KeKe Palmer is pivoting.
The 18-year-old impressed critics – both age appropriate ones and the ones who have the power to cast votes in the big, glitzy award shows—from the first time we saw her on screen going head-to-head with Queen Latifah in Barbershop 2. Since then, she’s won us over in Akeelah and the Bee, and became the Nickelodeon 'It Girl' with a hit series True Jackson VP.
Her most recent film was a collaboration with Nick Cannon—Nickelodeon film Rags, which premiered Memorial Day—and later this summer we’ll hear her voice in animated powerhouse series Ice Age: Continental Drift.
But before that film drops, she’s hoping fans hear her voice over the airwaves. Finally, after a few start ups and pushbacks, Palmer will release new music. In June, she’ll release a mixtape, and she’s filming two music videos to go along with it.
EBONY.com talks with Palmer about acting, music and heading off to college.
EBONY: What made you want to say yes to this Nickelodeon film?
KeKe Palmer: Nick Cannon came to me and approached me about coming on as a producer and helping to develop the script more … that was what really sealed the deal for me. I wanted to produce.
EBONY: What did you learn about the art of filmmaking that you didn’t before producing this project?
KP: I always knew that there was a lot to it, but actually being a producer let me know about how respectful a shot can be, and how much you have to deal with and all that goes on the line. You’re not just thinking about what you have to do, you’re making sure that everybody else around you is doing what they’re supposed to do. I learned, that the job of a producer can be very stressful!
EBONY: And I would imagine that any project where you get to do music is something that probably is always going to get put to the yes pile quicker?
KP: Exactly. Cause I love to sing and I love to dance.
EBONY: I always ask you this when we talk, any plans for a full-length album coming from you soon or what’s up with that?
KP: Not an album, but a mixtape. I’m actually filming my first video on the ninth and then the second on the 10th, and then I’m going to put the first single out from the mixtape and then we’re going to radio, so I’m very excited.
EBONY: What’s Keke’s style, musically? When we see you sing in films, you’re playing a character. So who are you on record?
KP: Musically, I don’t know. I’m a mash-up of everyone. My influences would be Michael Jackson, Brandy, Aaliyah—those types of people. So if you can imagine them—and with me taking them, and then putting my own twist and the influence on it—that’s musically what I would sound like. It sounds good, but I can’t really, exactly put my finger on it, but in the genre of a perfect mix between R&B and pop. Maybe a little more R&B than pop, but right in the middle.
EBONY: You once mentioned that at 18 you’d like to go off to Howard University and pledge a sorority and live the college life. Is that still in the works? Or has that taken a backseat now?
KP: Definitely. But to think about college right now would just make my head blow up because of how nerve wracking that would be. How much anxiety that would cause me to have? It’s just really difficult, you know. It’s difficult to be in college, period, without anything to do but focus on college. Could you imagine having a job and having to travel everywhere while trying to do your work and stay in the moment? It’s just very difficult, and I think that it would be too much for me right now. So now I’m waiting for college.
EBONY: Your life is pretty much a fairy tale right now, kind of poignant given that this new Nickelodeon film is a new-age fairy tale. What would the name of your fairy tale be?
KP: That’s a good question right there. Thumbelina. Because she’s so small in a big world, and that’s kind of what my life would be. Even more so in the beginning of my career. I was this little kid that came in where everybody had their own little clique, and I was like young black girl who didn’t get the role. I finally got my chance with Akeelah and the Bee.
EBONY: What’s next for you? What do you have on deck? A new installation of Ice Age is coming out this summer …
KP: Yes! Ice Age comes out July 18. I’m very excited about that just because, you know, it’s Ice Age! Just to be a part of Ice Age, that whole brand and that franchise is an honor and I’m excited; I can’t wait for everybody to go see it. It’s going to be awesome. I already know.
EBONY: What gets more weight now? Keke the Actress? Or KeKe the singer?
KP: I wouldn’t say any one more than the other, but if I did have to do one more than the other it depend on what was coming at the moment. I don’t try to control it; I let what happens. I’m not going to say, ‘No, I gotta push my music right now.’ Acting and music are finally on even playing fields in my life right now. With all the stuff I have going on with acting, I still have a lot of stuff going on in music.
EBONY: Who’s a dream collaboration?
KP: I know it’s gonna sound crazy when I say this one, but R. Kelly, because I really love him. It makes me really nervous to say that, but R. Kelly, I really do love him and I would like to do music with him one day. Whenever I say that, people always acting all crazy. But he really is an inspiration to me.