I learned that in order to sing well, you have to understand the real meaning behind a song. But I never realized the impact lyrics could have on my life until I was shooting Dreamgirls. About six months before I was even cast in the film, I was writing songs that I hoped would someday appear on my first album. One of them was called "Thank You," and the lyrics spoke about the success I believed would come my way. And just half a year later, I found myself listening to that song while filming what would end up being my Academy Award-winning role.
In another track called "I Take You Just the Way You Are," I wrote about my boyfriend, James, and the fact that he supported me long before anybody knew who I was, and how our relationship would survive anything. A year later, in an interview for an Oscar-night special, I was saying the same thing to Barbara Walters. She thought my newfound fame might make me want to leave my boyfriend, who works as a maintenance man. Months later, when I listened to that same music, I thought, "Wow, I'm living out everything I wrote in those songs." Everything that I had written, all the words I had sung aloud over and over, was becoming realized.
The force of positive thinking is nothing new to me; I've always believed in myself. That's why I try not to sing anything negative or that I don't connect with. As it turns out, the songs on my upcoming album were written by other people, and I had to sing the words they gave me. But even still, I always ask myself, "What am I really saying here?" When I thought it was necessary, I'd ask if we could rethink the lyrics, because I know the words I'm singing might one day manifest themselves in my own life.
Of course, this is about more than just words; it's the realization that we write our own destinies. I've always wanted to be able to see where my life would take me, and now I understand that I can, because I know there is a direct connection between what I say and what happens to me.
Even though I am extremely blessed to have accomplished many of my goals at such a young age, I am still reaching, still striving. My next step is to create new dreams and sing about those. I can't tell you what they are yet; I'm still making them up. But when you hear them, you'll know I mean them, because I know I'll be living them.
—As told to Rachel Bertsche