Fergie Q&A: Billboard's Woman of the Year 2010
By the time she turned 27, Stacy Ann Ferguson had spent two years as the voice of Sally in animated "Peanuts" features, six years belting out perky, inspirational covers on the children's TV show "Kids Incorporated," 10 years chasing fame as a bottle blonde in the R&B girl group
As someone who gets to club-hop in various exotic locales, what are you hearing that's lighting up your ears?
The electro scene is all over the clubs now: groups like Duck Sauce, Empire of the Sun, even MGMT. But I get inspiration from everywhere. I'll go to the gym and put on old albums-Guns 'N Roses or old Jay-Z.
When you're listening to old rock records, are you paying particularly close attention to the way those guys sang?
Definitely. There are so many different people that I've emulated vocally. In the rock world-Sebastian Bach, Vince Neil, Freddie Mercury, Robert Plant. They all had amazing vocal talent. And as far as female vocalists, I love Heart, Joan Jett, Courtney Love, Laura Branigan, Linda Ronstadt, Barbra Streisand-or going back to when I was a child-Aileen Quinn, the original Annie. I have so many different influences, and if you listen, you can hear all of them throughout my songs. I like to use different parts of my voice, and I don't limit myself.
I thought I caught a strong Debbie Harry vibe on the new song "Fashion Beats."
Definitely, that was intentional. She's one of my idols. She was at the cusp of hip-hop, singing with Fab 5 Freddy, but you know she has her rocker roots. I love to pay homage to people in songs because these are the people that helped me become who I am.
How has your voice evolved during the last five to 10 years?
I stopped trying to make it perfect. I went though a phase when I was in the group Wild Orchid where it was all about having the perfect rips, and I let go of that because it was restricting. It's interesting for me now to hear things that aren't perfect, that add character. Some of those Mary J. Blige albums aren't perfect technically, but she's feeling it, and because she's feeling it, you're feeling it.
Has Auto-Tune changed the way you approach your vocals?
Auto-Tune is fun, don't get me wrong. It adds different elements to a song. But I don't like it to be used on my voice all the time, and Will knows this, because it takes me out of the equation. Of course, we've used it a lot. It's of the time. It's fun to play with. But it's important for me to be able to hear me on the record as well.
Looking way back, when was the first point you thought you wanted to be a performer?
As long as I can remember. It sounds cliché, but it's true. I knew what I wanted to do at age 5.
Were you the kid who was always putting on shows at home for your family and friends?
Definitely. Always hyperactive, always dancing and singing. My mom would have to quiet me down in church. My parents are teachers, but they're big music lovers, and they exposed me to things at a very young age. My mom would take me to musicals on our mother-daughter dates. She also took me to the Madonna Like a Virgin tour.
Really? How old were you?
I think I was 10. My dad took me to Tina Turner. And now I'm crawling around the floor onstage.
When you started pursuing showbiz parts, leading up to your stint on the children's show "Kids Incorporated," were your parents supportive?
Communication was very open in my family, and they were very good at asking me questions and explaining things to me: "Are you sure you want to do this?" or, "You're not going to be able to go on sleepovers because you're working."
It was very clear to me what I would be giving up and what I would be gaining. My sister was in showbiz when she was a young girl. She did commercials and voice-overs. She's got a great voice, too; she just didn't have the same hunger that I had. The necessity. For me it was necessity.
You were with "Kids Incorporated" for six years, from age 8 to 14. How has being a child actor affected your career?
Well, I've been working for a long time. I was a hardworking child and I'm a hardworking adult. I'm due for a little holiday, damn it.
Are you a workaholic?
Do you know what I am? It's hard for me to say "no" when all these great opportunities come my way. At certain times I take on too much. I'm learning as I'm growing up that it's OK to say "no." That was a big lesson for me to learn.
What have you said "no" to recently?
I can't say. But there have been some pretty amazing artists that I've had the opportunity to collaborate with that I couldn't. Partially because [Interscope Geffen A&M chairman] Jimmy Iovine wouldn't let me [laughs]. You can have it all, you just can't have it all at once.
Do you have any idea why women are so dominant in the pop marketplace these days?
I don't know if I have the answer to that, but it makes me happy. All these girls-Rihanna, Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, Miley-were just little girls with a dream, like me, and it makes me so happy to see them fulfill their dreams just like I did.
How did you meet the girls in your first group, Wild Orchid?
Renee Sandstrom was on "Kids Incorporated" with me; she played my sister. And she went to high school with Stefanie Ridel.
You were only 15 when Wild Orchid formed. Besides your parents, was there someone who served as something of a mentor?
