Alicia Keys

Q&A: Alicia Keys

February 10th, 2005

On succumbing to karaoke and the advantage of wearing sunglasses indoors

“It’s going to blow your freakin’ mind! And that’s a promise,” says Alicia Keys. Never mind the eight Grammy nominations for The Diary of Alicia Keys, right now she’s stoked about her upcoming thirty-six-gig cross-country tour, which kicks off on February 23rd in Columbia, South Carolina. “It has a conceptual vibe from the beginning to the end,” says Keys, who recently celebrated her twenty-fourth birthday at a glow-in-the-dark bowling alley. She says the theatrical vibe goes back to her childhood: “My mother is an actress, and she used to drag me from theater to theater and reading to reading. But my show is going to feel like you’re in a movie. You’re going to be enraptured. It’s gonna be bananas!”

How many times have you woken up with your head on the piano?

Oh, man! This is funny. When I was younger, studying classical music, I really had to put in the time. Three hours a day is not even nice — you have to put in six. I had to do all these dreaded scales, and out of the blue, I’d become exhausted. So there were plenty of times I woke up at the piano. Or if I’d dreamt a song and I got up to play, I’d lay my head down to think, and boom, it was morning.

Where do you keep the five Grammys you already have?

My manager, Jeff Robinson, robbed them from me the minute they came in. But that’s cool with me. The last thing I want is to walk into my house after a long day and see all the Grammys and awards. It would make me feel weird.

What do you blast to get pumped up?

My favorite song of the moment is “What You Waiting For?” by Gwen Stefani. But if I need to get cheered up, I put on [Stevie Wonder’s] “As.” If anything is bothering me, if I feel that the world is collapsing on my shoulders, I put that song on and I feel all right.

What’s your favorite side of a Stevie Wonder album?

I feel like B sides are always better, no matter whose record it is. So it would probably be Side B of Fulfillingness’ First Finale. “They Won’t Go When I Go” is my song.

Ever get drunk and sing karaoke?

In Japan — where karaoke originated! We were in Tokyo, and my whole crew, my band and my background singers went to this little spot where each group can have its own room. We were buggin’ out. We’re singing “Like a Virgin” and “U Can’t Touch This” and “We Are Family.” All the worst songs ever on the planet. It was the funniest thing ever. We had a ball.

What’s your drink?

Besides apple juice and ice cubes? I like Malibu — coconut rum and pineapple juice. Something nice and ladylike.

What performer now deceased do you wish you could have seen perform? And where?

Absolutely, without question, hands down, Nina Simone at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1976. When I played there, I went to the chateau of the gentleman who started the festival. He played me Nina Simone’s set. She had just come back from Africa, and she was pissed at America. She was pissed! The passion in her playing hits you in your core. It knocks you off balance. I had to walk off that feeling she gave me — a mixture of dread and release. Craziest thing I ever felt.

Here’s a weird one: Knowing that you’ll return to your crib to get some action, have you ever preprogrammed your stereo with lovemaking music?

I know exactly what you’re saying. I think that’s easier for men to assess, because that’s where your head is at every five minutes. But as a woman, my job is to make you work as hard as possible so I can really see where your head is at. Therefore, I may challenge your musical expertise by introducing different styles, like a very early jazz record. If you find that sexy, that might make you more sexy.

Do you have a favorite music photograph?

Yes. I recently received, as a gift, a photo of Janis Joplin and Tina Turner onstage at Madison Square Garden. They’re real close to each other, both singing on the mike.

What’s the last record you bought?

The new U2 record. I love U2. The whole album is just crazy. I love the whole flow, and that they’re going to be themselves forever.

The biggest perk about stardom, to me, would be the ability to wear sunglasses indoors.

Definitely. I can agree with that.

Remember the first time you tried that?

Not exactly. But it’s not just sunglasses inside, it’s the big dark ones that cover your whole grille. Those are my favorite. Not because I’m trying to be fabulous, but I love those big crazy Jackie O shades. Especially on planes — you have every right to not want Tom, Dick and Harry in your nasty, sleep-crusty eyes.

I read somewhere you used to have a New Kids on the Block poster. What’s your favorite song?

That’s ugly! I promised myself that I’d never actually admit to listening to New Kids on the Block. I will plead the Fifth on that.

C’mon! You know you love “Hangin’ Tough.”

I’ll tell you a secret. I had a New Kids washcloth that when submerged in hot water turned different colors. How sad is that?

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