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Stacy on Kids Incorporated was the coolest.
The bubbly 10-year-old singer with the killer ’80s wardrobe, perfectly spritzed bangs and booming voice that belied her age was a Disney Channel princess long before Britney Spears and Christina Aguileragot their big breaks on the Mickey Mouse Club.
And in 1989, after she left the show…
Hmm. We all went back to our similarly young lives. Some fans accompanied the singer whose full name was Stacy Ann Ferguson on her journey with Wild Orchid, a tame ’90s girl group that also featured Kids Incorporated‘s Renee Sandstrom and was at one point managed by the mother of KI alum and “Toy Soldiers” songstress Martika. (Attention should be paid to the “Be Mine” video from 1998.)
But for the most part, the “is that Stacy from Kids Incorporated?!” moment for the masses didn’t come until the pop star known as Fergie joined the world stage with the Black Eyed Peas in 2002.
Her first outing with the band, the 2003 album Elephunk, featuring “Hey Mama” and “Where Is the Love,” was a smash hit, and the foursome—Will.i.am, Apl.de.ap, Taboo and their new powerhouse vocalist Fergie—were off and running.
Once Fergie was front and center again, however, there came the question: So…what’s she been up to?
Which turned out not to be that simple of a question.
“I was constantly working as a child,” Fergie recalled to Radio.com last December. “I was working in school, and then I would go to summers, and it was fun work. It was what I wanted to be doing, but I was constantly always on a schedule, always being professional, all of that. I rebelled a little bit in later life and acted like a child, but that’s okay. I figure I’m about 10 years immature.
“Then I wanted a year off from show business, just to be normal. That’s when I was 14. And then at 15 years old, my friend calls me and says, ‘Hey, this manager wants to start this girls’ singing group.’ So I started at 15, after school, driving out to the [San Fernando] Valley with my mom and going to these rehearsals with these girls and was in this girl group for 11 years called Wild Orchid.”
By now, it’s pretty well-known that Fergie spent a year of that time between child stardom and Black Eyed Peas fame barely hovering above the abyss.
She sat down with Oprah Winfrey for Oprah’s Next Chapter in 2012 and reflected on how, just over a decade prior, she was broke, with a drug problem and a career in shambles. Her substance of choice was crystal meth, sometimes considered flippantly as a party drug (or as the co-star of Breaking Bad) but which in actuality ravages the brain.
“It does a lot of things,” Fergie acknowledged when Winfrey remarked on meth’s known effects. “It’s not good…It can make you crazy.”
“What got me through it was a lot of therapy, soul-searching, discovering why I took the drugs in the first place—because that’s really what it is,” the singer said.
Why, then, did she start doing meth?
She had spent the ’90s making music and the occasional guest spot on TV, but by the end of the decade, she was downright demoralized.
Wild Orchid—Fergie, Renee Sands and Stefanie Ridel, Sands’ best friend from high school—had formed in 1990 (originally as NRG, which stood for New Rhythm Energy, and with a couple other girls at first), but despite taking meeting after meeting they didn’t get a single out until 1996’s “At Night I Pray,” off their self-titled debut album. Wild Orchid garnered two Billboard Music Award nominations and they spent 1997 doing promotions and even toured with 98 Degrees and ‘N Sync. They released the 1998 album Oxygen, featuring “Be Mine,” and followed that up with more touring and appearances at high-profile events such as the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. In 1999 they had a performance cameo on Beverly Hills 90210, singing at the “Peach Pit After Dark.”
But somewhere during the making of their third album, Fire, the group started to unravel. Or at least Fergie did.
“I think that initially when we broke up, which, you know we were all needing to break up, it was hard,” Ridel (now Stefanie Fair), a star of There Goes the Motherhood, recalled to Bravo’s Daily Dish last year about the eventual demise of Wild Orchid. “There were a handful of years where I think all of us were kind of like…it was hard to talk about. We were disappointed and we all wanted to go our separate ways. Now it’s like this ’90s nostalgia fabulousness and I am so proud of what we created, what we did.”
“It just wasn’t working,” Fergie recalled to Winfrey, “and they tried to make us do different things, and it just started being…” She paused. “Feeling inauthentic and wasn’t really the style that I felt that I wanted to go for, and…I wasn’t being myself.
