|May 1st, 2015
Discovered by the Jacksons in the early 80s, Paula soon rose to success by becoming choreographer to Janet Jackson and The Jacksons’ Victory Tour.
From being a star on her own as a vocalist and dancer, to being a judge on top television shows such as American Idol
, X Factor
and currently So You Think You Can Dance
, Paula has become one of the few stars to ever have a triumphant career spanning three decades, making her an inspiration to young talents of several generations.
Being foremost a dancer with a petite figure, Paula has a lifelong protocol for a fit, healthy and active body and passionately shares her expertise in this interview.
HealthyLivinG: Congratulations on joining “So You Think You Can Dance.”
Paula Abdul: Thank you very much.
HealthyLivinG: Where are you now with the auditions?
Paula Abdul: We just finished our auditions. We finished with Los Angeles and now all that’s left is a month from now we have a callback for a week in Las Vegas.
You’ve been a judge on American Idol
, in addition to several dance competitions. How different is judging dance from singing competitions? What do you find more fun?
Paula Abdul: Because I’ve been blessed to have both in my life, for me it’s just dealing with talent, and talent is talent. It’s getting into the spirit and psyche of the performer and watching them create magical moments. The only difference is the genre. It’s still talent putting themselves out there. But it’s wonderful. One is hearing incredible voices, and the other one is watching the body tell a story. They’re both just wonderful.
HealthyLivinG: What do you find is the most challenging thing about being a judge on these shows? Is it about the hectic schedule or the actual judging?
Paula Abdul: As far as the traveling, that stuff is always wear and tear. The real part is the hard work in doing these television shows is the traveling and holding auditions, long days of watching hundreds of dancers or hundreds of singers.
But I think because I’ve always been a teacher. The way I started my career was I was teaching dance camps and conventions and cheerleading camps and conventions. I’ve always been a teacher and I enjoy doing that, and I feel that the perspective I come from both in judging these competition shows, whether it’s singing or dancing, is that I’ve had a career that has come from a very unique perspective. I started my whole career because I became famous below the line, rolling my sleeves up and working with talent and helping them take flight. I was working with iconic talent helping to create a different point of view in their performance.
So when I watch and judge, for instance, the dancers on “So You Think You Can Dance,” I’m looking at it completely differently from Nigel or Jason because I had a career as a very successful choreographer, and I stepped in front and had a very successful career as a performer. So I’m looking at it from a whole different view. I can see the rawness of something that’s flawed, and I can see when they finish the journey that they can actually end up winning. I can see the unfinished, flawed part chipping away and see how great they’re going to be. And as a choreographer, I’m able to understand just how much better they’ll do when they are taught by some of the choreographers that are on the show. So I don’t find it hard. For me, it’s a natural part of my history.
HealthyLivinG: What’s it like working with Jason Derulo?
Paula Abdul: He’s wonderful. His perspective is that of a performer. His high school was a performing arts high school, so he had to delve into all different areas, from dancing to musicianship to singing and the arts.
HealthyLivinG: Is it true that the Jacksons discovered you?
Paula Abdul: Yes, I was a Laker girl and their choreographer. I turned them into a dance dream and the Laker girls were getting a lot of notoriety. The brothers were season ticket holders and they needed a choreographer. They approached the front office and asked, “Who does choreography for the Laker girls?”
HealthyLivinG: Were you close with Michael Jackson?
Paula Abdul: I was fortunate enough to have a working experience with him, and there was none quite like him I’ve ever met. And what’s beautiful about Michael is that he’s influenced every single dancer that comes on the show. I mean, some of their earliest conscious memories, they’ll say “watching Michael Jackson.” So it’s beautiful to see how much he meant to the world of dance.
HealthyLivinG: You must miss him then. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting him, too, right before he passed. And he definitely had an influence on me, even though I’m not a choreographer or a dancer
Paula Abdul: I got to work with him and experience the intensity of a true professional. He wanted everything to be perfect, and he was a big proponent of practice until it’s perfect. And I grew up that way as well. There’s a certain freedom in performing, and I always tell this to the dancers all the time that you must know the material inside out perfectly, like that it’s part of your everyday vocabulary so that you can throw away worrying about steps and just live in the performance. When you do the practices and the rehearsing enough that you know what you’re doing inside out, only then do you have the freedom to create greatness, because now it’s so inside of you that you can make every performance different, even though your performance is the same piece of material.
