man, among others.
In 1989 the multi-talented Abdul surprised the music industry with her funky and personable debut album, Forever Your Girl, which rose to multi-platinum status with the top hits "Straight Up," "Cold Hearted," and the title song. Abdul followed the album with a series of eye-catching videos that showcase her choreography and helped fuel the album's multi-million dollar sales. Despite the record's apparent success, Abdul realizes her technical limitations as a singer. In an effort to improve her voice she works with a vocal coach in a rigorous training program.
For her striking and innovative work as a choreographer, Abdul has won critical recognition: Soul Train Award, National Academy of Video Arts and Sciences Award, an Emmy for her choreography on the Tracey Ullman Show, and MTV awards for best female video, best choreography, best dance video, and best editing.
Forever Your Girl (includes "Straight Up," "The Way That You Love Me," "Knocked Out," "Opposites Attract," "State of Attraction," "I Need You," "Forever Your Girl," "Next To You," "Cold Hearted," and "One or the Other"), Virgin Records, 1988.
DanceMagazine, April, 1988.
Los Angeles Times, February 12, 1989.
Providence Journal Bulletin, July 30, 1989; September, 1989.
Rolling Stone, November 30, 1989.
Us, December 11, 1989.
Jeanne M. Lesinski