Paula Abdul made a small fortune being kind, which is pretty easy when sitting next to ultra-cruel Simon Cowell on TV’s American Idol for so many years. “Kind judge,” however, is just one of her many personalities.
There’s also the one that yells at her staff, slurs her words during interviews, and gets into car crashes and just keeps on driving. For all of her appearances on reality TV, why don’t we know Abdul a little better? I think it’s time for a fact check: how did tiny pop star Paula Abdul turn into the queen of reality TV?
1. She Found Her Passion Early
Paul Abdul’s story begins in San Fernando, California. Though born in 1962, the young girl had a burning interest in Old Hollywood films. It was while watching Gene Kelly perform in 1952’s Singin’ in the Rain that Abdul discovered her true passion for dance, as well as the glittering promise of show business.
But as she’d soon learn, the road to fame and fortune would not be a walk in the park.
2. She Made An Embarrassing Film
While studying dance in high school, Abdul got her first taste of acting—but it wasn’t exactly the big leagues. 1978’s Junior High School was meant to be a ray of positivity among the rather dark films for teenagers at that time. Sadly, there was only so much positivity to go around: The film clocks in at only 39 minutes.
Basically, it was a low-budget embarrassment that Abdul would come to regret later. Of course, when it came to embarrassing chapters of her life, this was only the first of many.
3. She Faced Massive Competition
After graduating from high school, Abdul started a broadcasting course at California State University. Well, that didn’t last too long.
When Abdul heard that the LA Lakers were looking for more cheerleaders for their basketball games, she decided to throw her hat in the ring. What she didn’t realize was the number of other hopefuls there were to compete against: 700.
4. She Made The Cut
To her surprise, Abdul made the cut and became a Laker Girl. What’s more, just a year into her time there, she got a promotion to head choreographer. Now, this wasn’t just an ordinary group of cheerleaders.
The Laker Girls were a part of Showtime: an era in the LA Lakers’ history dominated by the skill of Magic Johnson. It was an exciting time, and you never knew who would show up at the games—and luckily for Abdul, one chance encounter changed her life forever.
5. She Caught His Eye
While Abdul was shaking her pom poms, some extremely famous pop icons were sitting in the stands—a few members of The Jacksons.
Abdul caught the eye of Jackie Jackson and the two started dating. Jackson didn’t forget how great Abdul was on the basketball court, so he asked her if she would appear in one of the band’s videos. Abdul quite literally jumped at the opportunity, but things didn’t go quite as planned.
6. She Was A No-Show
The choreographer for the music video was Perri Lister. Lister auditioned Abdul and thought she had the talent but also had some harsh criticism for her.
Lister thought the hopeful cheerleader was too short and overweight. Although she reluctantly agreed to let Abdul be in the video, she also made sure to keep her in the back—mostly out of sight. When the day of rehearsals arrived, Abdul simply didn’t show up. Lister didn’t really mind and started rehearsing without her.
The choreographer likely thought that this was the end of Abdul—but boy, was she wrong.
7. She Got Her Revenge
Eventually, Abdul did show up for rehearsal—on Jackie Jackson’s arm. Lister couldn’t believe her eyes. Here was this woman she had reluctantly cast, who had been a no-show for rehearsals, and she turned out to be Jackie Jackson’s girlfriend. Things quickly went downhill for Lister.
Jackie announced that it was Abdul who was going to choreograph the dance numbers as Lister was no longer right for the Jacksons. Lister was out, and Abdul was in.
Abdul now had her dream job, but could this Laker Girl really deliver a Jackson-worthy dance number?
8. She Helmed A Disastrous Music Video
The video shoot ended up being nothing short of a disaster. First of all, the most famous Jackson—Michael—didn’t show up for the shoot. The producers of the video somehow knew that Michael would be a no-show so they came up with a wild solution.
They went to Madame Tussaud’s museum and rented the wax dummy of Michael. Abdul was so green, she says she just thought this was normal behavior on a video shoot. But that wasn’t all.
9. Her Video Flopped
The next problem with this video shoot was its length and, even worse, its exorbitant budget. When the video finally got air time, the response was tepid. To make matters worse, the production company that made the video went bankrupt.
It wasn’t a stellar first job for someone who wanted to get off the basketball court and into show business. Whether it was her amazing choreography—or being Jackie’s girlfriend—Abdul managed to escape this fiasco unscathed.
10. She Was Unofficial
After her work on this video, Abdul sort of became the unofficial choreographer of all things Jackson. She worked on three videos for Janet Jackson: “What Have You Done For Me Lately,” “Nasty,” and “Control”. She then did all the choreography for The Jacksons’ Victory tour.