HealthyLivinG: What advice would you give to young girls who are thinking about becoming a performing artist; a dancer, a singer or a cheerleader? While being young and inexperienced, girls must also encounter various issues being exposed in a male producer’s dominant industry. What would you say to them?
Paula Abdul: Especially for the ones who want this to be their career, it’s that not a parent, not a teacher, not a friend, or anyone can turn you into a performer. It’s something that you innately have—the feeling that you can’t help but be that. I love dancers.
For instance, it’s not the most glorified career. It’s not like dancers make a ton of money, and the life of dancer is quite short because of the wear and tear on the body, no different than a professional ballplayer or a sports athlete. The spirit psyche of a dancer is unlike anyone else. They do it because they have to. They can’t imagine any other way of life, and they do it because they’re so passionate. They sacrifice so much for their art, so you have to first and foremost feel like you can’t imagine yourself doing anything else.
And then you have to have a strong self of sense. It’s a difficult business to be in the entertainment business, no matter what aspect you’re going for, whether it’s singing, acting, dancing, cheerleading, anything. You have to have the ability to understand that rejection is vital. It’s a vital part of succeeding in this business. You have to be able to take the rejection and allow that to be the fire that’s lit for you to work harder and keep showing up. You can’t take things personally. And you can’t be wounded when people say “no” or “You’re not right” for this or that, because you have to just keep showing up.
You can’t take things personally. And you can’t be wounded when people say “no” or “You’re not right” for this or that, because you have to just keep showing up. If you don’t keep showing up, you’ll never know and you’ll give up too early and too easily. But if you keep doing the work, meaning you keep training, you keep working hard, eventually, the odds are in your favor, and you will get a job. And that one job will make you feel so happy and successful and proud of yourself that it’s the fuel that keeps you going. And once you get that one job, you keep showing up because you know what it feels like, and you have that stickto-itiveness. The other thing is, being a female sometimes is difficult because you’re up against decision makers that you feel are all men, and they’re this and they’re that. But I think women today are really a strong voice in the community, in the business, and they’re wonderful female leaders that are making incredible decisions. You can’t take it personally, you just have to be really be true to your art, work hard and keep a good head on your shoulders.
I also always tell young people to set a goal. If you want this so bad, if you want to be in the entertainment business so bad, set a goal that you’re going to, let’s say, for the next three to five years I’m going to give it everything I can. I’m going to show up to class, I’m going to study, study, study. I’m going to do everything 100%. If it doesn’t happen in the goal that you set, and it should be a realistic goal, then you have to take notice of that because you may be missing out on being the best teacher or the best mom, or the best any other vocation that you’re passionate about. Some of the best teachers come out of those who have not achieved the performing aspect and want to give back. You just have to be realistic with your goals, because you don’t want to regret that you never gave anything else a chance if it’s not working for you.
HealthyLivinG: What do you consider the biggest achievement in your career?
Paula Abdul: The stick-to-itiveness, the fact that I am transcending almost three-and-a-half decades of being relevant in a business that’s very difficult and I have not been afraid to reinvent myself. You can’t be. You can’t chase the same success that you had in a different period of time. You have to always be willing to be a student. I stay a student so that I can be a great teacher, and it’s the gift that keeps on giving. And I’m proud that I’ve been able to adapt that mentality because I truly believe that that’s what’s kept me going for so long. I was just going to say, and I think the biggest achievement I’ve had is to stay kind in a business that does not always celebrate that, and to stay true to who I am. This business can change people. You stick to it long enough and you hang in there long enough and then the infrastructure shifts in different ways, with some people who vehemently opposed you. I look back to where I was made fun of for being kind on “American Idol.”
And I would go, “Why are you guys treating it like it’s a disease?” It’s not a disease. I’ve been the same girl since I was a little girl growing up. My family has raised me right in the sense that I’m fortunate I grew up born and raised in Los Angeles because I’ve been around watching this industry at a very young age. I turned professional, and I was able to work with iconic, prolific entertainers, and I’ve been able to take in the good and let go of the things that don’t resonate with me. And I’ve been a student the whole time. It’s funny because a long time ago everybody was making fun of me being kind, but if you look at these competition shows now, like “The Voice,” everyone’s considerate and kind to and appreciative of the artists that are putting themselves out there. You don’t see people being horribly mean, do you? I think that’s a good thing.
