“We’re like family, Luda and me. Two ATLiens!” says Ciara, referring to her Billboard Music Awards co-host. “The way we grew up in Atlanta, we didn’t have the fanciest things. I never imagined, years ago, that I’d be hosting the BBMAs.”
They’ve both come a long way. Ludacris, 38, has won three Grammy Awards as a rapper and stars in the billion-dollar Fast and Furious franchise as an actor. Singer-actress-model Ciara, 30, has multiple platinum albums and singles, and in March announced her engagement to Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. “I was a cheerleader in high school, but I was the one who was always into the actual football game,” she says. “It wasn’t just about dancing in our cute outfits.”
For the big night, though, what to wear is key. “You take on the idea of ‘beauty is pain,’ ” she says. “It can be a heel, or an amazing dress that’s about to squeeze the life out of you. Me not breathing for a couple of seconds is worth it!”
Ludacris — who hosted solo in 2014 and with Chrissy Teigen in 2015 — is looking forward to catching up with old friends. “I’m psyched to see Justin Bieber,” he says of his former collaborator. “I’ve known him since ‘Baby’ came out, and that was a long time ago. Justin has gone through a lot in those years.”
Ludacris and Ciara don’t merely share a hometown. He guested on two of her top 10 Billboard Hot 100 hits: 2004’s “Oh” and 2012’s “Ride.” “The chemistry is already there. I told her we have to make the awards our own,” he says. “When you’re hosting, the whole thing goes by so fast, you have to hold off from having too much fun or you’ll get distracted.”
The fun comes later. “You want to celebrate finishing the thing, and you’ve got to drink in Vegas,” he says. “At my hotel, they give out free shots of Louis XIII [cognac]. How could you turn that down?”
This article was originally featured in the May 28 issue of Billboard.