Abdul even got a chance to choreograph Tom Hanks. What? You didn’t know about Hanks’ career as a pop star? Don’t worry, it was just a dance scene in 1988’s Big.
Abdul had hit the big time, but now she just wanted more.
11. She Wasn’t A Natural
By the late 1980s, Abdul became tired of providing all the cool choreography for the stars: She wanted to be a star herself. However, knowing that she wouldn’t be able to reach stardom on her dancing chops alone, Abdul knew she had to find another talent.
She decided she wanted to sing. There was, however, a problem. Abdul wasn’t really a natural when it came to her vocals. Determined to stay the course, she hired a singing coach to train her, and then she took her own money and made a demo.
Abdul was putting her eggs all in one basket—but would one of them be golden?
12. She Was A Package Deal
Abdul took her singing demo and went to Virgin Records America, which was just starting out. Abdul handed her demo to producer Jeff Ayeroff and said nonchalantly: “I can sing, you know”.
Ayeroff knew that Abdul had a lot going for her: She could dance, she had personality, and she was gorgeous. As long as her singing was decent, he could see her as a star. Well, apparently she sang well enough because he took a chance on the persistent hopeful—and signed her up.
13. She Was Number One
It’s pretty hard to have huge success with a first album, but not impossible. Abdul’s 1988 album, Forever Your Girl, certainly proved that she could go the distance. Forever Your Girl spent 10 weeks as the number-one album on Billboard 200. The singles were also doing well on their own. And that wasn’t all.
The album also set a record: It had the highest number of singles to hit the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100. Virgin Records was over the moon with the money Abdul was raking in for them—but they wanted a way to make even more.
14. She Cleaned Up
Virgin Records had an idea to make more money off the success of Forever Your Girl. They released a remix album. They called it Shut Up and Dance: Mixes and it hit the number seven spot in the US. It soon became the most successful album of its kind.
Abdul was certainly cleaning up when it came to record sales, but how would she do when award season came around?
15. She Got The Nod
When the people at the Grammys announced their nominations, likely Abdul was on the edge of her seat. When the announcement came, Abdul had scored a nomination for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance…but that was it.
A nomination was certainly nothing to sneeze at, but with all her record sales, it wouldn’t be surprising if Abdul was a little disappointed. Unfortunately for her, the disappointments just kept coming.
16. She Was Confident
When the evening of the Grammys came around, Abdul was as hopeful as any other nominee. But she did not walk away with a statue in hand.
Instead, the trophy went to Bonnie Raitt, who had just had a comeback after personal and professional problems. It seemed that the award had gone to an established star and not the up-and-coming superstar.
Still, this loss didn’t slow Abdul down one bit. Not only was her career on the rise, but her dating life reach new heights as well.
17. She Latched On To A Star
Paula Abdul locked her sights on another rising star: John Stamos. Stamos had reached the stratosphere with his hugely popular role in TV’s Full House. Whether the two were in the relationship to boost their mutual popularity or actually in love is anyone’s guess. Quite likely, it was a combination of the two.
There were rumors that Abdul wrote her song “Cold Hearted” about Stamos, but it may have been her that had the cold heart. You see while she was with Stamos, she kept her options wide open.
18. She Had Him On The Side
While Abdul was still with Stamos, she betrayed him in a scandalous way. It seems that she had a fan in former brat packer Emilio Estevez. When he called her up to tell her he liked the way she sang, the two carried on a phone-only relationship.
Somewhere along the line, Abdul broke up with Stamos…and found herself staying at the same hotel as her famous phone crush.
19. She Kept It A Secret
Abdul was on tour and staying at The Plaza in New York City. When she got the message that Estevez was there too, she was more than eager to finally sit down with him in person. The two hit it off, and what happened that night after dinner has been kept under wraps.
What we do know is that after leaving The Plaza, Estevez started sending flowers to every city Abdul’s tour hit. But how could these two super busy celebs find time for each other?
20. She Followed Him
When Abdul finally had a moment to spend some quality time with Estevez, he was busy filming The Mighty Ducks in Minneapolis. Nothing was going to stop her, so she flew there to be with him.
While she was in the North Star State, Estevez got down on one knee and told her he’d loved her for a long time. Abdul said she just melted and immediately agreed to be his wife.
She had her diamond ring, now she needed an award.
