Ask An Expert: Paula Abdul

Paula Abdul – ground-breaking choreographer, dancer, song writer, performer, designer, actor and business woman – has over twenty years of experience in the entertainment industry.  As a two-time Emmy Award winner and multi-platinum recording artist, she has done it all and done it extremely well. For this ASKANEXPERT feature, Glitter jumped at the chance to ask Paula all about getting into the business and what girls should remember as they prepare for stardom.  Read our exclusive interview with this amazingly talented woman to find out more!

GLITTER: What can your fans look forward to from you in the next year?
PAULA: I don’t want to let the cat out of the bag too soon, but just know that I’m working on something extremely fresh that’ll surprise my fans.  You can also look forward to me being laser focused on overall wellness in all my endeavors.  So many teens see pictures in magazines & say, “I want to be skinny, I want washboard abs, I want the “perfect body.”  Guys, NONE of that spells WELLNESS.  When you think like that, you might get those abs, but you won’t be able to KEEP them!  I’d love to inspire teens to say, “I want to be healthy.  Teens are so focused on how they look on the outside, when it’s an inside job.  Boring vegetables, lean meats and proteins, less fried, sugary, salty foods.  It’s been said over & over, but really, food-wise, that’s what it is.  THAT’S what’ll turn a body into a tight, well-oiled machine that STAYS tight!

GLITTER: What were your first memories of
PAULA: I remember performing for my family.  It was so natural to me put on shows for my family!  I thought everyone did that!  Dancing, singing…I loved entertaining my family and how happy they looked.  I was so excited about it, and it made me so happy to perform.  The fact that they were enjoying it made me love it even more.  I also performed for Michael Bolton.  He was my babysitter at the time!  I just loved dancing & singing so much, I always wanted to share it.  I remember in college I came over to my cousin Tara’s house and I was SO excited about this new style:  breakdancing.  I told her, “I HAVE TO LEARN THIS.  I HAVE TO BE ABLE TO DO THIS.  SPOT ME!”  I dove to the floor & tried to spin in a headstand.  I think I scared her!

GLITTER: If you could choreograph for any performer (dead or alive), who would it be? And why?
PAULA: Even though I did get the opportunity to work with Gene Kelly (he ended up coaching me for the Diet Coke commercial!), it would have been great to physically dance with him in one of the famous, classic MGM musicals like Singing in the Rain.  Gene Kelly was & is my first inspiration, and being coached by him filled my heart to overflow.  In terms of contemporary artists, Usher would have to be my top choice.  He’s a triple-threat, and just a compelling overall performer.  You can’t take your eyes off of him.  He has so much energy & just radiates light when he performs.

GLITTER: In looking for new talent, what qualities do you seek?
PAULA: Individuality, of course.  It’s also important to be teachable.  Teens are under so much pressure to conform, when their greatest asset is their individuality.  It’s always, always ALWAYS that someone who’s got their OWN spirit, & not channeling someone else’s, that catches my eye.  It’s easy to copy someone else’s style. Developing your own style, that’s what grabs me.  If you love Lady Gaga or Rihanna, great!  Let their individuality and genius inspire you to new heights in your OWN individuality.  I want to see YOU.  The audience wants to see YOU.  Not a photocopy of someone else.  I also love to see how open people are to learning.  I don’t care how amazing someone’s talent is, they can ALWAYS learn more.  It’s not easy to be open to a new way of thinking, or a new style.  When I’m looking for talent, I definitely want to know if they’re open to learning something that’s out of their comfort zone.

GLITTER: What do you think is the biggest challenge facing someone interested in becoming a performer?
PAULA: The biggest challenge is when people don’t understand the difference between fame & dreams.  If you’re not focused on your dream, and you’re more into getting famous, you could trip up & suddenly be chasing the fame instead of the dream.  Fame can be here one day and gone the next, but your dream will always be with you if you really believe in it.  I’ve seen so many talented kids and adults taken out of the game because they forget their original love & passion & start chasing fame.  Remember your original love & keep a fire burning under it.  Take your original passion w/ you into EVERYTHING you do.

