Branching Out


If Paula Abdul’s face seems familiar, it may be because you’ve seen her in two of Janet Jackson’s videos--”What Have You Done for Me Lately” and “Nasty.” But she was also behind the choreography of videos by Duran Duran (“Notorious”), ZZ Top (“Velcro Fly”), the Pointer Sisters (“Goldmine”) and Steve Winwood’s current “Roll With It.”

After making her name as “top video choreographer to the pop stars,” however, Abdul is emerging as a star in her own right with the release of her album “Forever Your Girl,” and the “Knocked Out” single (which made it into the Top 10 on Billboard magazine’s black music chart and is climbing the pop chart).

Abdul first attracted notice as part of the Laker Girls cheerleading squad. She joined them in 1982 (when she was 18) and within a year she became their choreographer.


“Little did I know that season ticket-holders were in the entertainment business,” she laughs.

She left the squad in 1986, when her career as a show business choreographer was taking off.

Jackie Jackson of the Jacksons asked her to choreograph their “Torture” video in 1984. Her next video project was working with Janet Jackson on four videos which helped create Jackson’s new identity as a dynamic dancer--a style Abdul had already been using with the Laker Girls. By 1986, those videos, along with ZZ Top’s, netted Abdul the MTV, American Video and Soul Train awards for best video and best choreography.

The dancer-singer, born in Los Angeles to a Syrian-Brazilian father and French-Canadian mother, now faces the challenge of coming up with a style different from Janet Jackson’s, since the public associates Abdul’s style as Jackson’s own. “But I can’t deviate from it too much,” she reasons, “because that’s me!”

Abdul, who grew up in Sherman Oaks and Van Nuys, is aware of the public’s skepticism toward entertainers who are known in non-singing fields and then try to make it as singers.

“Society always wants to peg you. You know, ‘You’re an actress, you’re a singer, you’re a dancer.’ I don’t think it’s fair to just stifle yourself and do one thing because everybody says you’re successful in that area. If you have the opportunity to do it, go for it, and do the best you can.”