Nicole Scherzinger defied a Christian upbringing and fought bulimia to be in|the Pussycat Dolls. Nick Duerden discovers success on The X Factor and a Formula 1 boyfriend have made her hungry for more.
In an east London studio, Nicole Scherzinger is undergoing a process entirely common among pop stars, but wholly inexplicable to the rest of us. Dressed only in a white towelling robe that she has rucked down to reveal naked shoulders and a lot of breastbone, she is sat before an overlit mirror while a make-up artist removes the make-up that was applied barely an hour earlier — for one photo shoot — only to then apply more, for the next.
There are, one has to presume, subtle but key differences to the make-up being applied now, but to the ignorant observer, one line of mascara looks much like the other. She is also having her hair re-fluffed, primped and preened. It is a process that involves an awful lot of potentially ozone-depleting spray, much of which I swallow while attempting to hold a conversation with her.
Scherzinger is a naturally pretty 34-year-old who, that same ignorant observer might well suggest, hardly requires all this fuss and bother.
I suggest that she must find all this daily intensive preparation a terrible chore. “Oh no, not at all. It can feel a little stifling sometimes, but mostly I have to look at all this as a blessing.”
A blessing? Yes, she responds, a blessing. “All this” — the fame and success and, consequently, the excessive attention to prettifying detail — was her destiny. “It's what I always wanted. So I'm not going to sit here and complain about it, am I?”
In many ways, Nicole Scherzinger is perhaps the ultimate modern celebrity. She is a globally famous singer, formerly of the burlesque-style Pussycat Dolls, now solo, and about to release a new single, ‘Boomerang’. She is the delectable arm candy of Formula One star Lewis Hamilton, with whom she is perpetually papped at hi-vis events. And she is televisual gold courtesy of her work on The X Factor, where she is not merely one of four judges, but last year's winning judge: 2012's victor, James Arthur, was hers — as was Rylan Clark, so if anyone is to blame for his improbable ubiquity, it's her.
But this isn't what's so interesting about her. What's interesting is that she has risen to such heady heights — or, as she would have it, ‘the mountaintop’ — not necessarily through natural talent (though, of course, she possesses that), but rather tireless hard work and an unswerving focus.
Scherzinger has drive, passion and an unstinting commitment to succeed, to be the person she always dreamt she'd be. Everyone has ambition, she has more than most.
“Ambition? I guess so. Definitely. I've always been like this, ever since I was young.”
Born in Honolulu, Scherzinger is part Hawaiian, part Ukrainian. After her mother divorced and remarried a man of German extraction — whose surname Scherzinger kept — the family moved to Louisville, Kentucky, and lived a fairly blue-collar existence, she a clerk, he a welder. “No one else in my family was creative, a performer.” She smiles.
“Maybe it was God's will? I just knew that it was going to happen. The moment I heard Whitney Houston sing, I realised that that was what I was going to do as well. I used to sign all my yearbooks in school: ‘Remember me when I'm famous.'”
She excelled at school, but was not about to be waylaid by academia, and by her late teens she was the sometime vocalist in a band called Days of the New, and touring in earnest around the US. But by 2001, she had quit and enrolled instead on a prototype of American Idol called Popstars. Recollecting Days of the New now, she is positively fawning: oh, they were brilliant, she says, and it was an honour to be a part of them. So why on earth, I ask, did she ditch them and seek instant stardom on television?
She wrinkles her nose. “Because of my mom,” she answers. “She saw a commercial on TV saying they were looking for the next new girl group, and insisted I audition. I said no, that I was in this great acoustic goth band, and I was also studying theatre and music at college. I wanted to be on Broadway. But she just kind of pushed me out the door anyway, and insisted I go. I didn't have any money, so this was my way of getting to Los Angeles, I guess. The rest is history.”
