Leah Greenblatt
December 21, 2007 AT 05:00 AM EST

Sometimes a Pea needs to break away from her pod. This year, Stacey Ferguson, a.k.a. Fergie, went from being the hot-girl garnish on urban hitmakers’ the Black Eyed Peas’ plate to finding her own stardom, as she watched her late-2006 debut solo album, The Dutchess, spin off five top-10 Billboard singles (and counting). The singer and former child actor (Kids Incorporated) got on the phone with EW to discuss the year that was.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So! You’ve been chosen as one of our breakout artists for 2007.
I’m finally breaking through at age 32 — I love it! You know what, though? It’s great, because I’ve worked so hard all these years and it’s finally happening. I think it’s a good message of hope for all these people who’ve had disappointments and ups and downs.

You mean it’s your happy ending?
Hey, it’s not over yet!

Okay, a happy middle. I actually wrote EW’s review of your album, and many were surprised when I gave it a B+ — but I thought I could hear so many singles on it…
You were right!

I think especially the song with John Legend, ”Finally”… That totally sounds like an American Idol tryout song to me. Like, the ”Fallin”’ [by Alicia Keys] of 2008. I can already picture the best-and-worst clip reel.
Well, Paula Abdul actually said to me that the song everyone was auditioning with this year was ”Big Girls Don’t Cry,” which I was really excited about because I watch the show. I can’t wait to see it!

So how has it been to overcome the idea that you were just the hot girl from the Black Eyed Peas who danced a lot?
This album was a great way to introduce more of who I am as a person. I didn’t think it was appropriate to air all my dirty laundry on a Peas album. Honestly, there’s not enough room. [Laughs]

But you’ve still been touring with the Peas, right? What’s your response been like in Europe?
Well, it’s weird, because we just went on a Pepsi tour — we went from Kazakhstan to Nigeria, Jerusalem to India…

Did you have to cover up or change your wardrobe at all?
Only in Malaysia! In India, whatever, they were fine with it. But I’ve been doing my own set of songs within the Black Eyed Peas show, because we have a really big show and it’s been wonderful testing it across the world; even with the language barriers, the fans are so responsive.

Speaking of fans, you’ve been open about your problems in the past, with drugs especially. Do you hear from a lot of people who say hearing that from you helps them?
I do, and you know, hearing from them helps me get through all of the negativity that I shouldn’t but sometimes can’t help myself read. Comments on the Internet…the ones that say they don’t like my face, those kind of surface things. The ones that really matter are the ones that mean something. So I have to look at that and go, Would I rather put on a front and always try to look perfect and not show the real me, or would I rather be myself and give people hope? And I’d way rather be honest.

There are very few artists this year with more than two or three singles that really hit from one album. Basically, it’s pretty much you, Justin Timberlake, and Nickelback. Your record didn’t seem to have a lot of filler.
Each song is so important to me. But I wanted interludes! When I was growing up, I listened to all the interludes on Snoop’s albums, and I wanted that on this too, because they show more about the person, and I like to have a little laugh or go a little left, not for a single, but just to make a piece of music people can hear. I could have a whole album of interludes.

Ah. Fergie’s spoken-word release…
Yes! Something not so commercial or perfectly packaged, just something that really shows the artist. At some point, this business decided that the artists can just be ringtones, just get these quick-hit songs. But other people like Alicia Keys, an artist I really admire, spend time on every song, and I really appreciate it as a listener. I might not have as perfect a voice as her or Beyoncé, but there’s an emotion there I want people to feel. And you know what, I loved Beyoncé’s last album, and I don’t think it got as much [attention] as it should… I didn’t want any song to get overlooked. I’m a music fan of women, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. I think it’s a great time for women in music right now and that excites me. Because I think a lot of times what we do is compete, but we’re all that little girl with that dream. So how can you hate on someone who’s just like you?

Good point. You had some good guests on this one, like Ludacris and Rita Marley. Is there anyone you’re saving for the next one?
Oh, yes. I’d love to do something with Aerosmith! I had so much fun performing with them at Fashion Rocks. I want to explore more of the rock & roll girl inside of me. I don’t want to spoil it because if I don’t get them, or if they don’t want to work with me, I’ll be really embarrassed. [Laughs] But there’s this guy Mishka, who I heard about from a guy who drove Matthew McConaughey, and he gave me the CD and said, ”Matthew gave this to me, you have to listen to it.” These unmarked CDs, and I think he’s amazing. I would also love to work with Jill Scott…. She’s so wonderful.

So what’s your immediate plan for the next few months?
I’m hosting the New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest and Dick Clark, and Home for the Holidays, a holiday special… There are different audiences for different songs.

What about the Grammys?
You know what’s funny to me? We worked so hard to get the album out, and I didn’t get these interludes or the photos I wanted to use or whatever, and then I didn’t get one Grammy nomination for my album. [Fergie was nominated for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, for ”Big Girls Don’t Cry,” but The Dutchess missed out in the major categories.] And now, of course, I can’t even be nominated, after people have actually responded to it. The record was kind of a sleeper. It debuted at No. 3 and one year later, it was at No. 2. But I’d take this any day. I like being the underdog!

But then on the next album, you’ll be the overdog.
Oh no! [Laughs]

EXCLUSIVE VIDEO: Go behind the scenes at Fergie’s EW photo shoot, and hear her favorite entertainment picks of 2007, here.

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