Wright State University performing arts students started the fall semester with an inspiring talk by Grammy-nominated performer Nicole Scherzinger, who returned to the stage where she performed as a student 20 years ago.
Scherzinger shared memories of performing in Wright State productions, talked about her highly successful career as a singer, actress and dancer, and gave sage advice to several hundred students during a special appearance at Wright State on Aug. 27.
She also received the 2017 Alumna of the Year Award from the Wright State Alumni Association. (She was unable to attend the awards ceremony last year.)
“Nicole Scherzinger is an amazing example of a Wright State education and a Wright State alumna,” said Tony Alexander, president of the Alumni Association.
Speaking on the stage of Festival Playhouse in the Creative Arts Center, Scherzinger challenged students to make the most of their time at the university and work tirelessly to achieve their goals.
While she loved to sing and loved musical theater, Scherzinger said when she enrolled in the Theatre Program she was determined to improve her acting and dancing skills. She took extra classes, especially dance courses, and stayed late to learn as much as she could. She arrived at Wright State, she said, determined to soak up everything she could.
“When I chose Wright State, I said I’m going to be a sponge and I’m going to get everything I can out of this. I took extra classes … and Wright State let me do that,” she told students.
The Wright State Theatre Program gave her the discipline and structure to prepare her for her career, she said.
“I wouldn’t be where I am today without my teachers and without this place,” she said.
As a theatre student at Wright State from 1996 to 1999, Scherzinger performed in numerous productions, including “Chicago” and “Show Boat.” She decided to leave the university after consulting her professors about an opportunity in Hollywood that launched her stellar career.
Scherzinger spent about two hours talking to students, first during a formal discussion, led by Joe Deer, chair of the Department of Theatre, Dance and Motion Pictures, followed by an informal chat in which she answered questions from students. She was entertaining, down to earth and thoughtful, displaying a quick wit, humility and a self-deprecating sense of humor.
She said she valued the variety of productions she was able to perform in at Wright State, noting that her favorite productions were “Round Pegs, Square Holes,” performed in the Herbst Theatre, and “Chicago” in the Festival Playhouse.
“It was my safe place where I could try anything,” she said of the Herbst Theatre. “And this stage (Festival Playhouse) was where my dreams came true.”
Calling Deer the “best director I ever worked with,” Scherzinger praised him for challenging her to get out of her comfort zone to play Velma Kelly in “Chicago.”
“I found a whole other side of myself playing Velma — and that’s because of Joe Deer,” she said.
The opportunities she had as a Wright State student helped prepare her for her successful career, Scherzinger said.
“I did things I never thought I could do and had done before in this school in those productions,” she said. “Being able to play in a safe space, explore, that would shape me further down the line.”
Scherzinger challenged students to take advantage of opportunities provided to them and work as hard as they can. She shared how she prepares for months for auditions and trained for three hours a day seven days a week for “Dancing with the Stars,” which she won in 2010.
“If you’re not giving it your all, what are you doing?” she said. “You’re wasting time.”
She told students not to be afraid to think outside of the box when considering roles or pursuing opportunities. She also encouraged them to never stop learning and growing after they leave the university. She believes that doing your best in one performance or job leads to more opportunities.
“Be relentless,” she said. “Hone it, master it and never stop.”
The Grammy-nominated Scherzinger has accrued No. 1 singles on both sides of the Atlantic, selling 37 million singles worldwide, including 16 million records as a solo artist and 54 million albums as the lead singer of the Pussycat Dolls.
She performed in the ABC remake of “Dirty Dancing” and joined Neil Patrick Harris to co-host his variety series “Best Time Ever With Neil Patrick Harris.” She has also been a judge on the U.S. and U.K. versions of the “X Factor.”
Scherzinger has made a name for herself on the West End stage, earning a nomination for a Laurence Olivier Award for her performance as “Grizabella” in a revival of “Cats.” Andrew Lloyd Webber called her recording of “Memory” the “best recording of anything of my music ever done.”
Scherzinger starred in the acclaimed musical “Rent” at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, for which she received rave reviews, and performed with acclaimed Italian classical tenor Andrea Bocelli part of the PBS “Great Performances” series. She was also featured on Paul McCartney’s U.N. Foundation charity single “Love Song to the Earth.”
Outside of her work in the entertainment industry, Scherzinger is an ambassador for UNICEF and a global ambassador for the Special Olympics.