GLITTER: For someone looking to get into the entertainment industry, what do you feel is the most important first step?
PAULA: Learn the BUSINESS side of your big dream.  Check out books that talk about the technical, business side of your field.  “Industry” is another word for “business,” and it’s called show BUSINESS for a reason!  Of course we’re passionate about the creative side of our dreams…we’re performers!  It’s so easy to lose sight of the “boring” stuff like contracts and budgets.  When you think about it, it’s the contracts and budgets that keep you doing the thing you love.  That math and literature kids complain about really come in handy when you’re offstage handling important business to keep you onstage!  I admire a teenager that’s just as focused on schoolwork as they are on their passion.  I think to myself, “Now THAT’S a true professional.  That’s someone who’s got a head for business, AND a talent to build on.”  Letting schoolwork go down the drain in order to pursue your vision is like exchanging a $100 bill for pocket lint.  You’ve got something, but it’s basically nothing.  You’ve abandoned yourself.  You’ve left yourself with no foundation, and no tools to do business.

GLITTER: Having been very involved with charitable causes over the years yourself, what would you say to motivate teens to give back to their own communities?
PAULA: I love this question.  There’s way too much “I want to be famous” and not enough “I want to do more.”  Teens can get motivated to give back to their own communities by asking themselves what were some of their favorite things when they were little.  Were you really close to your grandparents?  Ever thought about volunteering at a convalescent home.  Is there a pet you loved?  Can you help a homeless pet find a home?  Can you help someone ELSE who’s trying to find a home for a pet?  Do you know someone with a serious illness?  There are all kinds of hospitals that need volunteers.  Did you have a favorite neighborhood park?  Ever thought about teaching a free dance class to kids?  You’ll touch a young heart, & it’s a great way to learn how to choreograph…and patience!  The things you wished for when you were little, you can actually have a part in helping people have that today.

GLITTER: What advice do you have for other Girls Who Rock on becoming a performer?
PAULA: If you really want to be a girl who SERIOUSLY rocks, remember to have FUN.  You love this, so let yourself be in love with it!  Totally surround yourself in whatever kind of performing you love.  Watch live performances, TV performances, read books about it, see movies about it.  Remember, people LIKE to be entertained, so share your gift!  There are all kinds of places where you can showcase your talent and get practice being in front of an audience.  And DEFINITELY Make & keep real friends who have your back & support you in your dreams.

GLITTER: If you could distribute a million dollars to charitable causes of your choice, which ones would you choose?
PAULA: This is a tough question because it’s in my nature to want to help with as much as I can. Causes that help people with terminal illnesses & Lupus, Anti-Bullying awareness, Eating Disorder Awareness, & Animal Advocacy have always been near & dear to my heart. They’re a given, I always love contributing to causes.  And of course, in the past couple of years there have been so many natural disasters. Tornadoes in the midwest USA, hurricanes, floods. Of course, the tsunami & earthquake in Japan. It was so moving to see how different individuals & organizations came together to help. I’m in awe of how the Red Cross is constantly there, and how they reached out to people using social media–Facebook & Twitter–to get people to help. And they got it! They got so much support. People donated, they spread the word & promoted awareness. I’d definitely want to distribute to the Red Cross, too.

GLITTER: What is your most memorable fan moment?
PAULA: I have had fans change the course of my day. I’ve had fans who shared stories with me that have melted my heart. From cards to videos to brief meetings in the airport. There have been fans who have inspired me so much that they’ve literally redirected my thinking in an awesome way. If I HAVE to choose one right now, the first one that pops into my head is Stone Fleshman. He auditioned to Forever Your Girl on “Live to Dance.” He started by singing. It was very sweet because he said that he was a fan and just wanted to dance for me. He was there to have fun and he had the biggest heart. It was such a gesture. Later I found out that he said that my music helped him come out. He said that it inspired him to just accept himself. That melted my heart because I always want to inspire. He’ll never know how much that touched my heart.

GLITTER: What are some good ways to overcome stage jitters?
PAULA: Of course, being prepared is a must. Having practiced and rehearsed, making sure you’re prepared. And even being prepared doesn’t mean you won’t get stage jitters. I’d have to say meditation works wonders. The energy of meditating is so beautifully opposite of stage jitter energy. BREATHING meditation especially. Mindfulness is a great tool because it’s about observing and not judging. You’re just breathing in and out and paying attention to your breath. It’s not as easy as it sounds because of course you get a ton of thoughts flooding into your mind: I have to do this, I need to do that, I have to be here, I have to go there. You literally observe those thoughts, and let them go, and then go back to focusing on your breathing. There’s a reason why meditation is called a “practice.” It takes practice to be able to just focus on one thing like breathing. And you know a lot of pre-judging is involved with stage jitters. Judging yourself, judging the audience, making assumptions about your performance before you’ve even performed, wondering if you’ll make a mistake. All that worrying is about what will happen in the future. Breathing meditation keeps you in the present moment with your breath.