Melody Thornton on Breaking Free of PCD, That Viral AMAs Performance and Her Sacrifices for Solo Success

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Melody Thornton feels like a proud parent now that she's released her latest EP, Lioness Eyes.

“Oh my god, [it feels like] my child has gone to college!” she jokingly exclaims. “There's been tears of joy, there have been moments where I’m like ‘Oh my god,’ you know, just so overwhelmed.”

The 35-year-old singer first rose to fame in the aughts as a member of The Pussycat Dolls. Instead of rejoining the group for their revival last year, she chose to push forward as a solo artist and focus on writing, producing and singing a body of work that oozes “loads of passion and soul.” Inspired by the music of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, Melody says her new EP was heavily influenced by a wide range of artists that she grew up admiring: Cher, Donna Summer, Nancy Sinatra, Eydie Gormé, José José, Eartha Kitt and B.B. King. 

“Each song is like a tailored suit, you know? There is a difference… the reason why a Tom Ford suit is a Tom Ford suit is because it's the cut. It's the design. It's supposed to fit you a certain way, and so, I like to think of myself as like a curator designer for myself," she says.

Designing her life and career for herself led Melody to decide not to rejoin the group that made her famous. “I definitely talked about it.  We kicked around the idea,” Melody explains. “I had people on my team saying, ‘Oh, I'd hate for you to miss out on a cash grab, or an opportunity.’ I don't, I'm so sorry, I don't want to live my life, you know, on a cash grab.  And if that makes me stupid to some people, it makes me stupid.  If it seems really brave, and that's a challenging thing to face and to also, you know, but to move forward, then OK, then let’s go with that.” 

Ultimately, Melody wished the ladies all the best, and felt reassured by this philosophy: “If you adopt an attitude that I want the best for everybody, I'm included in that. Everybody's included in that. Every time something great comes to you, you win. Every time something great comes to other people, you win.”

While the songstress admits that she hasn’t spoken with her former bandmates recently, she assures fans there’s “no bad blood” and revealed she’s even game for a reunion down the line -- if there’s a special occasion. She says, “I think if there was ever a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, you know, I would definitely want to be there, you know? I was there.”

Melody was absolutely there for the first iteration of the mega-successful girl group, which included two platinum-selling albums, sold-out world tours and electrifying performances that are still celebrated today. One in particular that still has the Twitter-verse abuzz is the band’s rendition of “Buttons” at the 2006 American Music Awards, where Melody had a delayed entrance onstage, missing all but the final 30 seconds of the performance.

For fans who are still scratching their heads 14 years later, Melody is setting the record straight on what really happened, once and for all.

In the days leading up the performance, the singer recalls feeling very ill while the band was performing overseas. Melody says she took some medication, put her passport under her pillow on their tour bus, fell asleep and accidentally left it on the bus the following day. The subsequent travel delays caused her to miss show rehearsals completely. “It was the one time through customs that they were like, ‘Right, we're going to search you.’ And I was like, ‘I really can't do this right now. Like, I'm gonna be performing on the American Music Awards!’ Melody says the solution to the issue was to “come out on the end and sing your part,” adding, “I literally landed and was on my way to the red carpet. It was the day of [the awards show].”

“Buttons” is just one of the group’s many hits. Melody’s favorite song in the PCD catalog is actually a track that was never a single: it’s the last song on their second album, Doll Domination, called “I’m Done.” Her least favorite song? At least initially, Melody admits she wasn’t vibing with "Don’t Cha," the group’s debut single that put them on the map. 

“I didn't get it. I didn't see why it was a thing,” she expresses. “It felt controversial to me in many [ways], but you know, I'm not putting together a girl group, so I have no idea what works in that way.” However, Melody explains how the song eventually won her over.

“I love ‘Don't Cha’ now, for sure. It grew on me. The way that people responded to it and the way that they loved it. I definitely love it… it's aged so well. Yeah, it's fantastic. I'm very proud. I'm proud to have been a part of a moment in music that was like, you know, Rihanna and Beyoncé, up there with the big girls.”

Lioness Eyes
Melody Thornton

With the PCD chapter of her life in the rear view mirror, Melody was glowing as she spoke with ET over Zoom on a Friday afternoon. Her eyes were dazzling with cerulean blue shadow, rocking a swept back hairstyle and disco ball statement earrings. It’s a stunning look she conceived all on her own, much like the visuals seen in her most recent music videos. 

“I'm not even going to lie. I look forward to the day when I can be like, ‘Cool, somebody else come in and do the wardrobe,’” she says, laughing, after confirming she does the bulk of the hair, makeup and styling for her projects. “When you're independent, you just try and get the best bang for your buck, but also you want it to look the way that you always envisioned that it would look... If I am the artist and creator, let me create! Trust me, why wouldn't you? It's my message to the world.”

Her single, "Phoenix Rise," wasn’t originally slated to be the first off the EP. However, in light of the global protests against police brutality and the amplification of the Black Lives Matter movement, Melody decided it was, in fact, the right choice. It’s a powerful anthem that fuses themes of confusion and despair with lyrics that are uplifting and empowering. The accompanying music video is equally as moving.

“It's this parallel between 1968 and today and how they kind of look the same, you know? Has a lot changed? I know that we're doing our best, but is our best enough?" she says. "So the video was black and white for that reason, to kind of provoke thought around like, ‘Yo, we're still going through this, you know?’”

Speaking to her creative authority as an independent artist, Melody shared why she’s grateful to have the power to make executive decisions and control her own narrative. “If I want to make a video about BLM and talk about my experiences through my art, I want to be able to do that without it being a huge argument," she says. 

Being an independent, self-funded artist comes with challenges, and in Melody’s case, “really serious sacrifices” to bring her art to life. While she recognizes she’s a “very blessed person” who doesn’t want this to be misconstrued as a “mini violin situation,” Melody reflected on the choices she made in the years leading up to the creation of Lioness Eyes.

“I gave up my house, I gave up my car, I put everything in storage. I lived on tour, I never bought anything for years,” she recalls. “It’s a different bed every single night. I would stay with my best friend [at home] in between trips. So, like, three weeks at a time, I would sleep on his couch and then get back out on the road and this went on for years. It’s OK, these are the types of things that you go through. If you commit to, ‘I'm gonna fund this properly,’ I'm going to give it everything I've got and I hope that people will support it as well, just in that story alone.”

With that resilient attitude, the sky's the limit for the magnetic performer. Having just signed with talent agency ICM, Melody tells ET she’s excited to start achieving her highest-priority goals. At the top of her list? Starring in a movie, having her music featured in a movie (whether she’s starring in it or not) and performing the songs on Lioness Eyes live. Good news -- she's making it happen. Melody's virtual concert, presented by Los Angeles staple the Hotel Cafe, is scheduled for Sept. 4.

“I hope that I can inspire people, especially around this pandemic, to live today, go for it,” Melody says, smiling. “Make a plan of action for the life that you want!”

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