Televised history. The girl group she joined, Eden's Crush, won, but Scherzinger never saw this as a viable long-term option. Rather, it was a stepping stone. “I was still discovering who I was, and what kind of musician I was going to be,” she says. “To be honest with you, I'm a performer, an entertainer. I was coming from that Broadway state of mind, theatre, and even though I write my own songs — I'm old school like that — I was still perfectly happy to take someone else's song and make it my own. See, all I ever really wanted to do was perform.”
Within two years, she had left Eden's Crush, and was recruited into Pussycat Dolls, a pop act created by a record-company executive that aimed to combine burlesque titillation with catchy, commercial songs. “My first response when I was invited to join was, No way!” she admits. “I come from a strong religious background, and I had a very conservative upbringing. So I was nervous, and confused. Here I was wanting to be Whitney Houston, so why did I have to dress in lingerie to do that? I didn't get it.”
Her mother also had reservations. “She hated the name. She wanted us to be called, simply, The Dolls, and she prayed every night for it.” It never happened.
Their first single, 2005's ‘Don't Cha’ (‘Don't cha wish your girlfriend was hot like me?’) was a worldwide hit, and its follow-up, ‘Beep’ (‘I'm a' do my thing while you're ******* with your… uh’) ensured, to listeners at least, that the coquettish vamp act would always remain the main focus.
The demands of going to work in her bra and pants soon took its, perhaps inescapable, toll. From the very moment she became part of the group, Scherzinger was instructed to lose weight. That she didn't need to lose weight was immaterial, she says. “I simply did as I was told. You know, I didn't have the confidence to go around in all that lingerie. I'm a crazy ***** now, of course, and I'm all over that, I love it, I embrace it. But back then I wasn't comfortable at all. I'd never worn stuff like that in my life.”
Increasingly self-conscious about her body, she became bulimic. Her eating disorder lasted for more than a decade, but she has only recently decided to speak about it publicly.
“As soon as I did open up about it (on a documentary for the music channel VH1), I regretted it. I felt humiliated, I didn't want it to be screened. I didn't
want the world to see that side of me. But now I'm so glad they have. The impact I've had on other sufferers is just so amazing. That I am now in a position to give strength, and support, to others … It's awesome.”
Today, she is no longer bulimic. Confidence, she suggests, and maturity, are the reasons why.
She says that it took years for her to come out of her shell, but you could say that she now almost aggressively courts an overly sexualised image. Conclusive proof of that came with her 2011 solo album Killer Love, which featured a duet with 50 Cent called Right There that dispensed with double entendres entirely in favour of blunt single ones. “I like the way that you keep me ******,” she sang. “So good you had me *******/ Me like the way that he goin' ****.”
“Well, um … you know.” She laughs, the sliver of a giggle, then seamlessly changes tack. “With these kind of songs, I don't feel I have to justify myself to anyone. I come from the most religious family — my grandfather is a priest — and if they support me in all this, and they do, then I'm OK.
“I'm being sassy and classy, I'm having fun. I'm not coming from a dark place. To be honest with you, I sometimes wish I were more slutty. I'd probably be a lot more successful if I were.”
For the past five years now, Scherzinger has dated Lewis Hamilton. It's been a long-distance relationship, she in Los Angeles, he in Monaco, and it has been endlessly raked over by the tabloids. There is not a day that goes by now when she doesn't face questions about him.
“I guess it means a lot of people don't have a life, because why else would they be so interested in mine?” she smiles. “I keep having to call up my parents to say some of the stories aren’t true. It's mostly lies.”
If this sounds like a complaint, it isn't, not really. Scherzinger knows it goes with the territory.
She turns to face me now, forcing her make-up artist to take a step back.
“This is such a tough industry, you know. To make it, you really have to sell your soul to the devil.”
And has she?
“No, I haven't. That's probably why I haven't quite reached the top of my mountain. I mean, where's my Tony Award, my Grammy, my Oscar? Why don't I have any of those things yet?”
Nicole Scherzinger's new single
Boomerang is released today.
Her second album will be released later this year