If you were a child of MTV or pop radio in the late 80's and early 90's, there's no way you could miss the energetic Paula Abdul. It was in 1988 when the former Laker girl and choreographer released her debut album "Forever Your Girl,' an effort that would become one of the best selling debuts of all time. The album would move 7 million copies in the United States and set a record for the most number-one singles from a debut album on the Billboard Hot 100 chart: "Straight Up," "Forever Your Girl," "Cold Hearted" and "Opposites Attract."
Now 30 years later, Abdul is celebrating her debut album with "Straight Up Paula!" a tour across North America that stops at the Hard Rock Rocksino at Northfield Park next Friday, October 26th. I caught up with Paula as she was putting the final touches on the tour which launches this week.
The concert will be Abdul's first solo stop in Northeast Ohio since 1992's "Under My Spell Tour," so I asked her what fans can expect. (Note: Abdul performed at The Q last summer as part of the Total Package tour with New Kids on the Block and Boyz II Men.)
"For sure they'll be singing all the hits and dancing. It's a fun and visual extravaganza. I'm using mixed media and a lot of technology, but even with the technology it's done in an intimate way. And there's story telling, so I think people will have a lot of fun but they'll get to know a little more about me and I'm excited."
Given how immensely successful her debut was, I asked Abdul about what she remembers most about making the record. She says it was the grass roots effort she employed using her skills as a choreographer to enlist other artists to help her out.
"I kept it very quiet because I was a successful choreographer. And in case it didn't work, I didn't want to lose my day job. It was one of those situations where I worked extremely hard. I was given zero budget to put an album together. Because I was a big choreographer, I bartered deals with people. I was like 'Prince, write me a song and I will work on your project for a big reduced rate.' Same thing with Kool and the Gang, the Jacksons... It was pretty exciting for me because I was able to use my career as a choreographer to get writers and producers to work with me."
And of course there's that iconic video for "Opposites Attract" which turned a lot of heads and drove massive sales due to its incorporation of an animated cat dancing and rapping alongside Abdul. For her, making the video was a passion project, one her record label resisted.
"I already had six singles out and it was unheard of at the time for a debut artist. (The label said) 'That's enough, it's time to work on your second album.' But there was a song on the album that lent itself to a duet. When i was 4-years old I saw "Singing in the Rain" and that changed my entire life and I knew I wanted to be an entertainer after watching Gene Kelly. So when I knew that song was going to be on my album, I always remembered that Gene Kelly danced with an animated mouse. I know I'm not supposed to release another single. The record label feared over saturation. And I said, 'No, not as a single, but I want to do a long-form video as a tribute and my gratitude to Gene Kelly and I wan an animated character, like a cat.'
"My record label said 'No, do it on your next album.' Needless to say there was a lot of back and forth and I said 'Im going to do it anyway because i believe in this.' So I went and did it and it ended up that Virgin Records totally stood behind me because the saw what was being developed. When they saw the video was done, Virgin became my partners with the cat and they decided to release it as a seventh single. Even when they said absolutely not, they ended up believing in it so much."
As to why the lengthy break between visits to Cleveland, a tragedy following the "Under My Spell Tour" would set Abdul back for years.
"At the height of my music career, at the end of that tour, I was involved in a private plane crash landing. I ruptured and herniated all of my C-spine and so for the next 7-years, I has 12 spinal surgeries during that time. I was paralyzed on my right side. They scraped my vocal cords during my ninth or tenth surgery. Honest to God, I just went through hell. After all the rehabilitating, to be able to last summer to try it out for my first time, it was nerve wracking but it was the best time. So here I am now doing an entire show. And I'm really proud and I'm really grateful that I get the opportunity to do this again."
Fans looking to share in Paula Abdul's comeback and celebration of "Forever Your Girl" can still get tickets for next Friday's show. Prices range in price from $59.50 to $95 and are still available and can be bought at the Hard Rock Rocksino box office, over the phone or online here.