We moved from Chicago to New York City when I was 16. My mother, she was an actress and she’d just got divorced from my step-father. So that was a big transition for me. I was still quite shy. I was friendly but I wasn’t advanced. I couldn’t wear anything too risqué or my mom would knock my head off. She’s a Chicago Irish woman and she’s true-to-core. She kept a tight rein on me and my brother and sister.
I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease when I was 13, which doctors discovered when they went in to investigate a dislodged benign tumour. Otherwise I was a healthy child and once I had my operation I didn’t have any Crohn’s issues until I was 19 and tried to go on a diet. Basically, I was trying to lose my boobs and my butt. [A producer said] they were not working for the dancer’s body, they didn’t fit the image. So I was put on this mandatory diet of vegetables and fruit and after three weeks my intestines collapsed. That’s when I realised what this condition meant.
The boys never looked at me the same way again. I was mortified
I felt very awkward as a teenager. I wanted blue eyes, I wanted to be taller, I wore glasses, I got my chest early and I was very embarrassed about it. I just wasn’t the kind of girl I thought guys would want to date. Though in some ways I was okay with that because I didn’t want to date any boys anyway. I just wanted to be friends with boys, boys were cool with me. Until we were doing a show in school where we all had to wear these catsuits for a dance routine. I walked into the room, all boobs and bum, and the boys never looked at me the same way again. I was mortified. That’s probably when I started wearing my stepfather’s shirts, big and baggy, to cover up. I just wanted to stay a kid.
My career started properly when I was 30. I often say I was like a fine wine, I took a long time to mature. I didn’t get into make-up or anything girly until I was signed to Sony and they were putting make-up teams in front of me. I would sleep with my make-up on because I was so like – wow! Look at my face! I couldn’t believe my face could look like that.
When I think back to the teenage me, I actually really like her. She was extremely innocent about the world, probably for too long. I didn’t really understand how things worked out there, not until my career started and I had to make serious decisions. Until then I’d had part-time jobs, I was back and forth to my mom’s, and she never put pressure on me to be anything or commit to anything. Maybe she saw talent in me and thought, this one’s going to be somebody. But I didn’t see for a long time that I might have what it took to take on the Madonnas and the Janet Jacksons.
If I told my teenage self she was going to be a big pop star, she’d just say no way. She just wouldn’t believe it in a million years. And she wasn’t even dreaming of it. That was my mom’s dream, that was not my dream. My mom was singing into the mirror, imagining herself winning all these awards… To think I’d end up living that life! The younger me would be like, what ME? Are you kidding me? Yet I do find myself oddly comfortable with the fame. I feel quite normal. I enjoy being around interesting people, having conversations with interesting people. And in a way I still feel I’m like that 16-year-old, not knowing exactly what’s going on.