The Untold Truth Of Paula Abdul

Singer. Dancer. "American Idol" judge. Actress. Paula Abdul has worn many hats over the years, but they all may as well be labeled with just one word: superstar. Born on June 19, 1962, Abdul grew up in California's San Fernando Valley and discovered her passion for dancing at a young age. "Instead of a stuffed animal I had a stuffed satin leg with a ballet shoe," she told The Wall Street Journal of her childhood. "I loved to dance."

Abdul's love of dance would broaden into a passion for additional types of performing arts as she grew older — and it would turn her into an unstoppable talent and a household name around the world. Whether you know her as a Grammy-winning pop idol, for her groundbreaking work as a choreographer, or from her "American Idol" days, there's still a lot to discover about this powerhouse — here's the untold truth of Paula Abdul.

Paula Abdul cleaned floors to pay for ballet lessons as a kid

Paula Abdul fell in love with dancing at the tender age of 4 when she decided she wanted to be just like Gene Kelly after watching him in the classic musical film "Singin' in the Rain," but her parents couldn't afford to pay for formal lessons. Undeterred, at the age of 7, she struck up a bargain with her friends' ballet teacher to wash "the floors, the bathrooms and mirrors for lessons" as she recalled to The Wall Street Journal.

Abdul had to overcome a lot of physical limitations to become an elite dancer. Born prematurely, her hips were turned in at birth. Her petite size was another setback. Still, the budding star determined that "nothing was going to stop me from doing what I loved to do," and she trained diligently to rise to the top of her game.

Growing up, she was 'an overachiever'

Dance wasn't Paula Abdul's only interest growing up. Per The Wall Street Journal, she was a high school cheerleader and also played the flute. In addition to exploring her talents for music and dance, she was on the honor roll and served as class president.

While it might sound like an ideal high school experience, Abdul told "Prime[t]ime Live" (via the Paula Abdul Official Fan Site) that she was "an overachiever" who struggled with low self-esteem. At 5'2" (though other sources report her height as 5'0" or even 4'11"), she was self-conscious about her petite size and also struggled with her body image, thinking of herself as overweight. Abdul developed an eating disorder, living with bulimia for years, calling it "a violent punishment you put on yourself."

Abdul explained that she "learned at a very early age I didn't fit in physically," comparing herself to "tall and skinny" dancers. She eventually sought treatment in the '90s, checking herself into a clinic for a month-long treatment program. There, she learned to deal with her fear that she was "going to disappoint people" and developed a healthier relationship with food and her body.

If you are struggling with an eating disorder, or know someone who is, help is available. Visit the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) website or contact NEDA's Live Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. You can also receive 24/7 Crisis Support via text (send NEDA to 741-741).

Paula Abdul got her start as a professional cheerleader

Paula Abdul put her dance training and years of cheerleading to good use as a freshman at California State University, Northridge, where she was a cheerleader. She soon set her sights on a bigger stage, though, as noted by The Wall Street Journal, and tried out for the L.A. Lakers cheerleading squad, making the team — after failing several times, that is.

In an interview with Raise the Stakes Projects, she revealed she was one of nearly 2,000 girls at the audition and that she "got cut before I even got to dance." Instead of going home, though, Abdul changed her clothes and hair and auditioned under another name — twice. The third try proved to be the charm when she finally made the squad. While her career was nearly derailed in 1979 after suffering an accident, Abdul told The Wall Street Journal that she "fought through it," eventually becoming the team's choreographer. That's when things really began to take off for the young dancer.

Paula Abdul was discovered by this famous group of singing siblings

Paula Abdul's work as a choreographer for the L.A. Lakers attracted the attention of the Jackson family — yes, those Jacksons, previously known as The Jackson 5, as noted by The Current. Per Warm 106.9, they saw her at a game and subsequently hired her to choreograph the music video for the song "Torture." After that, she began working as a choreographer for Janet Jackson's music videos, including "What Have You Done for Me Lately" and "Control."

Abdul's work with The Jacksons led to widespread acclaim and other productions — notably the Tom Hanks film "Big," in which she choreographed the unforgettable scene with the giant keyboard (yes, really!) — though it was choreographing the music video for Janet Jackson's song "Nasty," that she considers to be her breakthrough. "I'm very grateful, because this was really the big start to my career," she told Rolling Stone. Abdul added that she came up with all the choreography in just half an hour, showing just how talented she truly is. "There was no room in this little old apartment [I lived in], and I choreographed it with a mirror that I could see from my waist up," she said. "That's it. And everything worked out."

