When you’re an international jet-setting pop superstar, it can be easy to lose track of where you are. Or, in Nicole Scherzinger’s case, which continent you’re on. Hence her confusion when Waitrose Weekend gently eases into our conversation with a polite enquiry about where she’s calling from.
“I’m in LA,” she says. A pause. “No, I’m in London.”
Are you sure?
“Yes, I’m in London,” she laughs. “I feel like I’m always here.”
That’s perhaps not surprising, as Scherzinger recently spent two years wintering as a judge on The X Factor. And you’ve probably read about her on-off (and currently on again) relationship with a certain British F1 champ. So has she noticed herself becoming Anglicised? Does she ever find herself saying pavement and fortnight?
“No, but I do appreciate some fish and chips,” she says in her Kentucky drawl. “Actually, my favourite thing y’all do is a nice Sunday roast. It’s kind of like y’all have an excuse to have Thanksgiving every Sunday.”
If the thought of the Honolulu-born pop phenomenon sitting down to roast beef with all the trimmings seems incongruous, a couple of days after our chat it’s announced that Scherzinger is to star in a West End revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats where, as Grizabella, she will be padding in the footsteps of the grand dame of British musical theatre, Elaine Paige. (The first line of her character’s big showstopper, incidentally? ‘Midnight, not a sound from the pavement…’ – so it looks like she’ll be needing to learn the lingo after all.)
Scherzinger’s new album, Big Fat Lie, is inevitably coloured by her choppy six-year relationship with Lewis Hamilton. According to the accompanying publicity blurb, the record is about the singer “revealing some of my personal struggles and facing them head on”. So exactly what sort of struggles are we talking about here?
“Just struggles,” she says. “Everybody has issues, right? Everybody can relate to just being human – whether it’s in relationships, whether it’s in our own heads. A lot of this album is dealing with relationship struggles and… You can hear it in the music, the music speaks for itself.”
I wonder if there’s a part of her that worries about exposing this anguish to the world, especially when her private life is already such public property.
“Not really. This is my truth, this is my story, and this is the best way to communicate it. It’s very therapeutic, you know? Prescription music, I call it.”
Is it hard for your boyfriend, though, to hear these songs you’ve written about how difficult relationships can be?
“No, no,” she says, clearly reluctant to be drawn down that road. “That’s what great songs are made of.”
When I mention I’ve listened to some of the album, she seems genuinely excited, and asks me to list which songs I’ve heard. Twice. I tell her it didn’t feel right sitting at my computer during pumped-up floor-filler Your Love, and felt compelled to dance around my office to it instead. I think that means it’s probably a hit. “Yay!” she hollers. “Did you get a beat on? I love it, that makes me happy.”
Big Fat Lie is Scherzinger’s first album since 2011’s Killer Love. But ask what it felt like going back to the day job after a couple of years at Gary Barlow’s elbow on X Factor, and she insists she never really went away. “Even though I didn’t have music coming out, I was always in the studio. I’m a perfectionist, so now it’s scary that the time has come for the music to come out – I’m almost like ‘I’ve waited this long to get it right, shall we wait even longer?’”
Nevertheless, reality TV figures almost as prominently as music on the 37-year-old’s CV. Having moved to Louisville as a teenager with her Hawaiian-Russian mother and German-American stepfather (her birth father is of Filipino descent), Scherzinger majored in acting and musical theatre at Wright State University in neighbouring Ohio, before serving as a backing singer for post-grunge rockers Days of the New. In 2001, she successfully auditioned for a place in girl group Eden’s Crush on Popstars – the TV talent show that, in the UK, gifted the world Girl’s Aloud and, less seismically, Hear’Say. Eden’s Crush split after their record company went bankrupt, but Scherzinger went on to global superstardom as lead singer of burlesque pop troupe The Pussycat Dolls. Their self-titled debut album sold 10 million copies worldwide, while the single Don’t Cha – with its provocative taunt of ‘Don’t cha wish your girlfriend was hot like me?’ – was number one in 15 countries.
Scherzinger – who later admitted to battling bulimia during her time with the group - parlayed the Dolls’ success into various TV projects, including a judge’s seat on two series of The Sing-Off and grinding the competition beneath her Cuban heels on the 2010 series of Dancing with the Stars. That summer, she also appeared as a guest judge on the British X Factor, taking a permanent seat at the table two years later, by which time the Pussycat Dolls had given up trying to hold on to their breakout star, and split up.
I ask if she’s missing being on The X Factor this year. “No,” she says. “I’m just loving the music right now, and getting the time to focus on that.”
But with the music business struggling to adapt to a changed landscape, Scherzinger admits that, these days, the brand is as important as the band - hence her roles as ‘celebrity ambassador’ for the world’s favourite airline and a popular brand of herbal shampoo, not to mention diversifying into movies (she was in Men in Black 3), reality TV and, from December, London’s glittering West End.
Behind the glitter and the shiny hair, though, Nicole Scherzinger insists she’s just an ordinary girl from the Bluegrass State. “Everyone who meets me always thinks I’m something else,” she says. “But I pick up my dogs’ poop like everybody else, and wipe my dogs’ butts like everybody else. I’m really just a goofball.”
Published in Waitrose Weekend, October 16, 2014
(C) Waitrose Weekend