21. She Had To Share
Even though Abdul’s hot songs “Straight Up” and “Opposites Attract” are on the same album, they were up for awards in different Grammy years. So the next year, Abdul enjoyed another nomination. This time it was for Best Short Form Musical.
To her delight, the award went to her song, but she had to share it with the video producer and the director. Lucky for Abdul, she was already working on her next album. But topping her first album was one tall order.
22. She Tried To Top It
Spellbound came out in 1991 and had two hit singles that reached the number-one spot. The video for the hit “Rush Rush” was an elaborate affair.
It was a take on Rebel Without A Cause and had Keanu Reeves stepping in for James Dean and of course, Abdul playing Natalie Wood. While she did win Favorite Pop/Rock Female Artist at the American Music Awards, the album got no Grammy nominations.
Her second album was a professional letdown. And to make matters worse, her personal life was on the rocks.
23. They Hadn’t Talked
Paul Abdul and Emilio Estevez took their relationship to the next level with a marriage in 1992. But it didn’t take long for it all to start falling apart. The number one issue between Abdul and Estevez was children and the lack thereof. Abdul was anxious to start having kids, but she was a little late—Estevez already had two. To make matters worse, the mother of his children had to take him to court just to get him to acknowledge they were his.
Abdul must have been kicking herself: Why hadn’t they talked about this before they got married? By 1994, the marriage was over.
24. She Didn’t Fit In
In 1994, Abdul found herself with no husband and no new Grammys. It was time to take care of some personal issues. It turned out that when she was a teenager, she felt she didn’t fit in because she wasn’t tall and skinny like other dancers. This led her to binge eating and subsequent vomiting to get rid of the calories.
Abdul later said it was like her body was fighting with itself, and the effects were devastating to her health. After a 17-year struggle, Abdul recovered.
Abdul had a new lease on life. It was time for a new album as well.
25. It Wasn’t Her Best
In 1995, Abdul released her third album: Head Over Heels. While it was a success, it would never come close to the popularity of her first. It seemed that Abdul’s rise to pop star success was leveling off. Abdul’s love of dance and of the spotlight, however, was far from over.
Abdul needed another route to follow to fame, and it had to come from her strong point: dance.
26. She Got Up And Danced
Abdul certainly wasn’t as old as Jane Fonda, but that didn’t stop her from making a workout video. In 1995, Abdul released Paula Abdul’s Get up and Dance!—exclamation point not optional.
The video used elements of hip-hop in order to get motivationally-challenged Americans to get off the couch and exercise. The video was a moderate success and even got a re-release on DVD in 2003. Abdul was definitely taking care of business, and now it was time to take care of herself.
27. She Went Around Once
With her exercise video getting people moving and sweating, it was time for Abdul to march herself down the aisle. This time it was with businessman and clothing designer Brad Beckerman. The two tied the knot at a museum in Bristol, Connecticut.
The museum specialized in antique merry-go-rounds, which is funny because their marriage barely lasted as long as one turn—17 months.
So she’d tried marriage twice, what was next in the romance department?
28. She Played The Field
One thing you can say about the guys Abdul has dated over the years is that she likes them handsome. John Stamos was a real giveaway, but we can also include the stunning model Dante Spencer. She also seems to have a thing for athletes. Hank Kuehne was a golfer that Abdul hooked up with.
Still, no matter how many men she went out with, true happiness always seemed to slip through her fingertips.
29. She Was Supposed To Be The Head
In 2001, MTV had an idea for a TV show about cheerleading. Abdul got a call to co-produce the pilot which they called Skirts. In addition to her role as producer, Abdul signed on to be a regular as the head coach of the squad.
It’s not clear if the pilot episode was good or not, but we can guess that it wasn’t stellar: because it never aired. Abdul, however, was not about to let this failure ruin her.
30. She Was The Nice One
In 2002, Fox called Abdul to appear on a star search reality show called American Idol. Abdul jumped at the opportunity and was soon critiquing the young hopefuls on their performances. When the show began, however, show creator Simon Cowell’s rude behavior toward the contestants horrified Abdul.
Abdul wisely chose her onscreen character to be kind and nurturing—to offset Cowell’s soul-destroying comments. The chemistry between Abdul and Cowell certainly worked, but Abdul didn’t see it that way.
31. She Wanted Out
Abdul struggled on American Idol. She could barely stand to sit near Cowell because of his unkind comments to contestants. Abdul wanted to quit, and then someone surprisingly swooped in to convince her to stay: her on-screen enemy, Cowell himself.
He knew that a good guy/bad guy situation only helped the ratings. There may, however, be another reason why there was so much tension between Abdul and Cowell.
