Nicole bares her soul (and her claws) in our exclusive interview.

By Claire Connors
November 21, 2011
Nino Muñoz

Former Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger has the eye of a tiger. And by that we mean the kind that can thrill-or kill-on sight. As contestants strut their stuff across the stage of the new American edition of The X Factor, she seductively bats those luscious lashes at the performers she loves, and then a minute later she narrows them into slits at the ones she doesn't. Where, you may ask, does this 33-year- old get off measuring the talent of these up- and-comers? And on one of the most popular reality-show franchises on the planet to boot?Well, for one thing, Nicole has been performing on the other side of various judges' tables for much of her career-and so far the reviews have been overwhelmingly in her favor. A reality- show veteran, she won her first competition at age 23 on The WB's Popstars and her most recent in 2010, on Dancing With the Stars. But it was her audition for the burlesque pop group Pussycat Dolls in 2003 that she says gave her the confidence she exudes today. "I'll never forget it," says Nicole. "I walked into the room, and there were the Dolls' producers and Jimmy Iovine [credited with turning Eminem and Lady Gaga into superstars]. Jimmy told them, ‘Whatever you do, don't let this girl go. She's going to be the leader of this group.'" True to his word, she led the Dolls to sales of more than 10 million records in their seven years together. Now Nicole bares her soul (and sometimes her claws) on TV'S hottest talent show, The X Factor. Now She tells us what it takes to be a star. SHAPE: Let's cut to the chase: Your body is amazing. You must be constantly dieting. Nicole: Actually, I eat-a lot! Even with my crazy schedule, I never skip meals. I'll often have soft-boiled eggs, smoked salmon, and whole-wheat toast for breakfast; cold cuts, veggies, and fruit for lunch; and usually chicken or fish with rice and more vegetables for dinner. But to really satisfy my cravings, I turn to my roots. I was born in Hawaii, so I love dried tuna dipped in soy sauce, kalua pig, banana pancakes with coconut syrup, and chocolate-covered macadamia nuts. My gosh, I could gain 10 pounds just talking about these foods! SHAPE: Even your splurges seem relatively healthy. Have you always had such a sensible approach to eating? Nicole: It's taken a long time to get here. I started jogging and counting calories when I was just 14. I've been on every diet you can imagine. By the time I was in the Pussycat Dolls, I was on the scale all the time. It became my enemy because I noticed that when I exercised really hard, I'd gain weight. Now that I'm in my 30s, I've stepped off the scale-I just go by how my clothes fit. SHAPE: And that's working for you? Nicole: Definitely. I'm more accepting of my body and have learned to really embrace it. These days it's all about finding balance. My new motto is: "Stay active, eat everything in moderation, and stop being so tough on myself." SHAPE: How do you "gently" get back on track after you do overindulge? Nicole: Dancing. When I'm getting ready for a tour or a video shoot, I throw myself full throttle into my work, and those extra 10 pounds just seem to melt off. I also have a resistance workout that does wonders for my arms and abs. SHAPE: Well, you're not afraid to throw your weight around at the judges' table! Nicole: I think we're a good mix. Simon is empowering and encouraging. L.A. is very giving and in- spiring. And Paula is as sweet in person as she seems on TV. As for me, well, sometimes I'm nice, and sometimes I'm not. I definitely watch the contestants with a very careful eye. SHAPE: You've obviously spied some budding stars on the show. What's your personal definition of "X factor"? Nicole: It's a power, an energy, and a light that shines from someone. And I know it when I see it. SHAPE: We do too!