Abdul, a broadcasting student at California State University at Northridge, tries out for the Los Angeles Lakers Girls cheerleading squad. She's picked out of a field of 700 and becomes head cheerleader within three weeks. She quits school to go pro.
At a Lakers game, some members of the Jackson family notice Abdul's moves on the court and hire her to choreograph a video for their comeback album, Victory. The big break leads to more work choreographing videos for Janet Jackson, Prince, George Michael, Duran Duran and others.
Using $35,000 of her savings, Abdul records the demos for her debut album, Forever Your Girl. Her one-two punch – singing and dancing – fits perfectly within the MTV zeitgeist. Her No. 1 hit single "Straight Up" wins four statues at the 1989 MTV VMAs, and Forever Your Girl stays at No. 1 on the Billboard chart for 10 weeks and sells seven million copies.
With Forever Your Girl still on the charts, Abdul picks up an award for her first love: dance. She takes home the Emmy award for outstanding achievement in choreography for her work on The Tracey Ullman Show. She also wins an Emmy the following year for her choreography on the American Music Awards.
Abdul's sophomore effort Spellbound is released with the singles "Blowing Kisses in the Wind" and "Rush Rush." The video for "Rush Rush" stars Keanu Reeves in a James Dean-esque role and the song stays at No. 1 for five weeks.
Abdul marries Brat Packer Emilio Estevez in a low-key civil ceremony in Santa Monica, Calif. But, in May 1994, the pair divorce. Abdul tells PEOPLE that their marriage ended because she wanted children and he didn't (he already has two from his previous relationship with model Carey Salley). "It was very hard for him to admit that he couldn't handle having kids again," she says. "It was heartbreaking for us both."
Abdul checks herself into the Laureate Psychiatric Clinic and Hospital in Tulsa for treatment of an eating disorder. She admits to struggling with bulimia for 15 years and attending Overeaters Annonymous since 1989. After overcoming the disorder, Abdul tells PEOPLE the following year: "Whether I was sticking my head in the toilet or exercising for hours a day, I was spitting out the food – and the feelings."
After taking a much-needed break, Abdul goes back to the studio and releases Head Over Heels, her third album of original material. She expresses herself in new ways, adding traditional Middle Eastern instruments on the album's first single, "My Love is Real," and riding a mechanical bull in the video for the single "Crazy Cool," which goes to No. 1 on Billboard's dance chart.
Abdul marries clothing manufacturer Brad Beckerman, but repeats the Estevez timeline: the couple stays together barely two years, then divorces. The following year, she continues working, even returning to acting as a woman who discovers that her boyfriend is a rapist in ABC's television movie Touched by Evil.
With her knack for showmanship and salesmanship, Abdul is installed as a judge on FOX's American Idol along with Simon Cowell and Randy Jackson. She critiques singing and mannerisms and exchanges barbs and opinions with Cowell, who at first publicly derides her but later gushes about her beauty.
BIOGRAPHY (top to bottom): Wen Roberts; NEAL PRESTON/CAMERA 5; COURTESY BLACKWOLF IMAGES; PHOTOFEST; Fred Prouser/SIPA; Alex Berliner/BEImages; Ray Mickshaw/WireImage