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Aubrey O'Day

The Wendy Williams Show, and today's guest, Hairspray star Aubrey O'Day, looks more L.A. than Broadway: Dressed in a futuristic gray dress and five-inch silver stilettos, blonde hair flowing and false eyelashes firmly in place, the starlet serenely strokes her teacup maltese Ginger who sports a pink dye-job and matching sequined skirt while production assistants flit about her dressing room at the FOX studios. You wouldn't suspect that the 24-year-old California native, who rose to pop fame as perhaps the sexiest and most notorious member of girl-group Danity Kane after winning MTV's Making the Band 3, is a devout Broadway fan. A graduate of the famed La Quinta High School known for its drama program and former drama student at U.C. Irvine, O'Day made her stage debut at age four in Annie. You might also be surprised to learn that she is ardent about the law political science was her other college major, and has established an AIDS awareness charity, Fight AIDS Now. While most young Broadway stars would kill for the sort of high-profile recording success O'Day has already experienced—including a current hit, "Damaged," in constant rotation on the radio—the platinum-selling Danity Kane diva seems more passionate about the idea of playing Maureen in Rent than about pop stardom. In a frank chat, Broadway's newest Amber Von Tussle shares her take on everything from tabloid gossip to expanding her fan base in Hairspray. [CMP:R]

You're already a pop star. Why take on Broadway too?
Broadway has always been my dream. [Being in Hairspray] is so much bigger than anything I do in the pop world, and it means a lot to me.

What appealed to you about Hairspray?
The show is relevant to what's going on now politically. It really addresses race; everything that's been brought up during this election gets covered in the show. I love that. I think it's much more meaningful than people realize. And the opportunity to play someone who is so unlike me [is fun]. I've grown up incredibly liberal and been very accepting of every type of thing, while Amber is scared of change and is a victim of her own circumstances. She operates from a place of fear. She's not really a bad person or a mean person, she just doesn't know any better. And also it's just fun! Great dancing, great singing, great show, very energetic. It's something I can do eight times a week and still love my job.

Were you nervous about making your Broadway debut?
It wasn't as bad as everyone might think. Everyone was like, "This is your big show! This is it!" The Broadway cast, my friends and family, they all kept saying that. I was never nervous until they pointed that out. Otherwise I was ready to go.

Have any of the members of your band come to see you perform?
One of them has. She said that seeing the difference between how I am every day with Danity Kane and how I am doing what I do onstage in the show, it's obvious that my heart [is] in Broadway.

[Danity Kane creator and producer] P. Diddy has been on Broadway himself [in A Raisin in the Sun]. Has he seen the show yet?
No.

I've read you had to choose between going to law school and performing. How do you make a decision like that?
There was no debate, really. When the Making the Band opportunity exposed itself I jumped on board quickly. I come from a family of attorneys and am very passionate about the law and politics. So [law] was like second nature to me. But performing is what I was meant to do.

Your bio shows you've been a musical theater kid all along.
I'd say I've been doing it since I came out of the womb, but legitimately I've been doing it since I was four. That's when I did my first musical.

You've had leading roles in The Wizard of Oz, Grease, Fame and A Chorus Line. Are there any Broadway roles you're dying to play?
The one role that's been my dream my entire life is Maureen in Rent. But it's closing now! Maybe I can do the revival when it comes back.

It's not easy to join a long-running show like Hairspray. Did the cast offer you any advice?
I think I fit right in with everyone instantly. Marissa Perry, who plays the lead—she's awesome—told me the other night, "You know, when a celebrity comes on Broadway, the first two weeks they're always nice, and after that you see who they really are." They're so used to divas making demands. But she was like, "I don't know how you've maintained who you are, but it's amazing and we love you." It's fun to work with everyone; I love all of them. Especially Karen [Mason, who plays Velma Von Tussle]. And [co-star] Jenifer Lewis is [O'Day's dog] Ginger's godmother! Ginger lives on Broadway now.

Is there any special camaraderie between you and Ashley Parker Angel, as two survivors of Making the Band?
No. I think Ashley came from a different era of the show. He was doing it back when Lou Perlman was running the show. When Diddy took over, the show became something very different.

Is appearing on Broadway a vacation from being in the media spotlight all the time?
I don't know if it's a vacation from the spotlight, but it's definitely a vacation from what I have been doing for the last four years. I think when you enter the music industry, especially in a girl group, you have to play a role. And I've been put into a role for so long that it does get tiring, and a little boring, after a while. So it's been really nice to put that aside and meet new people, new ideas, new ways of thinking.

Is that industry persona part of the reason the press loves to report negatively about you?
I don't really put on the persona entirely. But parts of it are focused on [in the media] more than others. I think that's unfortunate. I don't see [the media coverage] as representing me, I see it as representing the state of our country right now, the way that we're entertained, what we pay attention to. I mean, the bloggers write what they write because we sign in every day to see what they said. I think we're giving them the platform to continue that behavior. I wish people would focus on things that would move us along as [a society] instead of keeping us ignorant.

