Songwriter, choreographer, and former American Idol judge Paula Abdul has finally dusted off her dancing shoes and graced us all with her presence and talents after a long 25 years. The last time she went on tour was in 1991-1992 for her international Under My Spell Tour, which was named by a fan from an MTV contest submission. Now she is opening up for boy band New Kids on the Block (NKOTB) on their current Total Package Tour – and it’s nothing short of awesome.
The announcement came as a surprise when NKOTB made their big reveal on TODAY back in November 2016 – introducing Boyz II Men and Abdul as their special guest openers.
“I’m just excited to reconnect with my fans and get back on stage and perform,” Abdul told E! News in May 2017. “I'm doing recreations of my hits but done differently.”
I was lucky to see Abdul in action at the Brooklyn, New York show on June 27. My thoughts? At the age of 55, Abdul’s still got the moves and passion. She recreated some of her famous dance moves and included new choreography, in unison with her dance crew and without missing a beat. Abdul also wore seven different outfits during her half-hour set - seven.
Abdul made great use of the giant video screen behind her on-stage, interacting with it during her “Singin’ in the Rain” tribute to Gene Kelly (dancing with an animated umbrella) and during “Opposites Attract” (dancing and dueting with the animated cat character, MC Skat Cat, in a reinvented music video that included a NYC Metropolitan Transit Authority subway station as a setting). Abdul also showed off her vocal chops during “Rush Rush” towards the end of the set, giving a refreshing moment to pause and enjoy the slowed-down pace, compared to her previous upbeat routines.
“The Way That You Loved Me” and “Forever Your Girl” were fun to watch, listen to and dance to while standing from the seats. “Cold Hearted” started off very slow with Abdul singing like a nightclub singer, but soon turned dramatic (in a good way) as the tone shifted and as the choreography became more fast-paced. The highlight of “Straight Up” was when she dove off the top of a ladder into the arms of her crew to end the hit song.
From the looks of how she performed with such energy and spirit, you wouldn’t have guessed that Abdul just recuperated from a temporary injury sustained last month during the tour.
Abdul also gave some inspiring advice and words of wisdom after her "Rush Rush" performance. She told the crowd, filled with loyal fans from the late ’80s and early ’90s and even younger fans like myself, of her tenacity and beginnings before breaking into the music industry.
Inspired by Gene Kelly’s Singin’ in the Rain, Abdul began dancing at the age of four, which helped her to become a Los Angeles Lakers cheerleader during her freshmen year at California State University, Northridge. Abdul said that – although she was picked from a pool of 2,000 – it took three same-day auditions with three different identities and looks to become a Laker Girl.
“I got to tell you something – never give up, even if there are haters, non-believers – you keep on your path, you promise? Listen, I have a very humble beginning. I started as a Laker Girl and it wasn’t easy; I don’t fit the mold, I don’t have the legs, the arms – but I had a plan,” she told the fans.
Hesitant to even show up in the first place, she went down to the Fabulous Forum in Inglewood, California, for auditions and was assigned #742. She told the crowd that she immediately got cut. But Abdul had a back-up plan in mind – to put on another leotard and to put her hair into a ponytail, entering as her middle name Julie and spelling her last name as Abbal. This time she had the opportunity to dance, but was cut again.
“I went back into the ladies’ room into my stall and did some heavy praying, ‘Dear God, make me be bold, daring and unique.’ And I pulled out of my bag – I saved the best for last – the Jane Fonda chevron, red and white striped leotard, the blue leg warmers, blue headband, and I put my hair half up, half down with the hair scrunchie,” said Abdul, who then entered and danced under the pseudonym P.J. Apple.
“Then I heard, ‘Back half of the arena come to the front, front half to the back.' I was like, ‘Oh gosh’; I was in the center. ... I ran back and I claimed my spot in the middle and I danced and I got it," she continued. "The moral of the story is never ever give up. It doesn't matter who believes in you, believe in yourself and love yourself because it’s the beginning of a lifelong romance that no one can take away from you. And even if they try, you know what I say? Life’s too short and so am I.”
The national Total Package Tour kicked off in Columbus, Ohio, on May 12 and will conclude in Hollywood, Florida, on July 16.
Abdul's Greatest Hits - Straight Up! album can be purchased here.
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Erin DeGregorio is a student pursuing an M.A. Degree in Journalism at CUNY Graduate School of Journalism (New York, New York). She has a focus in arts and culture reporting and will be graduating in December 2017. Her portfolio of select clips can be viewed here.