Paula Abdul has been married twice

Paula Abdul has been involved with some of Hollywood's biggest celebs. Back in the '90s, at the height of her success as a pop star, she met Emilio Estevez (who was a cast member of the iconic '80s movie, "The Breakfast Club") while dating "Full House" star John Stamos. After her relationship with Stamos ended, she began seeing Estevez, and the two tied the knot in 1992. Alas, the marriage was short-lived, as Abdul wanted children, and Estevez, who had two children of his own already, didn't want more. "It was very hard for him to admit that he couldn't handle having kids again," Abdul told People. "It was heartbreaking for us both." The pair divorced in 1994, and the end of the relationship crushed Abdul. "I was so sad ... It was like I was trying to fill this big empty hole," she said.

Two years later, Abdul married sportswear manufacturer Brad Beckerman. Less than a year and a half later, though, the Associated Press reported that she had filed for divorce. Though, since the divorce, Abdul has dated a number of other celebs, including Colton Melby, Arsenio Hall, and Jackie Jackson (via Zimbio) and reportedly engaged in a fling that led to one of the biggest scandals in "American Idol" history, she has never again married (per IMDb).

Paula Abdul was diagnosed with this rare chronic condition

Paula Abdul has lived with chronic pain for most of her life after sustaining an injury during her cheerleading days as a teenager. Per ABC, she's also undergone more than a dozen surgeries over the years after injuring her neck in 1992. There was another reason for her pain, although Abdul didn't learn of it until 2004 when she was diagnosed with a rare condition called reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD). Sometimes called complex regional pain syndrome, or CRPS, the condition, which impacts the sympathetic nervous system, has had a huge impact on Abdul. "RSD can affect a person's work and personal life, and devastate a family financially," she told Pain Pathways Magazine.

Abdul's journey to diagnosis was a long one — which is typical for those living with RSD — as the condition isn't well known and is often misdiagnosed. Since her diagnosis, Abdul has learned to manage the condition through dietary changes, therapy, and supplements.

Despite the pain, Abdul shared with Pain Pathways Magazine that the condition has helped her "appreciate how amazing the body is" and that she "remain[s] in gratitude ... to be able to work through the pain."

She reportedly opened up about living with drug addiction

In 2007, videos of Paula Abdul behaving erratically in interviews led to speculation that she was using drugs or drinking on air. The celeb denied using any substances in a panel with journalists (via The New York Times), saying, "I've never been drunk. I'm not under the influence of anything."

Two years later, however, she opened up about her years-long addiction to prescription painkillers, which she took to manage her chronic pain. "I could have killed myself," she told Ladies' Home Journal (via the Daily News). Abdul said she had managed to end her dependency on painkillers the previous November, but, within a matter of days, she had recanted the interview, releasing a statement saying that she had "never been addicted to or abused drugs in my life" (via While she confirmed that she had checked into a spa the previous fall, Abdul said it was "a luxury hotel, not a rehab facility."

In an interview with a radio station, she claimed that Ladies' Home Journal had misquoted her, although a representative for the outlet told that the article was accurate and that, per, they were "happy that Paula decided to share her journey with us."

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Paula Abdul unknowingly appeared in this Sacha Baron Cohen movie

Paula Abdul has appeared in many movies and TV shows, including "That's So Raven," "Less Than Perfect," and "Fresh Off the Boat," but one of her most memorable appearances is one she never actually signed up for. Fans of Sacha Baron Cohen might remember Abdul from the comedy "Brüno," in which Cohen, as the titular character, meets with Abdul, who believes she's being interviewed for an award. At the interview, Cohen invites her to sit on men who are on their hands and knees, apologizing that there is no furniture. The scene gets more and more bizarre, with Cohen even kicking one of the men. Abdul eventually storms out in disgust.

While some viewers may have thought that Abdul was acting in the film, it turns out, she wasn't in on the joke. She told the "Johnjay and Rich Show" on 104.7 FM (via Us Weekly) that, for some time after filming, she believed it had truly been the weirdest interview of her life. The pieces, however, didn't fall into place for her until her manager said, "People magazine wants to know how it feels to be totally punked by Sacha Baron Cohen." Abdul racked her brain, convinced she had never worked with Cohen until she "woke up in a cold sweat" that night, finally realizing she'd been fooled. "I popped my body up out of bed, and I went, 'Holy crap! Oh, my God!'" she hilariously recalled.

