All the right moves
Judge Paula Abdul confesses to DEBBIE SCHIPP some tricks that might come in handy for the rebooted reality show
PAULA Abdul knew dance was her calling, no matter how difficult the steps. As determined as she is diminutive, the 1.52m Abdul – (yes, that’s 5cm shorter than our own pocket rocket Kylie Minogue) – may have career credits as a dancer, choreographer, singer and, more lately, reality television show judge, but dancing is her first love.
“Nothing else,” Abdul coos in her Sydney hotel room, “gets into your skin as dance does.”
It’s been that way since she watched Singing In The Rain as a four-year-old, pointed at Gene Kelly and announced to her parents: “I want to be that.”
The fact they couldn’t afford ballet classes was a minor hurdle. She used the car pool home from school – which went via a friend’s ballet class – to her advantage.
“I’d watch, the class then go home and stand hanging onto the kitchen sink (as a barre) and all the steps were just there,” the now 51-year-old says.
She became a cheerleader at school “because it allowed me to dance”, and hit college determined to become one of the LA Lakers basketball team’s famous Laker Girls cheerleaders.
She was neither tall, nor blonde, so didn’t quite fit the mould among the 700 girls at the auditions. “I got cut right away,” Abdul says. “I went into the bathroom, changed my clothes, changed my hair, put it up in a ponytail and put my new name up – I used my middle name, Julie, and took the “d” out of Abdul and replaced it with another “b”. “And I got cut again.” Back to the bathroom.
“I’d saved the best outfit for last – think Jane Fonda, red and white, tan tights, blue legwarmers and a headband like Olivia NewtonJohn,” she says.
“I entered as ‘PJ’, spelled Abdul different again, and muscled my way right to the front. When they said: ‘Rotate lines, back row to front’ and I just stayed in the front.” Short in stature, but not ambition or ingenuity, she became a Laker Girl. When she was spotted at a Lakers game by The Jackson 5, she ditched university to become a choreographer, producing the Jacksons’ Victory tour, and a string of others. By the end of the 1980s, she was a pop star in her own right, after making it big with her debut album, Straight Up.
After battling an eating disorder, Abdul stayed out of the limelight until 2002, re-emerging as a judge on American Idol.
Her work on reality talent shows since has reminded her not only of her love of dance, but a lot about herself, Abdul says.
“I know when you have a dream like that, it’s like being a child again. You have no doubts, You just ‘do’. You wouldn’t believe how many have the same story as mine about not taking no for an answer.
“I’ve met contestants cut in three different cities, and they just keep lining up again.”
Abdul is coy on whether she’s seen a repeat auditionee as SYTYCD Australia unfolds.
“If I see someone come back in that I think I’ve seen before, with a new outfit, and a new name, you know what? … it’s a wink and a smile,” she grins.
“It will be: ‘Don’t think I don’t know who you are, because I do. But I like your attitude’.”
And while Abdul might have a reputation as a ‘nice’ judge, one trait might betray how she’s feeling.
“People would say ‘you’re so nice’ like it’s a disease. As a choreographer I am a stickler. I want the choreography learned quickly, so I can start ‘cleaning’. If something catches my eye, I have to clean it up … my eye twitches,” she says.
Keep an eye out for that tell.