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Free from Peas, Fergie gets personal

Fergie, the 31-year-old singer for the Black Eyed Peas, is preoccupied these days with her solo debut CD "The Dutchess," an eclectic collection of 13 songs she hopes will prove she's more than just a pretty Pea.
/ Source: The Associated Press

In the basement of a trendy downtown hotel, Fergie sits waiting at the head of a large wooden table, scribbling notes on a yellow legal pad.

The sexy, spicy element of the Black Eyed Peas apologizes for wanting to meet in this stuffy, angular room rather than the trendy Asian restaurant first suggested.

"I just couldn't deal with a New York night out," she says.

She also apologizes for wearing a black Adidas track suit and knit cap — she's simply not up for glamour today. Her nails are scuffed and bitten. She apologizes for that, too.

It's a different image of a performer more often seen strutting her stuff in something small, expensive and tight, her hips wiggling, boasting about her "lovely lady lumps."

"Maybe I'll get on the table and dance," she says with a smile.

The 31-year-old is preoccupied these days with her solo debut CD "The Dutchess," an eclectic collection of 13 songs she hopes will prove she's more than just a pretty Pea.

Containing everything from torch songs ("All That I Got," "Finally") to bouncy pop ("Fergalicious," "Clumsy"), reggae ("Voodoo Doll") and even techno ("Glamorous"), the album has germinated for years and represents her wide musical influences.

"That is my truth and makes me who I am," says Fergie, born Stacy Ann Ferguson. "If I'd only done one style, that wouldn't have been a truthful representation of me."

Lyric-wise, "The Dutchess" — a riff on how her name is so close to Britain's Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson — offers a more introspective Fergie, a woman willing to talk about her loves, her critics and her former meth addiction.

"There are a lot of times when I really dig deep on this album, whereas with the guys, I don't know if there's enough of a platform to go into all of my drama or love affairs," she says.

"I think it's important to represent who I am in all facets," she adds. "That's why I've talked about my struggle with drugs. I don't want to talk about it all the time because it's not a part of my life any more but I'm not running from it."

Based on the success of the saucy first single "London Bridge," Fergie shouldn't stress. A late entry for song of the summer, it sat atop the Billboard singles chart for three weeks — not to mention all it did for Anglo-American relations.

"It was a huge landmark day for me. I was crying — happy crying — and running around the house calling everybody," she says when the song hit No. 1. "For it to finally happen and for the song to be successful, it's really rewarding."

The rest of the CD — co-written by Fergie and produced by Ron Fair, DJ Mormile and, the Peas' lead lyricist — features samples from Little Richard, The Commodores and The Temptations. Guests include John Legend, Ludacris and Rita Marley.

"Once people get this album and hear what she's capable of as a singer and writer, I think that's when the roof blows off it," says Fair, chairman of Geffen Records. "That's when she's not just a little trifling pop girl doing disposable hits."

Fergie, raised in Whittier, Calif., may have seemed destined for that fate when she emerged at age 7 in the kiddie TV band Kids Incorporated, later graduating to the pop girl group Wild Orchid in the 1990s.

Wanting to make it on her own, she approached with the hope of convincing him to help create a solo CD. She had seen the Peas live in 1998 — before they were multiplatinum sensations — and was an enormous fan.

She started off a kind of apprenticeship, adding her booming, soulful backing vocals to what would be the band's third album, "Elephunk," which had hits like "Where's the Love" and the Grammy Award-winning "Let's Get It Started." By the time — together with bandmates Taboo and — left for a tour of Australia in 2003, Fergie was their fourth member.

"I didn't plan to ever be in the band, but as things organically grew, and I started working with them for my solo album, there was some point where we made that decision," she says. "I just went with my gut."

Joining a tight hip-hop band that thrived onstage was more difficult than it seemed. Fergie held back at first until she could learn how to roll with the ad-libs and pick her spots.

There were also the catcalls and ire from long-term fans of the Peas who didn't like the band's blossoming mainstream popularity — blaming it, in part, on the newest blonde Pea.

"It does get painful sometimes," she says. "I actually really had to pep-talk myself so that I could overcome those fears. It's hard when someone's sitting there staring at you. Or even mad-dogging you.

"Now I just get in their face."

In 2005, the group's "Monkey Business" turned into another multiplatinum success thanks to "My Humps," "Pump It" and "Don't Phunk with My Heart," which won another Grammy.

Despite the Peas' triumphs since she came aboard, she's loathe to single out herself as the reason behind their success: "I think it has to do with us. I think we all are responsible for the success of these albums," she says. "It's a team effort."

But it's all about Fergie on "The Dutchess." On the new album, she mixes her vulnerable and fierce sides. "Would you love me/If I didn't work out/Or didn't change my natural hair?" she asks a lover in "All That I Got." On "London Bridge," she threatens to mace pushy photographers and boasts: "I'm such a lady, but I'm dancin' like a ho."

"It's poking fun at certain things. I'm really not going to spray the paparazzi with mace — I don't know if you know that about me," she says, smiling.

"I'm not a promiscuous girl — like I talk about in 'Clumsy,' I'm always the girl with the boyfriend in serious relationships — but I do like to play with my sexuality. I don't think that means I have to live in a morgue," she says (Fergie and "Las Vegas" hunk Josh Duhamel have been dating for some time).

Fergie thinks she'll be able to open up even more on the next Black Eyed Peas album — no, she insists, they're not breaking up — because her solo CD will let fans "get me and know who I am."

"Sometimes I feel like the underdog. But I like that because then more people will be surprised when they do see something that they like from me," she says. "I've learned that I can't please everybody."