Nicole Scherzinger: The Cowell and the Pussycat
Exclusive interview: ‘Simon was very smart: he listened to me about One Direction. And I’ve found great talent on this year’s X Factor’
'I have a soft spot for the UK X Factor. Louis has been so welcoming; Tulisa and I are still learning about each other; and I love listening to Gary talking about his family'
I am sitting behind a rack of the teeniest, tiniest sequined dresses. They look doll size. It seems unbelievable that the slender powerhouse who is Nicole Scherzinger not only fits in them but has to have them pinned at the waist because they are a little large. Her frame may be slight but her presence is huge – dark, intensely soulful eyes that seem to feel the pain of the world, and a smile that exudes love. As her fellow X Factor judge Louis Walsh told me just before the shoot, ‘She is one class act.’
When she was a guest judge on the UK X Factor in 2010 she excelled with her emotionally articulate comments, and it was, in fact, her idea to put together the band One Direction from the boys group of solo singers. Thus the former Pussycat Doll graduated to judge for hire.
She replaced Cheryl Cole on the US X Factor after Simon decided Britain’s national sweetheart wasn’t working on American television, blaming her Geordie accent. Nicole, 34, had a difficult category, the Over-30s, and she refused to reject one of her own acts when they both fell into the bottom two, feeling it might be their last chance at success. Her American contract was not renewed, but she was soon rehired to replace Kelly Rowland on the UK version of the show.
Nicole has been dating racing driver Lewis Hamilton, 27, since 2007. Last year they were rumoured to be engaged but she denies this. Her album Killer Love was one of the most successful of 2011 and this year her film career started with the part of Lily Poison in Men in Black 3.
The photo shoot has been going since 6am and she is due now at 4pm at the studio with Will.i.am to film the making of her new solo album for cable network VH1. ‘My day is just starting.’ She grabs a gluten-free peanut butter cookie and slips into ‘pyjamas’: cream knitted leggings, a loose and skimpy T-shirt and leopard wedged sneakers. She is wearing Mugler’s Alien and it smells divine on her. Her hair is so shiny you can practically see yourself in it. We ride in her limo to the recording studio as we chat.
I have a soft spot for the UK X Factor because that’s where I started. Everything is honest and innocent. A UK audience can tell when something is from the heart. They have a great sense of humour and it’s more playful. There was a lot of hype around the US X Factor. The show was under a lot of pressure, and I was part of that. I had a difficult category because it was the ‘olders’, and in this industry the older you get the less chance you have of being a successful artist.
The hardest part for me is making the decision to reject someone, especially someone who you’ve nurtured. As an artist I feel empathy for them. I too started off in a reality show [called Pop Stars, which spawned the girl band Eden’s Crush in 2001 with Nicole as a member]. I know exactly what they’re going through and what it all means to them. I feel for them and I root for them.
This year I’ve got the boys. I wanted the girls. I always want the girls because I feel I relate to females most; that’s where I could be of service. But the boys’ category is strong. I’ve got some great raw talent. I am honoured.
I get on well with the other judges. I’ve loved Louis since the beginning. He was so welcoming. I love his sense of humour. Tulisa and I are still learning about each other, but I’m happy that we get on. I am learning a lot from Tulisa. She is smart and honest and I watch the way she handles the press. In America we are not used to that. I love listening to Gary talking about his family so adoringly. He has kept his perspective through all the success that he has.
The UK is much more competitive than the US. The judges really want to win. My favourite part of The X Factor is getting to work with the talent. I love mentoring. I feel I don’t always shine when I’m speaking – my brain and mouth don’t always connect. I like to be of service. I feel that I have a lot to offer.
'The UK is much more competitive that the US. The judges really want to win'
We had a bunch of great young guys with One Direction, but none of them were ready to go out on their own in the boys’ category. I thought, ‘If we put this group together the girls are going to go crazy. Together they will be irresistible.’ Simon was very smart. He listened to me.
I have been through the school of Simon Cowell. I feel fortunate that I got to work for him. I understand the urgency and how great an opportunity this really is. I make sure my energy level is up, committing 110 per cent all the time. The show is about the contestants, about finding authentic original talent. And we have found great talent.
I love what I do and I strive to be better, that’s what keeps me going. I’m never a slacker, always a striver. I came from a small town. My parents are both retired now. My father was a welder and before that in the army. My mother worked in the office of the American Heart Association. There’s a lot of music in my family – my grandmother sings – although nobody ever made it [before me]. I always felt like singing was what it was meant to be.
Eden’s Crush had a great time. We toured with Jessica Simpson and opened for ’N Sync. I don’t think we could have done bigger stadiums. Then the label London-Sire went under. I continued to work on my music and went to college for theatre and through that I heard about the Pussycat Dolls audition and the rest is history. There was singing and dancing and in the beginning some of the outfits were tiny and revealing. I grew up singing and I didn’t have to show my body to do that, so the combination was foreign to me. But as I matured I accepted it.