32. She Had A Certain Kind Of Tension
Years later, Cowell was talking on air with Barbra Walters and said that the reason there was so much tension between him and Abdul was that she was crazy about him. Walters pushed on and asked Cowell if he thought Abdul wanted a relationship with him.
Cowell answered in his usual flippant tone: “a million percent”. Cowell admitted to Walters that he considered a one-night stand with Abdul, but thought it would be bad for the show. You know what else is bad for the show? Celebrity scandals.
33. She Got Caught
Abdul was in her Mercedes-Benz on a freeway in LA when she struck another car. While it wasn’t a huge accident, Abdul did something unforgivable. She just kept on driving. She had no concern for the other driver, and authorities only caught her because the other driver snapped a picture of Abdul’s license plate.
When authorities contacted Abdul, she said she thought she’d hit a pothole. Maybe Abdul was listening to her own song “Straight Up” while driving. Remember the lyrics? “Am I caught in a hit-and-run?” Yes, Paula, you are.
A fender bender, however, is nothing compared to what came next.
34. It Shook The Industry
In the spring of 2005, a contestant from the second season of American Idol came out with a story that shook the entertainment industry. Corey Clark was a disgruntled contestant who’d had to leave the competition because he hadn’t told the producers about a previous run-in with the law.
What Clark said in 2005 was that Abdul had gone behind the scenes and coached him on how to win American Idol. This was bad, but not terrible. As it turned out, Clark was just getting started. He also said that he and Abdul also had had a very intimate relationship.
35. She Wasn’t Bothered
For the most part, it seemed that Clark was telling stories about Abdul just to get publicity for his CD and book launch. Several celebrities stood up to support Abdul as she faced this serious accusation. Among them were Oprah Winfrey, Barbara Walters, and her co-judge Simon Cowell.
There is evidence that Abdul wasn’t too shaken by the situation: She went on Saturday Night Live and did a skit making fun of the whole thing. After this ordeal, however, it seemed that Abdul wasn’t quite herself.
36. She Had To Explain
In 2005, American Idol fans started noticing that Abdul was acting a little weird. She began swaying in her chair and struggled to get her words out without mumbling them. People were quick to blame drinking or medication overuse. Abdul shot back with this explanation.
She had something called Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy, which is a rare pain condition. This kept her critics quiet for a while, but then strange things just kept happening to poor Paula Abdul.
37. Did She Or Didn’t She
Abdul has a go-to story that she has told several times. Whenever she talks about her suffering from pain or her addiction to pain medication, she mentions a plane crash she was in back in 1992 when she was on her Under My Spell tour.
She said that she was on a small plane and there was an explosion, and they had to make an emergency crash landing. She also says that she had to have cervical spine surgery 15 times. The only thing is, there’s no record of this plane crash—none at all.
38. She Milked It
During his interview with Abdul in 2006, Larry King asked her about the crash and why there was no record of it. Abdul had a nonsensical answer: “Well, it did get some attention, but I didn’t want to make a—I worked it out publicity-wise. I did not want…” King finished her sentence for her with…“Milk it?”
Abdul said yes but offered no explanation as to why she was milking it now. She seemed to have an insatiable appetite for being on TV, and in 2007 she put her entire life on the air.
39. She Lost It
Paula Abdul tried her hand at reality TV with her own show called Hey Paula. But things didn’t go as planned. Abdul’s personality on Hey Paula was so nasty that it cost her another job. At the time, Abdul was working on the teen film Bratz, in which she had multiple roles. Once the producers saw her on Hey Paula, they decided to drop her altogether.
To make matters worse, Abdul got the email about losing her job while she was on camera—the rest is reality TV history.
40. She Melted
When Abdul found out that they’d fired her from Bratz, she had a meltdown where she even questioned the existence of God. Of course, this was all caught on camera for an episode of Hey Paula. After the airing of Abdul’s breakdown, a very different story surfaced.
The people associated with Bratz said there were simply scheduling conflicts that prevented Abdul from participating in the movie. This sounds like a simple cover-up, except for one thing: Abdul agreed with them. It appeared that Abdul wasn’t above faking a few tears as long as it helped her faltering reality show.
41. She Wanted More
In July 2006, Abdul’s manager made an announcement to The Los Angeles Times. He said that Abdul would not be returning to American Idol. Was Abdul finally fed up with Cowell’s rude behavior toward the contestants? Or was it about something a little less virtuous?
