Paula Abdul was the best judge on American Idol. She also put out a string of chart-busting hit songs in the ’80s, like “Straight Up” and the ultimate break-up anthem, “Cold Hearted.” Once a Laker Girl, she channeled her choreography skills into putting together the iconic moves in Janet Jackson’s “Control” and “Nasty” videos and the wedding dance in Coming to America, racking up Emmy Awards and VMAs along the way. In short, she’s a mega-star.
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With this kind of a history, you might be surprised to hear that Abdul hasn’t been on stage in more than 20 years. But this summer, she’ll hit the road with New Kids on the Block and Boyz II Men on the Total Package Tour, performing all your favorite karaoke and car sing-along hits. We caught up with Abdul this week to talk music, nerves, and the American Idol reboot.
You haven’t been on tour in so long. Are you nervous? Do you still get nervous?
Of course! I love getting nervous, because it’s also a form of excitement and it makes me feel alive, you know? I like that feeling. I’ve always liked that feeling. It’s all part of it. People who don’t get nervous before they perform are no fun.
What made you decide to get back on stage now after 20 years?
Many reasons! I took a long break and had sustained some injuries in the past. Then I returned to television with American Idol and that took up a good decade of my life. Then I went out to do some more television, as well. I always wanted to get back on stage, because I missed it. I wanted to get back in close contact with the people who have supported me all throughout my career and be able to see them again. Plus, I was getting asked all the time if I would ever do it again! I finally said, You know what, I want to and I’m going to make it a priority. I’m really passionate about it and it’s fun, and I want to connect with my fans around the country.
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Did you write any new music, or are you going to be revisiting your old hits?
The tour is all greatest hits, but I’ve reimagined them. It’s a bit of nostalgia, but also incorporating a lot of new energy. I really worked hard with content and I do a lot of interactive stuff and there’s an LED wall. I love being creative that way, and with the choreography. It challenges me to do different things.
You played with technology back in the day, too, when you danced with that animated Scat Cat in your “Opposites Attract” video.
Scat Cat is definitely making an appearance in a whole different, imaginative way. It’s really cool.
That was one of the very first videos that had interplay with animation.
It was one of the first with animation and live-action. Back when I was creating Scat Cat, it was painstaking, cel by cel. Now you can do animation in real time, but back then it took so much time to put it together.
Are there any holograms?
Not for this tour, but I have been doing a lot of work with holograms. It’s for another show I’m creating.
You already have another show in the works?
Well, I still do a lot of choreography and I’m working on other projects for myself as well as for other people.
Speaking of your choreography, did you reimagine all the choreography, too?
There are certain dance crazes that I helped spawn, that are very signature with my songs. The signature steps are definitely there, but with new energy.
You are such an influential choreographer. Is there a particular dance move that you feel you created and deserve credit for?
I brought a whole different style and technique that I think inspired some people, especially in the generation of when I was doing my music. They were inspired by some of my work with Janet [Jackson]. To a lot of people, it was a different style of jazz and street style jazz, but for me it was heavily influenced by one of my favorite choreographers, Bob Fosse. I was taking inspiration from Bob Fosse and mixing my own style with it and cultivating it. People always make fun of me—that when I get older, like when I’m 85, they’ll still be saying I created the snake. Everyone did the snake!
Do you have TV guilty pleasures?
I’m a Bravo fanatic, but I love any dance show. I watch Billions and I’m a Scandal freak. I was one of the first Gladiators for real, one of the first entertainers that did live-tweeting of Scandal with my fans.
It was hysterical! Everyone was into it. I actually met some of the Scandal cast members and they were like, ‘Oh my God, you were a Gladiator!’ They knew I was doing it.
Now the show is going to end.
I can’t believe it. I hope, I hope, that’s not true.
I think Shonda Rhimes said that real politics were getting too similar to the storylines she had planned…
I know, I understand that. Isn’t it crazy? It’s crazy.
How are you guys going to be touring the country? Are you in tour buses or planes?
Both, but mostly decked-out tour buses with Tempur-Pedic mattresses.
Is that the secret to a good night’s sleep for you?
We’ll see. I’ll let you know after my first night on the bus, which will be this week.
What else do you need to have on the bus to make it work for you?
I need a little television and some cable and I need to have like the kind of food that I like to eat and a blender to make my juices and shakes. And I’ve got like my Chihuahua, Betsy Lou, with me. She’s been backstage hanging out with Donnie Wahlberg’s dog.
Now that is a reality show I would watch. Are you excited to be on the road again?
I’m kind of thrilled that I’m doing this again. This is no joke. We have 49 cities and we’re doing four or five nights and there’s one run where we do nine shows in 10 days.
How are you staying in shape for this tour?
I’m having lots of talks with my body. Like, ‘We gotta do this. Let’s just get through this next hour and then we can just crash and burn for a little bit.’ [Laughs] It’s never easy. It’s constant work. It’s not easy and the older you get…well, I’m doing stuff I did 28 years ago, so it’s kind of nuts.
Now that ‘American Idol’ is coming back and moving to ABC, would you ever consider going back to the show?
That’s a loaded question. I will always say this: The show was some of the best times for me and being a part of it from the inception was one of the most rewarding and challenging and life-changing aspects in my career. I don’t know [if I would go back]. I don’t even know, because I’m not even thinking about that. I’m happy it’s coming back, because I love it and I think ABC is wonderful and I love the people over there. I think it’s like a really cool overall place for it to be, but I have not really thought about coming back, because I just heard about it. Good for ABC. It’s definitely a show that I will always treasure and cherish.
Since you’re a big fan of Bravo shows, do you ever look back at your reality show, ‘Hey Paula’?
No, no, no, no.
I have a love-hate relationship. It’s fun to watch other people go through it—not on your own show.