Straight up with Paula Abdul: Singer back with concert tour
Paula Abdul isn't just knee deep into rehearsal for her upcoming 26-date tour, which opens Oct. 18 at Tulsa, Oklahoma, and includes a pair of dates at Lincoln City's Chinook Winds Casino & Resort on Nov. 2 and 3.
"I'm neck deep," she says with a laugh.
A year ago, Abdul participated in a 47-stop tour with Boys II Men and New Kids on the Block, her first musical tour in 25 years.
In a way, it was back to her roots for Abdul, 56, whose 1988 album "Forever Your Girl" became one of the most successful debut albums in history, spending 10 weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart. It sold 7 million copies. That album set a record for most No. 1 singles from a debut album with four: "Straight Up," "Forever Your Girl," "Cold Hearted" and "Opposites Attract." Abdul had six No. 1 singles during her singing career.
Abdul rose to fame on a different level while serving eight years as one of the original judges on "American Idol" (2002-09), and has since appeared as a judge on several other shows. She has choreography credits for numerous films and has received five MTV Video Music Award nominations, winning twice, as well as a Grammy for best music video ("Opposites Attract," 1991). Abdul has been honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
The current tour, titled "Straight Up Paula!," is a celebration of the 30th anniversary of her debut studio album. From her home in Los Angeles, Abdul spoke about her career and her very busy life today:
Tribune: When was the last time you were in Oregon?
Abdul: I was in Portland last year for a "WE Day" event, because I work with the WE Charity's foundation. It's an incredible organization where we do arena dates around the country. Magic Johnson, Buzz Aldrin and Selena Gomez were among (the celebrities) who joined me in congratulating and celebrating kids for their philanthropic work and for making changes in their lives.
I love it in Oregon, by the way. I have friends who live there. It's beautiful. Last time I visited the countryside and stayed in a beautiful chalet, which was the home of my girlfriend and her fiance.
Tribune: After not touring for a quarter-century, how did it go last year with Boyz II Men and New Kids on the Block?
Abdul: It was the total package. I was in the middle slot, sandwiched in between lots of men. I hadn't been on stage performing for so long, primarily because of what happened the last time I toured (the "Spellbound" Tour in 1991). I was in an emergency crash, with the airplane landing in flames. I hit my head on the top of plane, and suffered major cervical and spinal injuries. I had 15 surgeries as a result. I'm beyond grateful I've had the opportunity to jump back into something that I absolutely love doing. It was such a wonderful experience doing it four or five nights a week. And being able to get the response (from the audience) every night. It made me realize how much I love it.
Tribune: Are you pain-free these days?
Abdul: I'm pretty much pain-free from the spinal-cord injuries, but that's not to say I don't have multiple aches and soreness from rehearsing. It's kind of nutty how you forget you don't have the same youthful body you had 25 years ago. But I don't let that get to me. I love dancing. The fact I'm able to even move is a blessing in itself.
Tribune: You're in great shape. How do you do it?
Abdul: It's being a dancer at heart and having all the years where I put my body through all the timing and regimen. When I rehabilitated from my physical injuries and was able to start working out again, it's amazing how the muscle memory took over. Going into the gym every day isn't my most favorite thing to do, but the opportunity to dance a few times a week for fun is incredible.
Tribune: You got your start in show business as a dancer, and then a choreographer, with the "Laker Girls," the dance team of the NBA Los Angeles Lakers. You were only 18?
Abdul: I actually started when I was 17. I fibbed about my age. During the upcoming tour, I re-enact on-stage my audition for "Laker Girls." I started with them as a dancer (in 1979) and stayed as a choreographer all the way through my first No. 1 single (in 1988). I wanted to stay and never forget my humble beginnings.
The coolest thing was I returned the year after that and sold out three nights at The Forum. It was the most beautiful experience. I knew all the employees there, from the peanut vendors to the security people to the ushers. They retired my "Laker Girl" uniform, and it was put in plexiglass and hung in The Forum Club next to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's jersey.
Tribune: Your stint with the "Laker Girls" led to you being discovered by the Jacksons and doing choreography for not only them but Janet Jackson and other recording acts.
Abdul: That was my most amazing lucky opportunity. The Jacksons were season ticket-holders (of the Lakers). They requested the choreographer of the girls. Little did they know that it was me.
Tribune: Legend is you choreographed Janet's "Nasty" video (Paula makes a cameo) while you were a Laker Girl in a half-hour in the bathroom of your apartment. True?
Abdul: With four other "Laker Girls" as my roommates (laughs.) We didn't have a full-length mirror, so I would choreograph seeing myself from only the waist up. When I'd be a little risky, I'd step on the edge of the bathtub (for a full-length look).
Tribune: Many people know you best for your years as a judge on "American Idol." As you look back, how was that experience?
Abdul: It was one of the most amazing, but hard, things I've ever done. It was incredible to be at the forefront of changing the trajectory of music and talent on television. We were in living rooms two or three nights a week, watched by over 30 million people a night. It was crazy, the biggest show ever. Had we fallen 50 percent in our ratings, we were still ahead of everyone. It was insane.
They said we were going to ruin the record business, but it was interesting to see how many legitimate artists came through the show. It was an exciting time, but also extremely hard for me, being the only artist among the judges. My role was to keep encouraging the kids. I was the nurturing mom, Simon (Cowell) was the disapproving dad and Randy (Jackson) was the real cool brother.
Tribune: You've been a dancer, choreographer, singer, actress, done workout videos, been a music judge, entertainment correspondent, launched a line of fashion jewelry — is there anything in the field of entertainment you haven't done that you'd like to?
Abdul: There is so much more I want to do. I want to produce television content. I want to produce live entertainment through touring acts. I'm working on developing an animated series. I have a couple of other projects. I feel almost like I did 25 years ago, when I was coming into my own.
Tribune: You've gone through periods of depression and with physical and mental ailments at times in your life. Are you in a happy place now?
Abdul: I'm in a happy place. It's a challenging time, but I like those challenges. It makes me have something to look forward to. I'm grateful for the career I've always wanted to have. I'm proud I'm still hanging in there in a tough business. I've loved both aspects — being in front of the camera, but also being behind the scenes, helping nurture the raw, untapped talent and helping them take flight to become iconic talent. I get equal joy from both.