HealthyLivinG: I’m sure it also important for people who are being judged to like you, and you are very likable.
Paula Abdul: I’m grateful, and I’m blessed by that. But I give all the credit to whoever created me. I’m the same girl I’ve always been. And I think because I started my career being of service to other people that prepared me.
HealthyLivinG: I suppose you don’t have much spare time, but when you do, do you exercise?
Paula Abdul: I have to. I think we all, the general population, finding out more and more about how much staying active is vital to health. I would be very depressed if I did not have my endorphins going, so I like working out. I like to do more of a workout that doesn’t feel like one. So that’s why I’m fortunate to have grown up with dance because it’s always been a form of exercise without feeling like you’re hitting the gym. But I do hit the gym as well, and I do cross fit. I do free weights. I do classes. I try to do aerobics at least four times a week. When I’m traveling though, sometimes it’s three times a week. But I still get different disciplines in, whether it’s yoga, or just stretching, walking. You may not be able to hit the gym, but walking is incredible, especially now with those Fitbit monitors where you can track how many steps you’re taking. It’s pretty cool. And for me, just putting on music and moving and dancing and getting friends together and maybe all of us taking turns instructing each other. That’s fun. I have a little dance studio where I live and people come over and we’re experimenting all the time.
HealthyLivinG: Do you think you would ever open a dance school, in the same way Debbie Reynolds did?
Paula Abdul: I was going to do that a long time ago, but life happened. My career took off in different directions. But what I’ll always do is I will travel around and I will guest teach. I will do some master classes, and I’ll help out that way. I don’t know if I’ll have my own studio. As of yet, there’s still a lot that I want to accomplish. But I never say never.
HealthyLivinG: Are you on a diet?
Paula Abdul: I don’t ever say diet. It’s a lifestyle, because diet for me sounds like a pain. And what is considered not a diet, nope, then I failed. I don’t want to feel that way. I consider it part of my lifestyle, and I, for the most part, am healthy. But I let myself have more freedom on the weekends. During the week I’m in there with my vegetables and lean proteins, and I make green drinks, lots of water. I’m pretty good with that. I do like candy. I do like sugar, and that’s my downfall. So I try to keep that in moderation. And I splurge once in a while. Everybody has to splurge a little bit, I believe, otherwise then life becomes very boring.
HealthyLivinG: That is true. I discovered recently this sugar free candy, but I think that’s even more unhealthy because of the sugar substitutes.
Paula Abdul: There are certain sugar substitutes that wreak havoc on my stomach. Sorbitol is not a good thing for me.
HealthyLivinG: Do you cook?
Paula Abdul: I used to cook a lot, but I cook for myself not as often. When I have company over or I’m entertaining, I do. I have several things that I’m known for, and that’s my chicken and barbecue fish. And let’s see, what else do people like that I do? I do lean tacos. I like spicy. What else do I do? Just mostly fish, chicken. I love to eat things with kale. As a matter of fact, can you believe how kale’s become so popular? I make jokes saying I want to be the agent for kale. I’d make a killing. I love that people are getting into healthy pressed juices and making vegetable drinks that are blended with kale, spinach and hemp and almond milk and berries. I have this one pressed juice place. It’s around the corner, and they make the best green drink that has all the greens in it. And it has a little bit of apple, ginger, lemon, and a little bit of jalapeno, and it’s like the perfect mixture of sweetness and a little bit of spice.
HealthyLivinG: Have you ever encountered any weight problems?
Paula Abdul: I’ve always had a, being petite, a pound on the stomach. For a petite girl it’s like five pounds on normal height or average height, so I’ve always had to be mindful of that. I’ve kind of outgrown some of my, what I considered being a little chubby into my adult years where everything just kind of fell in place.
As soon as I stopped the mentality of having to diet and just allowed my body to be by changing the perception of what is healthy or not and the word “dieting” being a slave to the scale for me, I settled into an area where I was very comfortable in my skin. So I leaned out more as an adult when I didn’t have that hard pressure on myself.