I don’t work out as much as I used to, unless I’m preparing for a video or tour. For most of my life I’ve spent so much time working out, fortunately the effects have stuck with me. I stay active and I try everything in moderation.
I love food. I don’t eat red meat but I eat everything else. I love Italian food and desserts. My favourite snacks are watermelon with lime juice and salt and vinegar Kettle crisps.
I listen to all kinds of music – Beyonc, Plan B. If I have more time I would like to paddle surf and surf a lot more.
I’ve discovered this new thing called SoulCycle, which is a spinning class for your soul and spirit. It’s totally empowering.You push yourself so hard that any problems disappear because you’re pushing away boundaries physically, emotionally and mentally. You let everything go. As an artist it’s good to release and let go, but I definitely have my protective shield as well. Certain things can make me feel vulnerable.
I don’t do facials. I try not to pamper my face too much. I use La Prairie, Murad and Boots No 7. Good moisturiser is key, and a toner. I like a toner to be minty fresh and feel like a mini-spa on the go. Would I consider surgery in the future I think it would be nice to grow old gracefully, but you never know.
Love makes me vulnerable. In business I’m tough on myself – I’m like a drill sergeant. If I’m down I’m used to getting right back up, but when it comes to love, your heart can’t do that. Playing music that I’ve written in front of people also makes me feel vulnerable because I’m baring my soul. What makes me happiest Love, love, love – and music.
My nieces make me happy but I’m not broody for a baby. They say if you want to be happy be around young people. When I’m around the kids I can just be myself, and that gives me a kind of freedom. Whenever God wants me to have children I’ll have children – I was an accident, and I turned out pretty good.
I’ve always had a great relationship with God. I’m a spiritual person. I grew up in a strict Catholic family and my grandfather is a priest. Although religion was around me my whole life I never felt it was forced upon me. It is my centring, my grounding, the soul of me. I feel I’m nothing without it. I do go to church on Sundays. If I’m in different countries, I just go to mass, kneel and give thanks.
I miss performing with the Pussycat Dolls. We were a powerful little unit and our time together was electric. There is always a possibility that we will get back together, but I am enjoying where I am right now. I’ve worked hard to be able to stand out on my own and have my name out there and not have it under the name of a band. That feels empowering.
Last year on The X Factor I sang ‘Pretty’ which [songwriter and producer] Babyface wrote for me. I didn’t want big hair and make-up – I just wanted to be stripped down and to sing.
I’m a massive fan of Andrew Lloyd Webber, he is a legend. I met him at home with [his wife] Madeleine. He asked me to sing ‘Love Never Dies’ at the Royal Variety Performance for the 25th anniversary of Phantom. He’s so humble and I love his humour, his grit, his charm.
I’d like to do more West End and Broadway. You have to be able to take a chance and do something different. I’ve just performed Rent at the Hollywood Bowl where I played Maureen, a lesbian performance artist. It was a great opportunity. That’s where I can be the most fearless. I don’t always feel that way. Confidence comes with maturity, being more accepting of yourself. But I struggle. Everyone sees themselves differently when they look in the mirror.
This year has been my most relaxed ever. I didn’t dare to relax for several years – in this business you want to stay on top, you don’t want anything to pass you by. I’m more settled. I never took vacations before, or even had a massage, but I do now.
'I wish I could spend more time with Lewis. unfortunately my shows and his races are at the same time'. Nicole and Lewis at the Men in Black 3 premiere in London
I wish I could spend more time with Lewis. Everyone thinks that I’ll be able to see more of him while I’m in London, but unfortunately my live shows and his races are at the same time. We do our best. Obviously it’s a challenge being in different countries and having demanding schedules.
My gift on The X Factor is to remain positive. I can find the good in everyone. I think that’s why they keep me on. If someone isn’t particularly good I can break it to them gingerly. I’m very creative with being positive, even if I’m struggling with someone who isn’t gifted. People at home might be thinking they don’t stand a chance in heck, and that’s what Simon is thinking, and he tells it to them like it is. But it’s their dream and they don’t know any better, so it’s nice to break it to them lightly.
I love London, although I’m spoiled by the California weather. I am excited by a new adventure. I’ve never been able to be a tourist as I’m always working. I’d like to have more time to
walk around and see the culture and the history. I want to explore, hide under a cap and walk around. London is my second home. I wear more clothes in London because it’s colder, but in many ways you have to keep it chic and be a little more daring.
I definitely want to do another film if the right opportunity comes up. In five years I would like to have done a world tour and started a family. Hopefully I’ll also be married and have a film and a couple of big albums under my belt.
The X Factor airs tonight on ITV1; The Xtra Factor follows on ITV2