Her 16-year-old nephew thanks her for making him the most popular kid in school. Her 13-year-old niece passes out her phone number to friends. “I get these calls,” says Paula Abdul in wonderment, “and when I answer, I hear these screams, ‘Oh, God, it’s her!’ ”
It is indeed, and not just on the phone these days. It’s Abdul at the Emmys, being honored as choreographer for The Tracey Ullman Show; Abdul on video, high-stepping the hits off her first LP; Abdul on TV, hawking Reeboks and Diet Coke in prime-time ads.
In a Cathode Age when careers can be measured in quick-cuts and camera blinks, the 5’2″ cyclone in dance shoes has found a style that may well wear for a decade. If her vocals owe less to her pipes than to her producers (she used six on her first LP), no matter. She is the most infectious pop dancer and choreographer to emerge since Michael put the moonwalk in orbit. Yet her moves are so robust and joyful, she makes dance seem down-to-earth, a communicative mode for all moods, as good for you as brushing your teeth. In fact Abdul does some of her best work with toothbrush virtually in hand. “I wake up remembering certain things I’ve dreamed,” she says, “and dance them out in front of the mirror before my shower, while still in my pj’s.”
Born in the San Fernando Valley (to parents of Syrian-Brazilian and French-Canadian ancestry), Abdul, 26, found her vocation while viewing old MGM musicals on TV. “I’d actually dream about being in scenes, singing and dancing with Gene Kelly,” she says. Her own style—a blend of jazz, tap and street-slick funk—emerged later, at first in her hot-tempo cheerleader choreography as an L.A. Lakers Girl. Snatched off the court by video-conscious rock stars, she gave dance pointers to the Pointer Sisters, styled steps to make George Michael sexy and taught Janet Jackson the video moves that made her more than Michael’s sister.
Now, with a new decade to dance into, Abdul is poised to pick up even greater velocity. There’s a movie to choreograph (Oliver Stone’s bio flick of the Doors), a second album coming (perhaps this summer) and enough job offers on the phone to keep even her niece from getting through. “My mother always said, ‘Paula, girls trying to do what you want to do are a dime a dozen,’ ” says Abdul. Ah, but those who can do it are one in a million.