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One of our favorite R&B stars, Ne-Yo, sang the National Anthem at last Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, and we got a chance to chat with him about the race, his new projects, and what he looks for in a woman!

HELLO BEAUTIFUL: Were you a NASCAR fan before today?

NE-YO: This is actually my first time at a NASCAR race, and I gotta say… I’m enjoying myself. I didn’t know a lot about it before. Watching it on TV and being here is very different. On TV, you don’t get to meet the drivers and see how personable they are. Most entertainers are not personable, but here you can walk in the garage and walk up to the drivers. They really care about their fans. This is why people are so dedicated to the sport. How do you alienate people who buy records? A message to other entertainers: Don’t let celebrity status to take you away from fans. There’s no platinum record without the fans. That’s why I always stop and sign autographs and stuff.

NASCAR is a pretty white-dominated sport. Do you think that there’s room for more African-American fans to get into NASCAR? Do you think your performance is a step in that direction?

I definitely think so. The owners of NASCAR have said that diversity is a major goal of theirs. There are more people that should understand what this is all about. Black people don’t understand it, so they aren’t into it. But after being here today, I can see myself becoming a fan. By bringing me here and giving me the opportunity to perform, maybe I can get more people into it. It’s very diverse already. I’ve seen people of all walks of life out today, which is great to see.

Speaking of diversity and change, you performed with the Goo-Goo Dolls for a fundraising concert in support of Barack Obama. How do you feel about the Senator being our 44th President?

I feel great about it. Thank God! No disrespect to Palin and McCain. If McCain won, I would have moved. I wouldn’t sit through another 4 years of Republicans. I was shooting a video with the Game when I heard the news about Obama winning. I was in the trailer watching it on TV. The trailer exploded in cheers and laughter and happiness, so that was real cool. The world itself is so diverse, so it makes sense. I was really proud of America in that moment. It made me realize that change is possible. Things have been done a certain way for so long. To even imagine it… hell, you couldn’t imagine it! It’s a beautiful thing. It really speaks to where the world is trying to hit; it’s a step in the right direction.

Collaborating has been a huge part of your career, from Rihanna to Ciara, etc. And I hear rumors that you will be writing for Michael Jackson’s upcoming album… is that true?

Yes, that rumor is true. We’re in the process of putting stuff together. It’s slow because they’re being very careful. It’s either going to be the biggest comeback of all time or a sad… situation. It takes time and patience. If, god forbid, I don’t get a song placed on his project, the fact that he called me on my cell phone… that was enough for me right there.

If you could team up with anyone that you haven’t worked with yet, a dream collabo, someone living or dead, who would it be and why? If you could write a song for anyone of your choice to sing, who would it be for?

If I could work with any artist out there, it would be Prince. Everyone knows I’m an MJ fan but I’m a bigger Prince fan. Prince is the kind of artist I aspire to be. You name it – he can do it. He can play any instrument you put in front of him. He can just do it all, and that’s the kind of artist I want to be. I don’t know if I could work with him though, because everyone knows he writes his own songs. But yea, he’s who I’d want to work with.

On HelloBeautiful, we ask all our sought-after male-celebrities what they look for in women. TI said he wants a ‘respectable freak’. Soulja Boy wants a girl with ‘housewife qualities and porn star skills’. What kind of woman is Ne-Yo looking for? Is she a Miss Independent? Have you found this yet?

Both of those sound really good! But I want someone who’s realistic and easy going. I despise a woman who is insecure – who doesn’t know her worth. I need somebody who’s comfortable in her own skin. I’m a really honest person and if we’re walking down the street and I see a pretty woman, I’ll say it. But if you say, “What?! [Does] that mean I’M not pretty?!” Nah… I don’t do that. I don’t like that invisible leash. If I’m with you, then I’m with you. If you can understand that, we can rock forever.

We saw your “A Milli” video on YouTube. Do you think rapping is next for you?

You know, that was something that happened accidentally. My studio is very comfortable; we get in there and just chill. We’ll be in there and be hanging out. We pulled up all the different versions of “A Milli” and my manager was like ‘yo, make ur own version!’ I didn’t know he was gonna take it and send it to DJ clue, who was the first person to get a hold of it. All of a sudden it’s everywhere! People thought it was a Chris Brown diss and I was like whoa whoa, what? No, it was just fun. I don’t think this is the next move, but I don’t like to limit myself, so who knows.

We all know music is your life. Performing, writing, creating. But do you have any hobbies that people might be surprised to learn about?

Everybody thinks I’m this smooth gentleman dude. Im definitely a gentleman, I will say that. But I’m actually a nerd. Give me some japanimation and sci-fi. I’d say I’m a talented star wars nerd. A lot of ppl don’t know about that me. My favorite japanimation is Ninja Scroll. Look it up.

Other than the hits out on the radio and your album, The Year of the Gentleman, is there anything you’re working on that fans should keep an eye out for?

John Legends album out there I have a song on there. JHud’s album is out. Spotlight is mine. She might have kept others too. Pussycat Dolls. Usher, Ciara, Monica, LeToya Luckett, Brandy, Marilyn Manson, Whitney Houston, Chrisette Michele, Mario… I’m definitely keeping very busy.

For 2024’s iteration of MadameNoire and HelloBeautiful’s annual series Women to Know, we knew we wanted to celebrate the people who help make the joys of film and television possible. To create art is to create magic. This year, we spotlight Hollywood Executive’s changing the face of cinema.