“And what I should have done was said, ‘Girls, you know, it’s really time for me to go on my own. I need to fulfill this dream of mine to have a solo album.’ And I didn’t know how to do that. I didn’t know how to deal with that, that confrontation. I wanted to please them.”
“So you tried drugs instead,” Winfrey said.
“So, hey! Why not try some meth?” Fergie self-deprecatingly laughed. “I didn’t know how to deal, so I got into a scene…I started going out and taking Ecstasy, and you know from Ecstasy it went to crystal meth.”
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By 2000, “I spent all my childhood actor money,” she said in a 2006 interview with Entertainment Weekly, “and I had collection agents after me because I built up credit card debt.”
In 2001, Wild Orchid performed at a show in Minneapolis, put on by a local radio station, that also featured the Black Eyed Peas, which at the time had released two albums to little fanfare. Fergie got to talking with Will.i.am about a solo album she was working on, and he showed interest in producing it. Contact info was exchanged—which came in handy when RCA dropped Wild Orchid from the label that September.
But in the meantime, Fergie was getting herself sorted out.
“With any drugs, everything is great at the beginning,” she told Oprah. “Then, slowly, your life starts to spiral down.”
She eventually was using every day. Her weight dipped to 90 pounds at one point.
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“I was [suffering from] chemically induced psychosis and dementia. I was hallucinating on a daily basis,” she told the U.K.’s iNews just this week. “It took a year after getting off that drug for the chemicals in my brain to settle so that I stopped seeing things. I’d just be sitting there, seeing a random bee or bunny.”
When Oprah asked what her rock bottom was, she replied in 2012, “My brain had been playing a lot of tricks on me. I thought the FBI was after me. You’re kind of living in this alternate reality. It’s very strange…And I started getting really paranoid. So I went one day into this church, and I thought that the FBI and the SWAT teams were outside the church. This is what the drug was telling me.”
She declined to tell the whole story of the “dancing ninja on my balcony.”
“So I had a conversation with God” in the church, she continued. “I’m very close with my higher power, I have a very strong connection with it, and I said, ‘All right, if I go out there and the FBI and the SWAT team’s not out there, then it’s the drugs. And I’m stopping.'”
Fergie was actually asked to leave the church. “And there was no SWAT team,” she said. “No FBI. Just me, and God.”
She kept her promise, and that very day, in 2001, she quit. Hypnotherapy helped her stay clean, as did leaving Wild Orchid for good (Sands and Ridel soldiered on as a duo until 2003) and moving home with her family to regroup.
“I was hustling—using the [frequent flier] miles that I earned from Wild Orchid to work with whatever producers I knew that had a home studio,” she told EW. She joined the Black Eyed Peas in 2002—another stroke of luck, considering Nicole Scherzinger had originally passed on the opportunity to join, but obviously meant to be.
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To this day she considers herself lucky that her brush with the dark side was relatively brief, that she only lost about a year of her life. “I’m actually lucky I went crazy, because that made me stop,” she said.
Once Fergie was in the Black Eyed Peas, the dream life became a reality. After reading in a magazine that Josh Duhamel had a mad crush on her, Fergie ended up meeting him on the set of his show Las Vegas in 2004, when the band had a cameo. They hit it off and ended up getting married in 2009. Son Axl was born in 2013.
Meanwhile, the BEP put out three more platinum albums together (Monkey Business, The E.N.D. and The Beginning), won six Grammys and headlined the 2011 Super Bowl Halftime Show.
“Well, for some lucky reason or gift from God, I’ve known what I wanted to do since I was a little girl,” the singer replied. “And even through disappointments and rejection, there was something inside of me that wouldn’t give up. I’m a survivor, and I’m very driven.”
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Fergie also clarified to Couric that, while she had stayed off drugs since quitting cold turkey, she wasn’t sober in the sense that she abstained from all substances.
“Well, I’m not claiming to be sober,” she said. “I think that that would be misleading. I drink alcohol. My father has a vineyard, and [the wine is] really delicious, by the way.” Promising to send Couric a bottle, she added, “Anyway, for most addicts, they would advise never to have any sort of substance. I just have my own journey, and I am very blessed to this day to be alive.”