Many claim that Abdul wasn’t happy with her $5 million per season salary and wanted $15 million more to continue. Abdul didn’t get the cash she wanted, so she walked. Abdul may have walked away from American Idol, but the drama followed her.
42. She Got Some Horrible News
In 2008, Abdul received some terrible news. One of her American Idol fans had parked outside her house and taken her own life. Of course, Abdul was distraught and wanted to know if she knew the fan. That’s when authorities told her the person was Paula Goodspeed.
Not only did Abdul know who Goodspeed was, she had a history with her.
43. She Was Unkind
The story about Goodspeed was tragic, and it all started at an American Idol audition in Austin Texas. Before she auditioned, Goodspeed told Ryan Seacrest that she really admired Abdul and that she even made drawings of her to decorate her room.
When Goodspeed got on the stage, however, the usually-kind Abdul let it rip. After Goodspeed’s rendition of Proud Mary, Abdul said: “I’m speechless, that’s not a good thing”.
44. She Wanted To Be Kind
In 2011, Abdul decided to combine her three passions into a show called Live To Dance. She tried to sell it as a kinder American Idol—more of a celebration. It did not go well.
It turned out America didn’t like kinder shows but reveled in vicious comments and criticism. Unsurprisingly, NBC canceled it after just seven episodes. Dejected, Abdul went back to her TV “frenemy” Cowell on The X Factor, but only lasted one season.
45. She’s Not Exactly Choosy
In the last few years, Abdul has gone out of her way to keep herself in the public eye. Judging by the titles, I’d say it’s not exactly quality work. Some of the projects she’s put her name to include: Impractical Jokers: The Movie, Celebrity Ghost Stories, and Real Husbands of Hollywood.
She also reported an incident that occurred in Sasha Baron Cohn’s mockumentary Brüno. Abdul said she became emotionally scarred because Cohn had served her a sushi spread on top of a man wearing no clothes.
46. She Found The Fountain Of Youth
In 2022, fans were sure that someone had hacked Abdul’s Instagram account. They logged on to see their favorite 60-year-old star and found a teenager there instead. Abdul had recently posted a photo of herself at a Christmas party thrown by Kathy Hilton.
Some fans felt that the photo where Abdul looks like a teenager wasn’t even of her. Either Abdul had found the fountain of youth, or she’d taken a course in Photoshop. When it comes to Paula Abdul, either could be true.
47. They Clashed
Remember when Paula Abdul was dating Emilio Estevez? Their passionate romance culminated in a small 1992 ceremony at a courthouse in Santa Monica—but these two were not destined for a “happily ever after”.
Estevez wore a suitable outfit for his wedding: a nice suit. But only a little while later, he embarrassed his wife on a red carpet for a film premiere.
Abdul was looking fine in a cute pinstripe two-piece ensemble while her husband wore what you’d put on to hit Costco on a Saturday morning: jeans and a plaid shirt. If they were clashing on the red carpet, you can only imagine what was happening at home.
48. He Pushed Her
In April 2006, Abdul was at a private party and got into a skirmish with a male attendee. Abdul later told the LAPD that the man took her by the arm and plowed her into a wall. Instead of calling an ambulance, Abdul went to her own private doctor. She said that her doctor thought she had a concussion and spinal injuries.
Abdul gave authorities the name of the man and promised to come into the station to have photographs taken of her injuries. Nothing came of the case. However, the entertainer’s life was about to take an even darker turn.
49. She Laid Herself Bare
Paula Abdul was never one to shy away from the camera, and in 2007, she starred in her own reality show, Hey Paula. Hey Paula was a reality show about Abdul’s daily life. While I would worry that a show about Abdul’s dull routine might lack dramatic tension, apparently Abdul made sure it didn’t.
Even though audiences knew Abdul as the kind one on American Idol, she was anything but to her staff. Comedian Rosie O’Donnell even went as far as to call Abdul’s behavior on the show erratic. With all this negative publicity, the studio canceled the show after only one season.
The cancellation of Hey Paula, however, wasn’t the only loss for Abdul as a result of her bad behavior.
50. She Couldn’t Handle It
Remember when Abdul snapped at American Idol contestant Paula Goodspeed? Goodspeed couldn’t handle getting criticism from her idol—and Cowell’s added insult about her unsightly braces didn’t help. Goodspeed wrote that after her humiliating audition, it was difficult to find something good about herself.
When things got too tough for her, she drove her car to Abdul’s residence, where she proceeded to take her own life. Abdul sent out condolences to Goodspeed’s family…and then put her house up for sale.
Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25