Entertainer Exclusive Part 2: Inside the Heart of a Pop Music Legend, Paula Abdul
On October 3rd, Paula Abdul hit the road on her North American tour; a tour that’s been more than twenty-five years in the making, since her 1992 Under My Spell tour which grossed $60 million in ticket sales (a mint by 1992 standards), yet also yielded some tragedy that almost sidelined the beloved performer forever. The world knows Paula at the plucky, iconic dancer and popstar turned American Idol judge, turned legacy performer. What people may not know is that this Grammy-winning legend had to climb a mountain of adversity, both physical and emotional, to dance again.
For Abdul, this 2018 Straight Up Paula! tour is a miracle in the making. When audiences come out to see her this fall, they will bear witness to one of the greatest comeback stories in show business history. Because of Abdul’s preference for handling tough times privately, our conversation may shock you, and it will also make you root for her. Abdul’s imitable strength is in her refusal to allow her story to end with tragedy. She insisted on a second act with her long-running stint on American Idol as the judge with heart, to Simon Cowell’s stone-cold blunt criticisms of aspiring vocalists. The show introduced her to a new generation of fans. Her Straight Up Paula! tour is a triumphant third act where she’ll share, not only her catalog of music and iconic choreography but her surprisingly poignant life story.
Beyond singing and dancing, it was Abdul’s million-dollar smile, huge heart, and humble responses during interviews that captured the publics’ affections and helped to define an entire generation. Beginning with her first #1 hit, Straight Up, in 1988, Paula Abdul was a Gen X darling of epic proportions. She brought something new and engaging to the mix, matching meticulous dance choreography with pop music.
Paula Abdul’s warmth and accessible appeal made an entire generation smitten. As someone put it to me recently, “She could have been your best friend’s sister, your cute neighbor… the girl next door you just had to get to know.”
AK: I ask this question of everyone because I learn so much about people through this question… when you pray, who or what do you pray to?
PA: I believe in God, and I do pray to God. But I am also spiritual in the sense that I know I have angels around me, and I know to pay attention to the signs I get from the universe. I used to not pay attention to the signs that were right in front of me. I feel that I finally get it. I do pay attention now, as I’ve gotten older, to those signs the universe gives me.
(Paula’s dog wanted some attention and began to get very vocal in the background. We paused for a minute, so Paula could give her some love…)
PA: It’s so funny! Every time I’m doing an interview and she’s supposed to be quiet, she knows, and she starts up (laughs)!
AK: She can join in the conversation!
PA: Do you have any dogs?
AK: I have two dogs whom I adore, and I love horses as well. I ride horses a lot. Have you ever ridden?
PA: That’s so cool. There is this one place called Miraval Resort and Spa in Arizona. It’s magical and mystical, and they do this whole equine course. It’s unbelievable how vulnerable and therapeutic the experience is.
AK: Do you see yourself as a pioneer with putting dance at the forefront of the pop music industry?
PA: I definitely do. I feel that’s one of my biggest contributions. That’s what people herald me as doing, and it’s nice to know that. It’s nice to know that you can create and spark those kinds of dance crazes, but also that they can stand the test of time. A lot of dancers will say, “You’re American Music Awards dance opening numbers are ‘almanac.’” (Laughs) And artists that will say, “Man, I watched and learned everything that you ever did.” It’s wonderful to hear that.
AK: You came into the business as a dancer, and as a choreographer, and then you ventured into recording music. At that time, although you were extremely commercially successful, you had your share of critics. A lot of other artists at the time said, “She’s really a dancer, just trying to be a singer. She’s off-key, she should stick to choreography…” How did you handle that kind of criticism back then, and how do you handle it now?
PA: I feel like being in this business for over thirty years, you learn how to handle constructive criticism, and just plain old, simple criticism. What I have learned is that, although I can’t just say what the formula is for success, because success is different for everyone, I do know that a recipe for failure is trying to please everyone. You never will. For me, I’m an entertainer that happened to resonate with millions of people. I’m grateful for that. I’ve never claimed to be the best at anything. I’m a constant, perpetual student, and I love learning. I love improving upon weaknesses and nurturing the strengths; and being able to draw upon inspiration from others.
AK: Why do you think you resonated the way you did with my generation; those of us who were coming of age in the late eighties and into the early to mid-nineties?
PA: I think the through-line of most of my success is my heart, and I think that it connects with other people’s hearts, especially women. I have this profound love affair with women. I’ve never been a threat to women. I have been very inclusive, and always thought the most beautiful thing you can do is to recognize beauty in someone else and celebrate that. Because I was always an accessible type of artist, people felt that they knew me, and they do know me.
AK: Do you have a ten-year dream, as in, “in ten years I’d like to be retired, living on the beach.”? Do you have a plan like that, or is this the dream, to keep singing and dancing for as long as you can?
PA: I feel extremely grateful that I’m able to do this. I was sidelined for many, many years because the last time I was on tour I was in a terrible accident in a seven-seater jet. One of the engines blew up and the right wing caught on fire, and we plummeted.
AK: I don’t think many people out there are aware that you went through this ordeal. Were you belted in when the plane began to plummet?
PA: I wasn’t wearing my seatbelt. I was getting ready to put my seatbelt on, but I never made it and I hit my head on the [ceiling] of the plane. It caused me to have paralysis on my right side, and I endured fifteen cervical spinal surgeries. I went through all of that, mostly, privately. Back then, we didn’t have tabloids like we do now. We didn’t have the extent of paparazzi or the [internet], so you were able to contain some information. I was so afraid of being counted out and looked at as damaged goods. The problem was that, at the time, I was. I ended up having to take almost seven years off to have all these different neuro-surgeons operating on me. So, the fact that at this stage of my life, I’m able to do this, is the biggest gift ever! I am living, in many ways, my dream. But I also would love to branch out into other areas. And I get as much joy behind the scenes as I do from being out in front.
AK: What do you hope audiences will experience when they come out to see you on the Straight Up Paula! tour?
PA: I hope during the show they feel a celebration of fond memories of their time growing up with me. I also hope people get a chance to know me further, and get a better sense of who I am, with my whimsical ways and my sense of humor. It’s going to be a nod to everything that has inspired me since I was young, and celebrating my career, with the ups and the downs, and everything in between. I hope everyone leaves with a smile on their face.
For dates and tickets to Paula Abdul’s North American Tour, Straight Up Paula!, click here. Tickets also available through Ticketmaster.