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Born June 19, 1963, Abdul was raised in California's San Fernando Valley by her Syrian-Brazilian father and French-Canadian mother. She was drawn to entertainment after seeing the classic musical "Singin' in the Rain" (1952) as a child, and afterwards began ballet and tap lessons. She appeared in summer stock stage productions from age seven, performing excerpts from musicals like "Hello Dolly" and "Gypsy." A near-obsessive overachiever, Abdul was class president, member of the science and debate teams, and flautist in the orchestra at Van Nuys High School, while continuing to prove her dancing skills as the school's head cheerleader. Meanwhile her mother, a retired classical pianist, warned Abdul about the perils of being a professional entertainer, so instead of following her dream, Abdul enrolled at California State University, Northridge to pursue a degree in broadcasting, with an eye towards becoming a sportscaster.
During her freshman year at CSUN, Abdul auditioned for a coveted spot as a cheerleader for the Los Angeles Lakers. All her years of tap, jazz and ballet paid off. Not only did she make the team, but several months into working with them, the choreographer departed and Abdul landed the job. Lending her own personal style to the team's routines, Abdul infused jazz and street steps with standard cheerleading moves - enough that the team's revamped style captured the attention of various Jacksons in the famed musical family. The Jacksons used her choreography talent for the 1984 video "Torture," while Janet later tapped Abdul to choreograph her solo music video for "What Have You Done for Me Lately" Following the success of those high-profile hits, Abdul was suddenly in demand for her services, choreographing videos for such diverse acts as Duran Duran, George Michael and ZZ Top.
Abdul's résumé of music videos led to choreography work on feature films including "Private School" (1983), "The Running Man" (1987) and "Coming to America" (1988). By then, the energetic, exotically beautiful dancer with the strong work ethic and flair for showbiz was being courted by Virgin America Records, who had visions of turning her into a pop star, despite her lack of experience or innate talent as a singer. The label's hunch about Abdul's potential appeal proved right, and her first album, Forever Your Girl, released in June of 1988, immediately begat two hit singles, "Knocked Out" and "The Way That You Love Me." Her third single, "Straight Up," went all the way to No. 1, while the album topped the Billboard 100 at No. 1, eventually selling over 10 million copies internationally.
In 1989, Abdul hit a career high with American Music Awards for Pop/Rock Female Artist and Dance Music Artist, MTV Music Video Awards for Female Video and Dance Video for "Straight Up," and an Emmy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Choreography for her work on "The Tracey Ullman Show" (Fox, 1987-1990). Despite the awards, multi-platinum album and hit singles, critics blasted Abdul's tinny, octave-and-a-half voice that was doubled, tripled and heavily synthesized to make it palpable to the ear. By her own admission, she was not a good singer, but was confident that she had enough other qualities to keep on top: looks, charm, dance moves and a flair for the dramatic. In 1989, Abdul toured as part of the Club MTV tour, which included other acts Tone-Loc and Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam, but the tour was most memorable for exposing the act Milli Vanilli as lip synching frauds.
Abdul's sophomore effort, Spellbound, sold 13 million copies and boasted two No.1 singles: "Rush, Rush" and "The Promise of a New Day." She embarked on her first solo tour, performing 20,000 seat arenas and making her one of the pop world's most lucrative acts. Abdul had worked hard with vocal coaches to improve her voice for the record, but detractors would not let her shake her rep as a bad singer. To make matters worse, Yvette Marine, a backup singer on "Forever Your Girl," filed a lawsuit against Virgin Records, claiming that she sang co-lead on two tracks and did not receive proper credit. A jury ruled against Marine, but the damage to Abdul's reputation was irreparable. The pressure of the lawsuit, an ensuing world tour and a brief marriage to actor Emilio Estevez forced Abdul to retreat from the spotlight. During this time, she came to grips with her 17-year-long battle with bulimia, confessing on a 1995 episode of "PrimeTime Live" (1989- ), that she had finally conquered her eating disorder in spite of public ridicule about her weight and her divorce from Estevez.
