John Legend

The crowd-pleasing crooner on his favorite song, playing Las Vegas on New Year’s Eve and how he’s remained grounded

John Legend has worked with some of the biggest names in music, from Alicia Keys to Janet Jackson. He owns nine Grammy Awards, three of which followed the release of his multiplatinum debut album Get Lifted. He’s performed at the pregame show for the Super Bowl, as well as the halftime show for the NBA All-Star game. And his girlfriend is supermodel Chrissy Teigen.

About the only thing Legend hasn’t accomplished in his rise to stardom? Playing Las Vegas on New Year’s Eve. And now he’s about to check that off his list, too, as he takes a break from working on his upcoming album to stage a concert at the Pearl in the Palms (10 p.m., tickets start at $99).

Legend, who recently recorded a duet with Mariah Carey for her new Christmas album, promises something “special” for his New Year’s Eve show, which happens to double as a belated birthday performance (he turns 33 on Dec. 28).

How exciting is it to be playing Vegas on New Year’s Eve?

Vegas is the epicenter of New Year’s now. Where else can you go? It is either Vegas, Miami or New York. We’re excited to come. My girlfriend has family in Vegas, so we … spend quite a bit of time there. It’s a fun town … [and] we’re going to have a great time ringing in 2012 with some good soul music.

Tell us about your collaboration with Mariah Carey.

She’s been awesome to work with. It is an original song that she had already recorded but we redid it. It is called, “When Christmas Comes,” and she wrote it with James Poyser, whom I worked with when we played with The Roots. She wrote it with him last year, and she’s putting it on a re-release for her [Merry Christmas II You] album.

We had a great time shooting the video at her house—Nick [Cannon, Carey’s husband] was there, and a lot of family and friends were around creating that holiday vibe a month early.

What song that you’ve recorded is your most favorite?

It’s hard. I have new songs that I’m really excited about that no one knows yet, but I think one of my best songwriting examples will be on the next album. The song is called “All of Me.” It strikes an emotional chord, kind of in a similar way that “Ordinary People” did when it first came out. Everyone that has heard it, their emotional reactions have been really strong. It’s about loving someone with all their flaws, all their imperfections.

What’s the one song on your iPod that’s on repeat?

Oh, this is going to sound narcissistic, but it is one of my own songs right now because I’m focused on my album. A lot of times what I’m listening to, when I’m making my own album, is my music; I’m tweaking, editing and deciding which songs belong [on] the album. Right now my favorite is this song that I wrote with Dave Tozer called “Star.” I keep playing it on repeat.

You’ve always handled fame well. How have you avoided getting a big head?

I think every artist has to have an outside belief in themself. You have to have a certain audacity to believe that what you are doing is special and what you have to contribute is special—and I’ve had that since before I was famous. I think part of what helped me not go nuts when I got to this position was that it happened when I was 26 years old. It is harder for people when they are kids—for them to adjust into adulthood and to retain some level of normalcy [when] they haven’t lived a normal life.

What places do you like to visit when you’re in Las Vegas?

There are a lot of really good chefs putting quality restaurants there. We like Joël Robuchon, and we just ate at STK the other day, and that was good. We also like Lotus of Siam. I just look at the menu and see what strikes my fancy. I eat a lot of fish.

What’s your New Year’s resolution?

I don’t do resolutions, but my goal for the next three to six months is to make the best album of my life. Just know that I’m working hard on this album; that is my main focus right now. I’m excited—it really can be my best album so far. Hopefully [my fans] will enjoy it.

Fill in the blanks for the following:

I’m at my best …

When I’m onstage.

Vegas inspires me to …


You can catch me sleeping in …

Oh, nothing [laughs].

My biggest pet peeve is …


Before every performance, I always …

Eat some roasted chicken—maybe that’s my good-luck ritual, my roasted chicken. That’s my favorite thing to eat right before I go onstage.

I can’t get enough …

Soul food. I love soul food.

Lately I’ve been cooking …

From Todd English’s cookbook. I don’t cook very much, but I made the lamb lollipops, crab cakes and caprese salad. It was a good dinner.

Today’s music makes me …

Cringe! Some of it is good, but there’s a lot of cringe-worthiness. It makes me sad sometimes.

My guilty pleasure is …

Football! I watch it way too much.

My favorite team is …

Ohio State.

The last book or magazine I picked up was …

I read The New Yorker a lot, which was the last magazine I read, and the last book was Class Warfare: Inside the Fight to Fix America’s Schools (Simon & Schuster, 2011) by Steven Brill. It’s about education reform.

My best childhood memory is …

The things that I usually remember the most are related to music, [like] performing onstage for certain events. I remember quite a few of those cool moments in my childhood that told me I was born to do this kind of thing.

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