American Idol isn't the only talent competition Paula Abdul has judged

Paula Abdul stepped down from judging "American Idol" in 2009 after appearing on the show for eight seasons. Abdul didn't disclose a reason for leaving, simply tweeting, "With sadness in my heart, I've decided not to return" (via Billboard), but it seems that contract negotiations fell through. The Hollywood Reporter revealed at the time that, according to sources, Abdul had reportedly asked for $20 million, turning down a proposed 30% raise.

While Abdul left "American Idol," she remained a fixture on television, particularly on talent competitions. In 2011, she served as the mentor and lead judge on "Live to Dance" and also was a judge on "The X Factor." Three years later, she joined "So You Think You Can Dance Australia" and the American version of the dance show, appearing alongside Maddie Ziegler, and she also appeared as a panelist on "The Masked Dancer."

In 2017, Abdul told Entertainment Tonight that, while she wasn't interested in returning to "Idol" as a full-time judge, she wouldn't necessarily count out a possible return as a mentor. In 2021, she was presented the right opportunity — and she returned to "American Idol" as a guest judge for one episode after regular judge Luke Bryan tested positive for COVID-19. "It was nostalgic," Abdul told Hollywood Life of joining Katy Perry and Lionel Richie on the judges' panel, adding, "It was fun."

Here's why Paula Abdul returned to performing

While Paula Abdul never totally faded from the spotlight, by the 2000s, she became better known as a television personality than as a performer. In a 2017 interview with Forbes, she explained that she "had to leave the music business" following a mysterious plane crash in the '90s that required "a lot of reconstructive spinal cord surgery." She said that, even after joining "American Idol" as a judge, she was still working on "getting my body to be able to do what I love to do."

While she wasn't on stage, Abdul never lost her passion for music. In 2017, she returned to performing as part of New Kids on the Block's The Total Package Tour, as noted by Billboard. It was her first tour in 25 years. In an interview with Elle, she said that she had "missed" performing and that she "wanted to get back in close contact with" her fans. She said she decided to "make [returning to performing] a priority" after being asked regularly when she'd perform again.

Paula Abdul had a very close relationship with her parents

The deaths of Paula Abdul's parents hit her hard. Per USA Today, they died within a year of each other, with her mother dying in January 2018 and her father in April 2019. Abdul was crushed on both occasions. "I can still feel my mother's love," she wrote on Instagram following her death. "It's tangible & I cannot describe how significant, beautiful & meaningful that is for me."

She similarly opened up after her father died, tweeting that he "had a heart of gold" and that she could "still feel his spirit." In a 2019 interview with People, she spoke about her close bond with her parents, saying that, even though they're physically gone, they will always be with her. "Not a day goes by that I don't think and speak to them," she said. Abdul added that she credits her parents with how she turned out, saying they instilled "kindness, empathy, and loyalty" in her.

This is why Paula Abdul had her breast implants removed

In 2021, Paula Abdul revealed that she had her breast implants removed. In a video for medical device company InMode, which was posted to Instagram, the pop star talked about why she decided to undergo breast revision surgery, saying that the implants started leading to back problems because they were "a little too big" for her. "With my height, I'm petite, I started with smaller breasts and about 20-plus years ago I had implants put in, and the more I was dancing the harder it was getting on my back," she explained.

Abdul had undergone cosmetic surgery before, telling People that she'd had the skin on her arms tightened. "I've had multiple spinal cord injuries and paralysis, and because my arms had paralysis, the muscles atrophied," she explained.

While Abdul is clearly comfortable with undergoing elective surgery, don't expect to see her going under the knife too often. She told People that she's not too bothered about aging, saying that it's "inevitable" and that she hasn't "really put too much pressure on it."

Paula Abdul took over TikTok

While older fans may know Paula Abdul best as a pop star or as a TV personality, Gen Z fans might know her best from TikTok. Like so many people, Abdul took to the video-sharing app to show off her dance moves. Of course, the average TikTok user isn't a professional dancer and choreographer, so it's no wonder that Abdul has been labeled "the queen of TikTok" and is having a blast as the app's reigning monarch. "It's been so much fun!" she told Entertainment Tonight. "Doing these TikToks has been like an added bonus of joy, fun and laughter." 

Abdul has collaborated with a lot of other TikTok creators, which she has particularly enjoyed, saying that these "really talented young people" have a gift. The famous TikTok stars Abdul has worked with include Sharia True, Jojo Crichton, and Montana Tucker, as noted by Talent Recap. As of this writing, Abdul's TikTok account has racked up nearly half a million followers, and her videos have garnered millions of views.