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A diva returns? Paula Abdul's hits and misses


Paula Abdul, the former pop princess and forthcoming pill popper, strutted her stuff as the opening act for the 2009 VH1 Divas Concert this week, setting off plenty of armchair speculation on whether the just-retired host of "American Idol" still has her chops as a song-and-dance diva (or, even a lip-sync-and-dance one).

Really, did any of us actually expect her to sing her own vocals while dancing in those high heels?  Regardless of your take of Thursday's effort, it gives us a chance to reflect on -- or scrutinize -- the star's past. Here, we take a look back on the highs and lows of Paula's live performance career. 

1989 MTV Video Music Awards. It’s the performance that made Paula a household name and sent thousands of preteens to jazz class. Introduced by a dog-pounding, enthusiastic Arsenio Hall, Paula's debut performance at the MTV Video Music Awards starts off with a jaw-dropping tap solo, high-flying rope twirling, and some admirable attempts at live singing. Pulling together the three biggest hits from her debut album -- "Straight Up," "Cold Hearted Snake," "Forever Your Girl" -- Paula employs the ever-popular medley strategy of transitioning from sexy/cool to uplifting (see Michael Jackson’s same-year Grammy performance). Plus, she gets bonus points for dancing with the keytar player.

1990 MTV Video Music Awards. After her slam-dunk performance at the 1989 awards, Paula returns with another high production performance -- this time going up against former client/student Janet Jackson.  Here, it appears she eschews live singing altogether in favor of raising the level of choreographic pyrotechnics. With her signature moves performed by a stable of dancing bachelors, an Art Deco jungle gym for a set and a surprise mid-song costume change, Paula pulls off another show-stopping performance.

1991 MTV Video Music Awards. While “disastrous” might not be the appropriate word for Paula’s next award performance (especially after seeing how bad things can get, ahem, Britney), it was certainly an embarrassing moment for the pop star. She chose to sing live during her “Vibeology” performance, leaving the audience to hear a strained and out-of-tune voice, one that desperately tried to crowd-pump with the cringe-worthy phrase, “Horny Horn!”  Muffled under male drag, only to reveal a less-than-flattering rhinestone-encrusted bustier/leotard, Paula muddled her way through a desperately overproduced number. Oh, and, did we mention the yellow megaphones?

Super Bowl 2008. Although Paula continued to dance on stage throughout the mid-90s to promote her third studio album (such as this Middle Eastern-flavored piece from Top of the Pops), most would agree that her big live-performance comeback was this prerecorded number for the 2008 Super Bowl. Thankfully, it seems relatively clear that Paula’s given up the live singing experiment, and although she doesn’t participate fully in the choreography around her, she does swing around a weighted mic stand with aplomb.  This, of course, proves what we've always suspected about Paula’s live shows -- voice amplification tools work best as dance props.


"American Idol" 2009. In her first performance on the show that resurrected her career, Paula played to her home audience in a spring 2009 episode of "American Idol." Her face is almost always in shadow, and the swinging mic gimmick is back, but this time Paula busts out the dance combination alongside her dancer counterparts, proving the 47-year-old can still pull out many of the moves that made her famous. Check out the footage. Go Paula, go Paula!   

--Ramie Becker

Photo credit: Getty Images

Comments () | Archives (14)

Umm Janet was never a student of Paula. You should really do your research because Janet has been dancing since the age of 7 when she performed with her family on the "Jackson family veriety show." she was doing all types of dancing including tap.(look it up on YouTube if you like)Janet also danced with professionals whle starring in the TV show "Fame." Paula was Just a hired choreographer who did 4 music vidoes for the"Control" so please stop trying to inflate Paula's involvement with Janet.Janet has said herself Paula didn't teach her how to dance. Paula is not on Janet's level..Never was never will be. LOL @ y'all callng her Princess of pop. What are you smoking ?

Paula is really AWESOME!!!


There is something essentially pathetic about all of these performances. She really cannot sing and she is basically a little too chunky to be a dancer, way too short. I never did get her appeal and it certainly seems even more amateur now. I am so glad she won't be judging on AI anymore, because this really documents that she didn't/doesn't have a clue.

TEAM PAULA ABDUL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

For those who are negative about any of these performances, it is because they have never had to do them themselves. The difficulties in these performance are extremely high and amusing. To do a live show like these is way much more difficult than shooting a video when you can stop, cut, and edit. The dance steps were flawless, the signing was heartfelt. There might be a little problem with the mic, but have you seen the olympic games opening and closing performances? Last time I remember, I can't even hear any singing on those. This certainly proves to criticize some body, you got to have the talent yourself plus the experience. Otherwise, you are missing lots of points and you become invalid such as the case of Ellen who is tune deaf, and that would not be fair for any true talents.

coolness! i loved Paula was coolness on the divas show. good to see her having fun with all the divas on the show

Love it. Go Paula.........

Much love for you. Looking forward to more.

First of all, Nonya – you are out of your tree. Paula not on Janet’s level? Honey, Paula is a classically trained dancer. Janet would never say she is better than Paula because simply, she isn’t. Now, that’s not to say Paula is turning out the moves as good as she did in her past, she has suffered from chronic back and neck pain for years and has had countless surgeries to try and correct these problems, so obviously she’s not going to perform with the same energy she once had, however, I give her credit for trying and still having the passion to do it.

As far as lip synching, yes, we all know Paula lip synchs on most of her performances – even you Paula lovers out there, stop saying she sang live, she didn’t. However, that doesn’t mean anything. When the dance routines are as vigorous as most of Paula’s performances have been, it is nearly impossible to sing live during these numbers. Janet, J Lo, Britney, etc … they are still lip synch to this day. But I’m fine with it because I know that first and foremost, they are dancers more than they are singers – it’s not a big deal.

Now my question to the writer of this story is, what 1990 performance are you referring to? Paula did not perform on the 1990 MTV Awards, she performed on the 1990 American Music Awards (which she won an Emmy for – that performed was flawless). But even the description you give about the performance doesn’t sound like the one on the 1990 AMA’s so, that’s confusing.

I recommend another awesome performance, which was for “My Love Is For Real.” It was on UK TV, not TOTP (which she did perform the song on) but I’m referring to another show – you tube it, it’s on there somewhere.

Her American Idol 2009 performance of “Here for the Music” also rocked.


Paula will always be an amazing performer, she's incredibly underrated and immensely mocked, the reason why is beyond me.
Ellen will be liked, but Paula was the only one in that judging panel that has actually been on a stage performing, to bad for American Idol, I personally watched the show because of her, no more AI for me.

Ooops I forgot! and for those Janet Jackson fans, please watch Janet moves on American Bandstand performing simple dance moves on "Young Love", and then tell me she didn't got help for "Control" street signature moves from Paula. Don't get me wrong, I love Janet too, equally as Paula, but I would be a fool to not recognize that Paula had something to do with her moves back in 1986. Either way that's in the past, and America should be more grateful for performers like Abdul and Janet before we loose them.

Paula Abdul can sing live when she feels like it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mObUOqWEPuo

hey nonya YOU should do ur research. paula choerographed (?) Janet all thru her control era. I'm pretty sure thats wat they mean by her teacher

I'm mad that they called her a "forthcoming pill popper", but anyway Paula has had a great career.

I think it's because of the criticism she got from her 1991 MTV Performance that she keeps lip-singing.

The vocals from her Divas Performance had NO auto-tune, it was NATURAL VOICE and the vocals WEREN'T FROM THE 80's ........... the vocals were more than likely recorded this year. (Paula said she was doing remakes to her #1's)



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