Nicole Scherzinger

When Hawaiian-born Nicole Scherzinger was growing up in Louisville, Kentucky, she received a Christmas gift at the age of six that would change the course of her life: a tiny purple boombox and a cassette of Whitney Houston’s chart-topping 1985 self-titled debut album. “My parents had no money, but they got me this player and Whitney’s album, which had ‘Greatest Love of All’ on it,” Scherzinger recalls. “That was it for me. From that moment on I wanted to sing. Her voice was so powerful; every note she sang just felt like the truth.”

Ever since, Scherzinger has been chasing that truth in everything she does, funneling her relentless drive and deep desire to connect with people through performance into a multi-faceted career that has enabled her to sing (she lead the multi-platinum pop group The Pussycat Dolls to 10 million in album sales and numerous sold-out global tours), dance (she took home the mirror ball trophy as the tenth season winner of ABC’s Dancing With The Stars), and act (How I Met Your Mother, the Neil Patrick Harris-directed production of the Tony-Award winning musical Rent at the Hollywood Bowl, and a cameo in the upcoming feature film Men in Black III). Scherzinger’s smart critiques during her two seasons as a judge on NBC’s a cappella competition The Sing-Off, as well as her guest judge appearances on the British version of Simon Cowell’s televised talent show The X Factor so impressed Cowell that he tapped Scherzinger to serve as a judge on the American version of The X Factor, which launches on Fox this fall and is already one of the most-talked about new shows of the year.

“The X Factor is a phenomenon,” Scherzinger says. “When you’re on the set, you feel the crazy energy. It’s Simon’s world and anything goes. I’m really looking forward to mentoring and being of service to the contestants. I live and breathe music, so any way that I can use my experiences as a performer coming up in this business to inspire, motivate, and encourage these newcomers to achieve their dreams will be really satisfying.”

This year, Scherzinger will also achieve one of her own life-long dreams, the release of her debut solo album, entitled Killer Love, which will be released by Interscope Records this summer. The album is a bold, statement-making collection that combines Scherzinger’s love for rock, soul, and funk with alluring pop productions. Killer Love announces Scherzinger, who spent five years leading The Pussycat Dolls, as an artist in her own right, showcasing her powerful voice, ear for irresistible melodies, and considerable songwriting talent.

Scherzinger titled the album Killer Love after a song she co-wrote with RedOne of the same name about “a love so deep, heavy, and dark that it’ll probably kill you,” she says. “It’s about losing yourself in a relationship. When that happens you may be in a very broken and weak place, but through that process you find yourself and get stronger, which is what songs like ‘Casualty,’ ‘Desperate,’ and ‘Everybody’ are about. I chose these songs because I wanted to sing about what has happened to me in past relationships and I felt like people could really connect with my stories. That’s what gives me so much fire and soul when I sing. When you sing about surviving, there’s so much more authenticity behind it.”

The first collaborator Scherzinger enlisted to help her craft Killer Love was RedOne, known for his work with Lady Gaga, Enriquez Iglesias, and Jennifer Lopez. “I described the music I heard in my head to him, which was pop, but rock-influenced and with a soul-funk vibe,” Scherzinger says. “At the time I was inspired by these iconic artists from the ’70s and ’80s, like Tina Turner, Sly Stone, Prince, and Michael Jackson. I love them because you can hear the emotion behind everything they sing. They take that energy to the next level of surrender and let everything go in their music. Being on my own as a performer after The Pussycat Dolls was very liberating, so I wanted to do something big, powerful, and dangerous — I wanted to make music with teeth.”