Ron Fair played a big part in our career. He signed us to RCA-we took nine months to make our first album. He let us nurture our voices and learn how to record in the studio, harmonize, techniques of the mic. He actually let us splice an actual tape reel. We were old school. I would do 50 tracks of the same song and we'd go through each one and talk about them. Ron was an amazing guide. He ended up marrying Stefanie.
Is that right?
Yeah, and they have three kids together [laughs].
You were in Wild Orchid for 11 years. Was there a point where you thought, "This is going to happen big for us"?
The record company put a lot of money into us, and we released a ballad called "At Night I Pray." We thought, "We're gonna go tour the world now," but it never did connect to people the same way that the Peas did. It was very frustrating. We worked really hard and had a lot of letdowns, a lot of rejection. Those girls are still my sisters, but my career didn't take the path that I thought it would. I'm a better artist for it, though. With the Peas, that little hip-hop part that was inside of me got to come out, and it gave me confidence.
Hip-hop helped you establish the Fergie persona?
Yeah, well, it gave me cojones. I mean, I always had cojones, but it gave me more confidence in areas that I was a little scared to present. Like, now I'm able to do all my rock stuff, but before it was a little scary to me.
What did you learn about the record business while you were in Wild Orchid?
Well, I'm still learning about the music business because it's changing. There are all these different things coming up because of technology. It was a different world back then; it was very straight and simple: You got a record deal, you made an album, you got new fans. Now it's all these 360 deals and all these different... You know what? The business side of it? That's not my cup of tea. Will's great at it. He thrives on it. It's just not my personality. I want to get straight to the art. The other part of it? I have my business team explain it to me. I actually have conference calls where I have my mom and dad on the phone, my accountant, my lawyer... Once in a while, I even have my therapist on these calls.
I'm not kidding. Because there's so much smoke... I'm very cut to the chase; that's my personality. I don't like to speak in circles. So when people do that I'm trying to find out, "OK, guys, what are we really talking about here?" So my therapist listens in. Because it's very important to make informed decisions. I can be very impulsive, which is great as an artist but not as a businesswoman. So I have to slow down and surround myself with a great support team. So that's what I've learned, that I need to surround myself with a team that can help me. It's part of knowing that you don't know it all.
One of the things that the Peas are known for are their many endorsement and corporate tie-ins. The Wall Street Journal called you-
The most corporate band in America.
Exactly. Did that bother you at the time?
We got a lot of flack for it, but it's just part of the business. It's becoming the norm for even the most elusive artists. We didn't go out thinking that we wanted to be the most corporate band in America, obviously. We're just hungry, we're fighters, whatever's going to get our music out there, let's do it.
How did your deal come about to team with Avon on a fragrance?
They approached me, and what girl doesn't want to have a fragrance? What was interesting to me was that my grandma was an Avon lady. My mom used to help her package all the Avon stuff and have these little parties, so for me it was just a sign. I also love all the work they do with breast cancer and cancer survivors.
Did you have major input into the actual smell of Outspoken?
Of course. We worked on the fragrance for two years. They asked me for my favorite smells from childhood. Besides my mom's lasagna, one of the things I thought of was my old rock'n'roll leather jacket-I love the smell of that, and it matched my personality as well. So now there's a hint of leather in Outspoken. I toughened it up a little bit.
How would you categorize the Peas' music?
I don't know if I could categorize it. We are weirdos. And you know what? I like that, because I hate boundaries. I like to be fearless, and so do the guys.
Do you find that people don't realize that some of your lyrics are intentionally funny?
So many songs are just a wink to the audience, but people take them seriously. "My Humps"? C'mon!
What do you make of so many artists adopting the sound that the Peas have played with on the last two records? All of a sudden dance beats have taken over hip-hop and top 40 radio.
It's about technology, and everyone's like these big kids playing with all these new toys. The recession had a lot to do with it as well. People want to feel happy, and part of our theme is escapism and forgetting about things.
Are you adept with all those toys? Are you tech-savvy?
Not as much as I would like to be. [laughs] I have to admit I rely on the boys more for that. They're way better at that than I am.
Do you use Twitter?
I'm in front of so many people every day that I enjoy my alone time. But that could change, though. When I get off tour, I might get into the whole Twitter thing. At this point I utilize it for my shoe line [Fergie Shoes], but not on a personal level. I'm not one of those people who has a phone in hand all the time. It's not my personality. I like to talk on the phone. I like to write things down. I'm a list maker. I check off my list. I write down my goals and the steps to get there, and I take those steps.