Buoyed by her Black Eyed Peas success, the artist who’d been singing since she was a little girl finally released that solo debut she’d been hoping for, too: The Dutchess, in 2006.
Though hard feelings would have been understandable, the ladies of Wild Orchid actually stayed friends, with Stefanie and Renee co-writing The Dutchess track “Losing My Ground.”
“We live very close to each other,” Stefanie told the Daily Dish. “Her son, Axl, is a year younger than [my son] Rocky. I just saw Renee. Well, first of all, me and Fergie lived together for four years [back in the day]. We moved out, we had an apartment together and then we were a band, the three of us, together for 11 years, so in those years of teenage to late 20s, we will always be connected in a way. We shared just the amazing memories…Yeah, we’re forever bonded, whether we like it or not.”
“And I still love the girls to this day; they’re like my sisters,” Fergie also said last year. “We’ve been through a lot of experiences, just like I have with the [Black Eyed Peas] boys.”
In 2013, with the Black Eyed Peas still on the “indefinite hiatus” they had announced at the end of 2011, Fergie announced that she was finally working on her second solo album. The album-in-progress was announced again in 2014 and tentatively slated for a 2015 release.
Obviously that didn’t come to pass, nor did Fergie reunite with BEP for their 2015 song “Awesome,” which was used in commercials for the NBA Finals that year, nor for the single “Yesterday.” Still, they insisted she hadn’t left the group, but was rather focusing on her own album.
In 2016 Fergie released her first new single in two years, “M.I.L.F.$,” along with a star-studded video, and that November came “Life Goes On,” all off the then still yet-to-be-finished new album.
She recently told Rolling Stone, about what turned into an 11-year gap between album releases, “I really thought I was going to come with that song [2014’s “L.A. Love”] and have the album right afterwards. It just wasn’t ready. I didn’t realize how long things take—especially having a kid, I’ve never done this before. But I wasn’t proud of it yet.”
About the Black Eyed Peas taking a 20th-anniversary lap without her, Fergie told Radio.com last December, “They were doing their 20th anniversary thing, and it’s like, they know I put everything into being a mom and being a wife and doing this album. I know they’re in the studio making music, and you know what? I am so happy for anybody who needs to make music in their life, they need to do that, and we just need to be happy for each other.”
Having just released the upbeat but still somewhat melancholy “Life Goes On,” she talked about working on it with co-writer Toby Gad. “He’s one of those guys that he’s very soft-spoken,” she said. “He’s like, ‘Fergie, what’s going on in your life? Tell me what’s going on.’ I just feel safe with him to kinda just dump everything that I’m going through. He’s just one of those people in my life for me. And it’s like a therapy session when I go to him.”
Gad isn’t the type to write songs like “M.I.L.F.$” or “Fergalicious” with, she added. “He’s one I feel totally safe with just going to that deeper level of vulnerability and emotion and just kind of letting my guard down and letting my journals just create a song, follow through and create a song.”
Which made one wonder what, exactly, she was going through.
Sadly, just as her long-awaited follow-up, Double Dutchess, was released in September, so came the news that Fergie and Duhamel had separated after eight years of marriage.
“With absolute love and respect we decided to separate as a couple earlier this year,” they said in a joint statement. “To give our family the best opportunity to adjust, we wanted to keep this a private matter before sharing it with the public. We are and will always be united in our support of each other and our family.”
Fergie was in the middle of a flurry of promotional appearances, and just days beforehand hadn’t given any indication of what was going on behind closed doors.
But sitting down with Wendy Williams in October, she admitted that her world had been turned upside down.
“It wasn’t my plan, I wanted to stay married forever,” she told Williams. “…I love Josh, he’s the father of my child. We forever have that project together, and we’re doing the best we can…You made me cry! Gosh, two minutes in and you’re getting me tearing up.”
As for making the announcement, Fergie said, “There’s no right time. It’s such a weird thing having to announce to the public because when you’re in show business you have to do an announcement. We wanted to be sure, and really just find our footing and get all the crazy hurt stuff privately before the whole barrage of media.”
And so as she heads into 2018, an entirely new chapter begins for Fergie. She’s still willing to share her story about hitting rock bottom, hoping she can prevent others from falling down the same hole, but the heights she’s climbed since are hopefully turning that year of despair into an increasingly distant memory.