Paula Abdul is not too proud to defend herself.
Sitting in the back of a limousine squiring her to rehearsals for her first-ever headlining concert tour, the singer-dancer-choreographer is reflecting on the ying and yang of a career that's whisked her from the relative anonymity of a basketball cheerleading squad to the heights of pop stardom, complete with endorsement deals and -- a sign that one has really made it -- her own recording label that hawks a cartoon cat who raps.
The ride has been quick (three years) but hardly free, and the cost has been more than paying the proverbial artist's dues. Ms. Abdul has been accused of not singing on her first album, of lip-syncing concerts, of employing a visual thinning technique to make her look svelte in her videos and of breaking up the marriage of another pop star.
That this has happened to her is not a surprise; Ms. Abdul's milieu is dance-pop, a frothy kind of music that is seldom praised for its artistic merits. Often more visual than musical, its credibility is suspect -- particularly after the Milli Vanilli fraud controversy. Still, at 29, Ms. Abdul has encountered a career's worth of controversy.
But the 5-foot-1 songstress fights back hard.
"All those incidents have made me a stronger person," she says with steely affect. "One thing that has happened is I've bounced back a lot faster each time. I'm a sensitive girl, but I've learned not to be as sensitive. I don't really have a choice.
"But I know I'm not going to please everybody all the time. I don't claim to be the best singer there is, the best dancer, but I know I'm good at what I do. I am a good entertainer. As long as I'm happy with what I'm doing and getting response from my fans, that's what makes me happy."
So far there's been no problem in that area. In 1988, the San Fernando Valley-raised Abdul -- the daughter of a French-Canadian mother and Brazilian-Syrian father, who divorced when she was 7 -- released her first album, "Forever Your Girl," and watched it sell more than 12 million copies worldwide and launch four No. 1 hits in the United States, including "Opposites Attract" which launched the career of the animated MC Skat Kat.
Her second album, "Spellbound," has proven that "Forever Your Girl" was no fluke. Musically more mature and ambitious than her debut, it's sold almost 3 million copies and scored two more chart-toppers in "Rush Rush" and "Promise of a New Day."
But Ms. Abdul's triumphs have clearly been tainted by the controversies. Clearly she's most angry about a lawsuit filed against Virgin Records, Ms. Abdul's label, by Yvette Marine, a backup singer on "Forever Your Girl" who claims she was not properly credited or compensated for essentially singing lead on three of the album's tracks. Not even named in the suit, Ms. Abdul was so upset by Ms. Marine's claims that she held a press conference to deny the charges.
On a more personal level, Ms. Abdul may have been hit harder by reports of an affair with singer Jackie Jackson, including an aborted pregnancy. The matter was revealed in a recent Michael Jackson biography, seconded in LaToya Jackson's recent kiss-and-tell book and trumpeted throughout the media. When word first leaked out, Ms. Abdul -- who choreographed the Jacksons' "Torture" video in 1984 -- canceled several interviews and declined comment. Now she says she never read the book and that the accusations "are completely false."
On other fronts, Ms. Abdul has acknowledged she used backing tapes to boost her vocals during the 1989 Club MTV tour, but she finds silly the furor over her appearance on the most recent MTV Music Video Awards, which prompted the rumors of the video thinning technique.
"Paula Abdul is not a skinny girl," she says, "but Paula Abdul is not a heavy girl, either -- in fact, I'm thinner now than I was on my first album."
What bothers Ms. Abdul most about these disputes is that they sap attention from her music and the improvements she feels she's making. Though it has its shortcomings -- most notably the lack of a distinctive Abdul identity -- "Spellbound" is undeniably a step forward from "Forever Your Girl." With songs by Prince, John Hiatt and an exceptional group called the Family Stand, Ms. Abdul broadens her palate, capably handling slower love songs such as "Rush Rush" and the harder dance grooves of "Rock House."
Where: Capital Centre
When: Nov. 21, 8 p.m.
Call: (410) 481-6000