By Brandon Voss
“That’s sexy” is the new “That’s hot,” proclaims Paris Hilton, framed by a classic Central Park view while lounging on a sofa during our intimate interview at the Ritz Carlton in New York. Though either catch phrase could’ve been coined to describe the ubiquitous hotel heiress and her multifaceted career, both also define her highly anticipated, self-titled debut album, which dropped Aug. 22.
“I knew the gays would love my music,” says Hilton, who’s thrilled that “Stars are Blind,” her reggae-flavored first single, has been a hit among homos. “I’m like a gay guy that way — I love the same kind of music. I actually like going to gay clubs better because the music is usually much better.”
She claims it’s no coincidence she sought the remixing talents of gay-favorite DJs such as Peter Rauhofer, Paul Oakenfold and Tracy Young, and she promises surprise performances at various high-profile gay clubs over the next few months.
Though too busy traveling this summer to participate in any Gay Pride festivities — “I was so bummed!” she says — the 25-year-old paparazzi princess was recently honored at “Idols of Gay Hollywood,” an exhibit at The Hollywood Museum where the outfits that she and her mother Kathy wore as Grand Marshalls of last year’s L.A. Pride are on display. “The gay community has definitely been a huge part of my fan base. I think it’s because I’m free-spirited and I enjoy life. I’m like no one else and I don’t care what people say about me.”
Hilton believes the boys will particularly dig her cover of the Rod Stewart classic “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy,” which was inspired by a night out with Stewart and his socialite daughter Kimberly. She nixed her original plan to record a cover of “I Touch Myself,” the Divinyls hit written by “Like a Virgin” lyricist Billy Steinberg, who also wrote the sole ballad on Hilton’s album.
“I felt kind of weird,” she says. “I’m like, ‘I don’t want to be on stage singing that in front of my mom!'”
Other cover options that she recorded — including David Bowie’s “Fame,” Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” and Kim Carnes’ “Bette Davis Eyes” — may surface in the future. “I’m definitely going to be doing a lot more albums,” she says, adding that her sophomore release will explore as wide a variety of genres as her debut. “I have my business, but my passion and my heart is in the music. I’ll always put the music before anything else. I was supposed to be doing three movies this summer, but I’m turning them all down because I want to focus on my record. This is what I really want to do.”
So what’s taken her so long to do it? “I always knew I could sing,” explains Hilton, who has also studied violin and piano, “but I was just way too shy to ever sing in front of anyone besides my family and friends.” From the age of six, Hilton recalls singing along to the likes of Tina Turner, Whitney Houston, Paula Abdul and Madonna, but this material girl wasn’t belting into a hairbrush in front of her bedroom mirror. “We actually had this whole disco room at my parents’ house. My sister Nicky, Nicole Richie and I would get all dressed up, put makeup on and high heels, get on stage and sing karaoke.”
For her first crack at the grown-up music biz, Hilton recorded nine tracks with respected rock producer Rob Cavallo. “I liked the album,” she says, “but I just didn’t really feel like it was me.” Then she met ueber-producer Scott Storch, best known for his work with Christina Aguilera, 50 Cent and Beyonce. “Scott made me realize what I really had in me and what I wanted to be as an artist. So we threw all those other songs away and started from scratch. I’m not some kind of rock chick. I’m a club girl.”
A longtime denizen of velvet-roped nightlife, Hilton now uses her fellow scenesters as a test audience. “Every time I go out I bring my record with me and have the DJ play my songs, and I don’t tell anyone who it is,” she says. “I’ll watch the crowd dancing to my music, and it’s just the best feeling in the world.” Hilton also lights up when discussing rehearsals for her upcoming concert tour, prompting me to ask, in the immortal words of Madonna: You can dance? “I’m learning how,” she admits with a laugh. Girl better get into the groove; her album is packed with thumpin’ hip-grinders that demand choreography, including its infectious second single, “Turn It Up.”
Another track that’s creating buzz is “Jealousy,” which Hilton admits was inspired by her much-publicized falling out with best friend and The Simple Life costar Nicole Richie. (See? Told you.) “I wanted to write a sad song,” Hilton says, “and the one thing that I was really sad about in my life was that me and my friend of 20 years grew apart because of fame. Jealousy is the evilest emotion, and it doesn’t do any good for anyone. It’s better to just be happy for someone if they’re successful. I want what’s best for my friends. When people let jealousy take over them, it destroys friendships.”
Though she hasn’t received any ancient scriptures or an invitation to Israel, Hilton has had a Kabbalah chat with her new friend–and Warner Bros.
label-mate–Madonna, whom she first met last year at the Brit Awards in London. “She’s like, ‘I heard about your record and I can’t wait to hear the whole thing,'” says Hilton, beaming. “And I was like, ‘Oh my God, I love you. You’re amazing.’ I’ve never really been excited to meet anyone in my life, but Madonna’s like my idol.” Just don’t expect Hilton to reinvent herself by dyeing her trademark blonde coiffure: “Sorry, but I don’t want to ruin my hair!”
But much like Madonna when she appeared on American Bandstand in 1983, Hilton appears ready to rule the world; when asked what’s left for her to become after all she’s accomplished, she gleefully declares, “President!” Now that’s blonde ambition.