More than just a pretty pea

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 apologises for wanting to meet in this stuffy...

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Published: Mon 25 Sep 2006, 11:21 AM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 4:56 PM

fergieangular room rather than the trendy Asian restaurant first suggested.­

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

She also apologises 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 apologises 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, California, 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."­

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."

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