RedOne and a host of other top-notch producers and songwriters, including Jim Jonsin (Beyoncé, Usher), Tricky Stewart (Rihanna, Mary J. Blige), Stargate (Ne-Yo, Katy Perry), Boi 1da (Drake, Lil Wayne), and Esther Dean (Britney Spears, Jennifer Hudson), helped bring out the many sides of Scherzinger’s musical personality, from strong and seductive to emotional and vulnerable, which she expresses through a variety of styles: playful, Island-flavored pop (first single “Right There,” featuring 50 Cent), sleek, Euro-tinged dance anthems (No. 1 U.K. hit “Don’t Hold Your Breath,” “Wet,” “Club Banger Nation”), as well as several soaring ballads (“Casualty,” “You Will Be Loved,” and the spare, deeply felt “AmenJena”). “I wrote ‘AmenJena’ because I wanted a song that just came from my gut,” Scherzinger says. “It’s 100 percent me. I poured everything I had into that song and I just love the simplicity of it.” The common thread throughout Killer Love is Scherzinger’s elastic voice, a remarkable instrument that she is free to unleash in a variety of ways as a solo artist.

Scherzinger knew from a young age that she was destined to be a singer. Born in Honolulu, Hawaii, she watched her family perform traditional Polynesian numbers featuring her mother as the lead hula dancer and her grandmother, Tutu, as the singer. When Scherzinger was six, her family relocated to Louisville, Kentucky. She attended performing arts junior and senior high schools and attended Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, where she majored in theatre and minored in dance. Scherzinger later joined rock band Days of the New, with whom she recorded an album and toured, but was eager to become a pop artist. She auditioned for the WB’s talent series Popstars and won a slot as one of the lead vocalists in the all-girl group Eden’s Crush, who scored the Top 10 single “Get Over Yourself (Goodbye).” “I remember being in New York City and driving over the Brooklyn Bridge and hearing it for the time ever on the radio and freaking out,” Scherzinger recalls. The group released a gold album, and toured with *NSYNC and Jessica Simpson before disbanding at the end of 2001.

It wasn’t long before Scherzinger got word that Ron Fair and choreographer Robin Antin were looking for vocalists to create a recording group based on Antin’s A-list Hollywood dance troupe The Pussycat Dolls. She showed up at the audition ready to pitch herself as a solo artist. “I didn’t want to be in a group, I was just there to get in a room with Ron, give him my demo and get a solo deal, that’s all,” she says with a laugh. But [Interscope Geffen A&M chairman] Jimmy Iovine and Ron saw something in me and said they couldn’t let me go. Being in another group wasn’t part of my plan, but I was always going to do whatever it took to get me to the next place.”

After Scherzinger joined The Pussycat Dolls in 2003, the group became a worldwide phenomenon, releasing two albums, 2005’s PCD, which has sold nine million copies worldwide, and 2008’s worldwide million-seller Doll Domination. They’ve also scored a string of massive hit singles, including the No. 1’s “Don’t Cha” and “Buttons,” the Grammy-nominated “Stickwitu,” “I Hate This Part,” and “When I Grow Up,” which hit the Top 10 in 16 countries. The group won two Billboard Music Awards, two MTV Video Music Awards, and toured with Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and The Black Eyed Peas. “I’m very proud of what we’ve done,” Scherzinger says. “It was really high-quality pop music, thanks to Ron and Jimmy, and I loved the whole process.”

The only member of The Pussycat Dolls with songwriting credits on the albums, Scherzinger became a highly sought-after collaborator for other artists, appearing on recordings by Shaggy, Vittorio Grigolo, Will Smith, Avant, P. Diddy, 50 Cent, Slash, Pitbull, T.I.,, Timbaland, and Enrique Iglesias.

Now she is gearing up for a jam-packed 2011 with the premiere of The X Factor and the release of Killer Love. “All I’ve ever really wanted to do was sing,” she says. “I didn’t care about being famous. I wanted to do musical theater and then make records because I saw how much albums connected with people. Whitney Houston really touched me and changed my life. She drew me into her world and that’s what I hope to do with Killer Love. I want to tour and launch an amazing show that’s more than just me standing there singing the hits. I want to create a world inside of the music like my favorite performers did. I want to play in that realm artistically and creatively and see where it takes me, then put it onstage and share it with people. That’s what it’s about for me.”