How Nicole Scherzinger went from Pussycat Doll to Olivier winner

Nicole Scherzinger with the Best Actress in a Musical award on stage during The Olivier Awards 2024 at The Royal Albert Hall on April 14, 2024
Nicole Scherzinger was 'out of fashion' but on Sunday she won the Best Actress in a Musical at the Olivier Awards - Jeff Spicer/Getty Images
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Listening to raunchy girl band the Pussycat Dolls belt out the lyrics “When I grow up, I wanna be famous, I wanna be a star” between vigorous booty shakes back in 2008, you could scarcely imagine that their lead singer, Nicole Scherzinger, might one day be standing on the hallowed stage of the Royal Albert Hall, thanking God as she accepted the theatre community’s highest honour: an Olivier Award.

Certainly, Scherzinger has enjoyed her fair share of fame. However, her star has frequently waned in the time between that chart success and her critically adored performance as faded Hollywood starlet Norma Desmond this year in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical Sunset Boulevard, which was given an electrifying contemporary update by director-to-the-stars Jamie Lloyd (who put Tom Hiddleston on the stage in Betrayal, Emilia Clarke in The Seagull, James McAvoy in Cyrano de Bergerac and Jessica Chastain in A Doll’s House).

In fact, Lloyd has ingeniously utilised his leading lady’s seeming irrelevance in the cutthroat entertainment industry – which still, infuriatingly, tends to discard women over 30. His production played up the absurdity of anyone considering the still vital, sexy and commanding 45-year-old Scherzinger to be obsolete. The joke is very much on them.

It turned out to be a triumphant comeback for the pop singer and actress, capped with that Olivier Award (one of seven wins for the show on Sunday night, equalling the record set by Cabaret, Hamilton and Matilda). She might even follow that up with a Tony after the production moves to Broadway this autumn.

Nicole Scherzinger Sunset Boulevard Savoy Theatre 2023
Role reversal: Initially, Scherzinger was not keen on playing Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard

It’s all a far cry from the group that made her famous – and from her humble origins. Scherzinger was born in Honolulu in Hawaii in 1978 to a Filipino father, who left when she was two, and a Hawaiian-Ukrainian mother, an office clerk. She was then adopted by her new stepfather, the German-American welder Gary Scherzinger (changing her surname from Valiente), and moved to Louisville, Kentucky, aged six.

Money was tight, so Scherzinger waited tables, took some local modelling gigs, and even worked as a lion mascot at an amusement park – the last of those, oddly, proved to be a proud moment. “It’s so funny looking back to when I thought, ‘If I could just make it at the Kentucky Kingdom, I’ve made it big,’ she once said. “And I got there.” Still, it wasn’t exactly glamorous. “It was disgusting – so hot! – and the smell. You couldn’t get enough Febreeze.”

It looked like a glittering career in musical theatre would soon follow. That was Scherzinger’s major at Wright State University, and she won starring roles in regional productions of Guys and Dolls, Chicago and Show Boat.

Instead, in 2001, Scherzinger dropped out of college in her final year to go on tour with rock band Days of the New. Her mother then spotted a commercial for a new reality TV show, Popstars USA. Scherzinger was initially reluctant to audition. “And then I thought, what the heck, if I get that gig, I’ll get to LA, and I didn’t have the means to get to LA any other way.”

She was duly cast and became part of girl group Eden’s Crush. They had moderate success, but soon disbanded when their label went bankrupt. invited her to join the Black Eyed Peas, but instead Scherzinger opted for burlesque troupe-turned-pop stars the Pussycat Dolls. It was a strange choice considering her grandfather was a priest and Scherzinger maintained her strict Catholicism, attending church at least twice a week.

Singers Melody Thornton, Kimberly Wyatt, Jessica Sutta, Nicole Scherzinger, and Carmit Bachar of pop group The Pussycat Dolls perform on June 10, 2005
The singer has had a incredible journey from lead singer of Pussycat Dolls - NBCUniversal/NBC

“Don’t cha wish your girlfriend was hot like me?” smirk-sung those scantily clad glamazons, led with intimidating froideur by the ultra-confident Scherzinger. But the confidence was a mask: in fact, she’s since admitted that she was battling an eating disorder throughout those Pussycat Dolls years, working out in the gym for several hours a day and fainting from lack of food. Her bulimia even affected her vocal cords; that “was a real awakening”, and it prompted her to seek therapy.

Tensions were also building between Scherzinger, the star turn, and the rest of the band. But going it alone proved ill-advised: her debut solo album was shelved after multiple singles from it failed to set the charts alight in 2007.

Reality TV came calling again, however. Scherzinger won the 2010 season of Dancing with Stars (the US equivalent of Strictly Come Dancing), and that year she replaced Cheryl as a judge on The X Factor. Both Scherzinger and Simon Cowell have claimed credit for putting together the band One Direction; the former said she remembers thinking “They will be undeniable to girls.”

Scherzinger, meanwhile, had fallen for British racing driver Lewis Hamilton. The pair were together for around seven years, finally separating in 2015. She’s now engaged to former Scottish rugby player Thom Evans, who was by her side at the Oliviers.

In 2014, Scherzinger made a high-profile return to musical theatre, playing Grizabella (who sings the great earworm Memory) in the musical Cats at the London Palladium and nabbing an Olivier nomination.

However, she briefly fell out with Lloyd Webber when she flaked on the subsequent Broadway transfer – which was allegedly because producers wouldn’t give her top billing, or because X Factor made her a better offer, though accounts vary (she claimed “the contract was never finalised”). The composer said she’d made him look “an absolute twot”. He added: “Never mind, there’ll be another girl on Broadway and Nicole will not get her Tony Award.”

Following yet more reality show work (judging on The Masked Singer and Australia’s Got Talent), and a right royal performance (singing in the Coronation Concert in 2023), the forgiving Lloyd Webber persuaded Scherzinger to come back to the West End and play Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard – eventually. At first, she was insulted, picturing the character as much older. “This chick is crazy, she’s pathetic, I ain’t playing her,” was her gut response.

Instead, it’s turned out to be “the role of her life” – one that justified Lloyd Webber’s renewed faith in her (“I believe she is one of the most gifted singer-actresses I have seen perform my work…” he recently told The New York Times, “I am a total fan”) and one she can personally relate to. “I know what it’s like [to be considered] not as ‘relevant’ or out of fashion,” she’s explained.

It’s also brought her full circle: reunited with Lloyd Webber, and finally heading to Broadway – and maybe even to a Tony.

Talk about a Hollywood ending.

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