One of will.i.am’s keys to success is trusting his instincts.
And the Black Eyed Peas frontman was tested in 2003 when the group made a major shift, adding Fergie as its new female lead.
Prior to Fergie joining the group, the Peas released two critically acclaimed soulful underground hip-hop albums, which boasted the local radio hits “Joints & Jams” and “Weekend.”
Fergie’s sassy fly girl image and piercing, airy vocals signaled a more pronounced pop dynamic for the group, and it was not welcomed, according to will.i.am.
"When we put Fergie in the group everyone was at odds with that decision," will.i.am told Yahoo! Music in an exclusive interview. "And in my gut, in my heart, I’m like, 'No. This is it. Forget what you guys think. This girl is amazing.'"
Although fans objected, will wanted to stay true to his artistic vision and add Fergie to the Peas because he thought it was the best creative decision for the group.
"When you get to a point where you have a core and now the core is guiding you rather than you guiding your core, that's a very, very scary place to be in," he said. So he took the creative leap.
But despite the backlash, Fergie was an instant hit. Her first Black Eyed Peas collaboration, "Where Is The Love?" was the debut single for their third album, 2003's Elephunk. The song that also featured vocals from Justin Timberlake reached the Top 10 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart, and the album sold more than 9 million copies worldwide.
The success made will.i.am feel vindicated. "I knew it. I knew it. I knew it," he said. "Fergie had something magical, and the combination of Fergie and the Peas was freaking explosive. Even though everyone was telling us, 'What are you doing?' But it worked beyond working. It worked beyond what the initial hunch was. It was a risk for Fergie. It was a risk for all of us. But we did it."
will is the subject of the premiere episode of the E! series Pop Innovators. will's segment, which airs Sunday at 8 p.m. ET, explores his evolution from a kid from East Los Angeles to one of the biggest names in pop music. The one-hour special includes interviews with will's music industry colleagues Fergie, apl.de.ap, Taboo, Red Foo and Jimmy Iovine and with some of his childhood friends.