How do you survive the abuse from blogs like Perez Hilton, especially when the press is printing things that are private?
Or printing things that are blatantly not true? I'd say that I've gotten used to it by now. In the beginning I was so offended by it, and I took it personally. But after a while I realized it is, like I said, more about what we allow ourselves to be entertained by than anything else. By watching the TV stations that report on that kind of stuff we allow it to continue. I wish more focus was put on the good in everyone.

What's the most ridiculous thing you've ever read about yourself?
Oh, geez! I don't know. All of it's ridiculous! People who know me get a really good laugh at all of that stuff because it's so out of my nature. One time [P. Diddy] had a broken toe or had to get a foot operation, and people said he must have damaged it in some sexual position during a threesome with me and [R&B singer and fellow Bad Boy label-mate] Cassie. That was really out there.

That's a lot to deal with.
It is, but I don't really deal with it. I think that what I chose to deal with is my career and my clothing line, and my charity [Fight AIDS Now] and traveling and Broadway. I don't deal with gossip.

Why do you think the media seems to focus on you more than the other ladies in Danity Kane?
I have no idea. I mean, I think in part it has to do with the fact that I'm very outgoing, very outspoken, and I'm comfortable being me. It definitely makes people who aren't that way uncomfortable. I don't make excuses. I'm proud of who I am and I'm proud of how I've become the way I am. And I make very clear statements about how I feel about something. Anytime you [speak your mind] there are groups of people who will be offended or groups of people who love you. The other girls [in Danity Kane] tend to stay a little more politically correct, or maybe they just haven't found their voices yet in some instances. But I'm not scared of being me. I don't operate on fear in my life. That puts a target on you.

Are you the party girl that people make you out to be?
Not at all. I definitely like to go out! And I definitely enjoy my life. My god, if you can't enjoy your life then why are you here? I've had such amazing opportunities, and I've been so blessed in the way that I've handled those opportunities and made them bigger than they started out being. I don't want to spend my days thinking up negative things to say about people. I don't want to spend my days criticizing things or focusing on all the negative things that bring you down. Do I like to party? Of course! Am I out drinking and hooking up with boys every night and being reckless? Absolutely not.

If there was one thing you wish people who read the tabloids knew about the real you, what would it be?
Nothing. I don't care.

There was an item recently in the New York Post about how this role in Hairspray has developed your gay following. How does it feel to open up your audience that way?
Oh, I've been waiting for the gay kids to come support me! Of all the kinds of people I've met in my life, I think that they are, for the most part, the ones willing to take a chance to stand up for something they truly feel. And I think, like, gay, straight, whatever you want to be in life, it should all be the same. Unfortunately we don't view it the same way in society. I think something as beautiful as love has been so heavily criticized, and so in a weird way I feel like they're my people! I love that they see in me that fearlessness—I think that's a big reason why they like me. That and the 20 pounds of weave and the fabulous makeup. And my gorgeous little dog.

There have been pictures printed of you kissing girls as well as boys. Do you get irritated by people trying to pigeonhole your sexuality?
Totally. Because at this point in my life I wouldn't say one way or another what my preference is sexually. The only thing I'm looking for in life is incredible passion and honest love, and if that's with a girl, a guy, a guy that dresses like a girl, a girl that dresses like a guy, whatever the options are on the table, all I really operate on is the way I feel in my heart when it comes to love.

Speaking of your heart, you've got your own T-shirt line called Heart on My Sleeve. How did that come about?
I did it all on my own. I've been making shirts for a while, since the first time I fell in love and got my heart broken. It's been a way to express what I'm going through. One of the first ones I did was the "Are You Strong Enough to Be My Man?" shirt. I really wanted to be seen wearing that shirt because that's what I was going through at the time. We're always going through something in our hearts, so that's what the line represents. On a superficial level, there's [a shirt that says] "My Sex Tape Comes Out Next Week." That was [designed] because I, like, have these sex icon friends, from Kim [Kardashian] to Jenna [Jameson], and people in the media kept asking when my sex tape was going to come out. So I just did that to be funny. I thought if I wore that on the red carpet it would answer the question. And then I added it to the line because I thought it was cute. So there's fun, silly stuff, and then there's more serious concepts about love.

Are you always so open?
I'm definitely an open book. I find it very hard to be fake. If I'm upset, everybody knows. I'm able to maneuver my way around that because you have to in this industry, but for the most part if I could operate in an honest place all the time that's where I want to be. I hate smiling at people that I think are not good people. I find it very hard to play the game. Everyone who is very successful or trying to be has gotten good at playing the game. I want to affect as many people as possible, and I hope I can get to that place by being real and not by selling out or being someone I'm not.

Your career, from discovery until this point, has been very public. Has fame been everything you thought it would be?
I don't consider myself famous. I don't consider most people in pop culture famous. I think it takes a lot to become famous and be, like, a true celebrity. Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn—those are icons. I think they're amazing. A lot of the people we choose to look up to these days, because they have a cool song on the radio, or whatever? I don't look at those as celebrities. I'm just another person who has a cool song on the radio. I don't see that as fame. I don't see the reality show or Making the Band—though I think they're good achievements and I'm proud of those achievements—as fame. You'll have to ask me that question after I've had a long career.

See Aubrey O'Day in Hairspray at the Neil Simon Theatre.

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