Meanwhile, Abdul's third album Head Over Heels failed to crack the Top Ten. By 1995, overproduced dance pop was out of step with the grunge and hip-hop saturating the airwaves and MTV, prompting Abdul to spend the remainder of the 1990s appearing in guest spots on television, mainly as herself, on episodes of "Cybill" (CBS, 1994-98), "Spin City" (ABC, 1996-2002), "Sabrina, the Teenage Witch" (ABC/ The WB, 1996-2003) and "The Bernie Mac Show" (Fox, 2001-06). She also resumed choreographing films, working on "American Beauty" (1999) and "Black Knight" (2001). Then in 2002, the has-been pop star returned to the spotlight as a judge on "American Idol," where her tendency to find a positive word for even the worst singers endeared her to millions. But it was not just Abdul's genuine enthusiasm and encouragement, nor her heated disagreements with the disagreeable Simon Cowell that brought Abdul attention. It was her increasingly unusual behavior, which was quickly being snapped up by satirical outlets like "Saturday Night Live" (NBC, 1975- ), fueling allegations that Abdul was frequently under the influence of drugs or alcohol on the show. She would vehemently deny these allegations time and time again.
Though "American Idol" had its share of controversy - contestants had been kicked off for hiding unflattering pasts - Abdul seemed to be at the center of the bulk of the show's bad press. First, rumors swirled that she and Simon Cowell were having an affair off-set. Then her unhinged, sometimes incoherent mannerisms continued to spur talk of drug addiction at worst; too many shots of booze in her omnipresent Pepsi at best. Then Abdul faced hit-and-run charges following a traffic accident in 2004, followed by an enigmatic public admission that a "personal health issue" had caused her recent instances of erratic behavior. Trumping all was the full-blown 2005 scandal of failed "Idol" hopeful Corey Clark claiming he and Abdul had an affair during his 2003 run on the show; that she gave the aspiring singer an advantage with wardrobe advice, song tips and money. After Fox's own internal investigation, the network found no substantial evidence to back up the claims of an actual affair - though Clark's saved voice mail messages from Abdul could hardly be ignored or passed off as fake - and Abdul was allowed to continue on at her "Idol" post.
A 2007 accident wherein Abdul broke her nose while allegedly trying to avoid stepping on her pet Chihuahua only added to her status as the butt of jokes, while her short-lived reality series "Hey Paula" (Bravo, 2007) did nothing to dispel rumors of her increasingly erratic behavior. The show displayed Abdul having diva-like temper tantrums. At one point, she made the unfortunate onscreen plea through tears to be treated "like the gift that I am," which provided instant fodder for stand-up comedians like Kathy Griffin, as well as detractors. But despite seemingly teetering on the edge of reality, Abdul managed to find time to design a line of jewelry and market it successfully on the QVC channel, in addition to create her own fragrance. In 2008, she also released a few moderately selling singles, including "Dance Like There's No Tomorrow," which was included on the CD Randy Jackson's Music Club Vol. 1 and "I'm Just Here for the Music" which was released on iTunes.
In August 2009, while negotiating a contract for her return to the fall season of "American Idol," Abdul and Fox reached an impasse that led Abdul to issue a public statement that she would not be returning to the show. Despite the obvious fact that the show had provided Abdul's career with an unexpected and lucrative second act, she maintained that their offers of compensation were not adequate for the role she had played in making the show such a runaway success. Rumors also swirled that the controversial addition of a fourth judge, Kara DioGuardi, had lead to Abdul's displeasure. Whatever the true reason, Abdul's letting slip on Twitter that she was not returning to the show that made her a megastar was the top entertainment story that evening and into the following day - even knocking the ongoing Michael Jackson death investigation out of the headlines. After being named as one of the panel judges on Simon Cowell's latest talent show offering, the American version of the British hit, "The X Factor" (Fox, 2011- ), she lasted one season before being fired at the same time as fellow judges Nicole Scherzinger and Steve Jones.