HealthyLivinG: Do you have a skin care regimen that you know is suitable for you and that you would recommend?
Paula Abdul: One thing for sure, whether it’s cloudy out or rainy or sunny, I never leave my house without sunscreen on. I use at least SPF 30, and I go through different stages of mixing my skin care regimen. I mix it up a little bit because my skin tends to get used to a product and then it doesn’t work as effectively. But I do use moisturizer, and I use infusions of vitamin C and collagen. I mix that into my moisturizer, and then I put my sunscreen on. Then I put a little bit of makeup on that does have sunscreen in it. I try not to wear a lot of makeup when I’m not filming so I can give my skin a breather. I get facials. I try to get them at least twice a month, and that always keeps my skin in check. Once I see my skin acting up a little bit, I take note of what am I doing different, what am I eating different, and try to cut down on that. What I did as a child, my mom always gave me concentrated coconut, coconut oil, but in its more solid form. And I put that on my skin at night before I go to bed, my face and my body.
HealthyLivinG: Do you think that money is a factor when it comes to aging and skin care? Do you think that it’s possible to stay looking young and have beautiful skin and look as good as a celebrity for those that don’t have all the resources?
Paula Abdul: Some of the best products that I’ve encountered are ones that cost $5.99 at the drugstore. If you have the money to spend on expensive products, but with the internet now and going online, you can get a breakdown of what the most expensive products cost and the drugs versus what you can get at a health food store or a drugstore, and it works. It has the same ingredients. It may not have as much concentration in it, but there are so many wonderful organic products that you can use that work wonders on the skin. You just have to research. Take my grandmother, for instance, she has the most beautiful skin, and it was just like old wives’ tale combinations that she used. It would be food. It would be mayonnaise. It would be avocado for the hair, apple cider vinegar to keep it shiny. For the skin it was olive oil and coconut oil—there’s a lot of wonderful things. She did not buy those expensive products and treatments and laser treatments. And all that worked before we even discovered those.
HealthyLivinG: I heard you are a dog lover?
Paula Abdul: Yeah, I’m a big dog lover. I always say life would not be fair without dogs. They’re my kids.
HealthyLivinG: How many dogs do you have right now?
Paula Abdul: I have four. Two of them live with me and the other two visit every day. They come with the amazing woman that’s worked for me for many years. She’s part of the family. But she takes the other two dogs home at nighttime, but they come every day. And they’re all like sisters—play together, but all have different personalities. They’re all Chihuahuas and one little teacup Yorkie. I grew up with Chihuahuas, cocker spaniels, pugs.
HealthyLivinG: What is the most ridiculous rumor you’ve ever heard about yourself?
Paula Abdul: My God, pick a number. I don’t know. There are tons. One rumor was that I was dead. I think every notable celebrity goes through that, the rumor that they’re dead.
HealthyLivinG: How does that feel?
Paula Abdul: I pinched myself to just make sure I wasn’t. This was a long time ago. I don’t know. Lots of stars I know have gone through that. That was probably the craziest rumor of all time, that ever could be.
HealthyLivinG: What else do you like to do in your spare time apart from exercise a lot, which is the way it seems?
Paula Abdul: No, I don’t. I try to keep it healthy as much as I can. I’m not a saint. I don’t always work out when I plan on doing it, and I’ll skip a couple days. But what happens is I won’t feel good. I don’t feel like I’m lively and that I have energy. I know that when I don’t incorporate fitness and something to get my cardiovascular butt in gear, I don’t feel like I’m myself. So I know it’s important to me. But in free time I love spending time with good friends and make sure that I get to see my family. It’s important to me, relationships, you learn that as you get older. Relationships are everything. They really are. And the older you get, you realize that more and more. So work is one thing, and it takes you out of your normal schedule.
The normal schedule being with your family and being with your friends becomes the exception when you’re working a lot. And you’ve got to strike a balance with that because at the end of the day, work is one thing, success is one thing, but your relationships are everything. And I always tell people when they’re first starting out in their career, when they’re just starting to gain momentum, if I could do it all over again, I would be more concerned with the decisions I make and being able to say “no” more often. Because this business makes you feel like if you don’t take the job you may not get another job ever again, and that’s not true. When it comes time that you start getting jobs...
For instance, this one dancer came from “So You Think You Can Dance” and she started getting hired. And she said, “I’m canceling a vacation with my family. I was going to bring my boyfriend to Hawaii because I’m being asked to do an episode of America’s Got Talent.” I said, “Let’s rethink this.” And I said, “What is so important about the job?” “Well, this choreographer, it’s the first time I’ve ever worked with this choreographer. They’ve never called before.” I said, “Do you think you’ll never get hired by this person again?” “Well, I don’t know.” I said, “Well, let’s think about it. The worst thing that you can give up are moments in time and vacations with family and close ones that you create history with. They’re fond memories. Jobs you will have, and if you really want to work with this choreographer, then why don’t we do a personal, hand-written letter?” It goes a long way, especially with our technology today. No one writes hand-written letters anymore. And I said, “I wouldn’t give up your family vacation. Your family’s bummed out. You’re bummed out. You will get hired again because you’re a wonderful dancer. Write a handwritten letter.” And she did. And sure enough, she got hired again. She went on vacation. She was hired again, and it was really appreciated that she did write that letter. And it made me happy because if I had somebody telling me that back when I was just starting to get momentum and become a professional, I would have much rather built those memories. And more often than not, I would take the job because I’d think, “I might not get the chance to work.” I wish I did that more often. So I’m telling people nowadays, balance it out. It’s more important that you say no than saying yes to everything. And when you say yes to everything, there are things that come along that you really wish you could do but you can’t now because you said yes to something else. Saying no is very powerful, so that the things that you say yes to are most rewarding.
HealthyLivinG: I very much agree with hand-written letters. It’s much more personal.
Paula Abdul: And you know what? And you’re never forgotten. Those little extra things that you do make it very difficult to forget. It makes them say that person’s cool. “They wrote a letter, and they honored me the right way, and I’d definitely hire them again.”
HealthyLivinG: Paula, are you involved in any charities?
Yes. I was one of the founders, with Elton John, with the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation
, and proud to say that it’s eradicated, and that’s something I’m very proud of. But I’m also involved with animal rights, and I have charities with them for dogs
HealthyLivinG: What is your health tip for our readers?
Paula Abdul: I’ll give you a couple things in different areas. You asked me about diets and I don’t like talking about diets, but lifestyle. I make a point of eating alkaline foods, and I have an alkaline water system implemented into my sink.
I’ll tell you a story. One of my dogs was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and this was six years ago. And they said she only had three months to live. I immediately bought the alkaline machine to hook up to filter my water, and my dogs only drank alkaline water. And my dog, with pancreatic cancer, is still alive and well. And the animal hospital and the vet, they can’t believe that she’s doing well. She’s not cancer free, but she’s lived almost six years past the three months they gave her. I think there’s a lot to be said with alkaline water, and I encourage people using it, drinking it. And it’s been incredibly helpful for me because it helps keep the acidity of your body down and keeps you fit. Keeping the acidity down, in small doses, reduces inflammation in your body. And especially being a dancer, and I had a spinal cord injury when I was involved in a crash landing in a plane.
I do use and take supplements because our bodies don’t do a lot of the things as we get older. Calcium is very important. I take calcium supplements to support my bone density. That’s very important for women, so I do encourage women to make sure they have enough calcium to take, especially calcium that’s formed from algae. I talked about how making juice, smoothies and green drinks are important.
I want to help inspire anyone who’s struggling with accepting themselves for who they are or how they look, or if they have a negative body image, just turning the tables around and allowing yourself to take every step to be healthy. Now I’m not talking about the numbers on the scale. I’m not talking about weight, but to be healthy, making sure that you’re eating the right foods that nourish your body, that you’re getting a little bit of fitness in there. And it’s going to be hard not to expect more self-acceptance, and it will help give you a healthier outlook and image of yourself. And be gentle on yourself. Our bodies are all we’ve got, stay on the same team as your body. Don’t go against it. Your body is very forgiving, and we as people with our minds, have to be forgiving of ourselves as well. It comes from years of getting it wrong. The wisdom and experience are the best things and that comes through the mistakes. We have to forgive ourselves, and then we start to get it more right than wrong.
Photography by Nick Saglimbeni for SlickforceStudio
Filed under: Health