The morning after the MTV Video Music Awards, Ester Dean sounds like she's been punched in the neck. "Excuse my voice," says the singer-songwriter over the phone from L.A. "I woke up and was like, 'Oh, I must have been screaming.'" Dean, whose normal speaking voice sounds like a pack-a-day seductress, and in song form turns to smoky sex on ice, spent last night in the Staples Center audience cheering on performers Nicki Minaj and Rihanna -- two of the many pop stars Dean has penned hit songs for. But Dean, who's gearing up to release her solo debut in 2013, plans to have a different role at next year's show. "I see me coming out, and there's rock star lights, and I'm singing the first verse of 'How You Love It' [her album's infectious first single, a collaboration with Missy Elliott], and I'm wearing black leather overalls and the flyest fuckin' shoes."
Believe it. The Oklahoma native burst onto the scene in 2005, when legendary producer Tricky Stewart discovered Dean singing backstage at a Gap Band concert. In 2008, Dean weathered a false start as a solo artist after filming the video for her bombastic "Drop It Low" (featuring Chris Brown). "The people I was working with were calling me ugly and fat, saying, 'We're gonna hide your face so nobody can see you,'" she recalls. Dean ditched her team, signed with Interscope and Roc Nation, and continued writing hits like Rihanna's "Rude Boy," and co-writing Katy Perry's "Firework" which are among the five number-one songs Dean's credit is on (she's also scored five Grammy nominations).
This month, even before her single drops, she'll conquer the big screen; as an a capella-singing coed in Pitch Perfect, a hilarious send-up of competitive singing. Dean plays a gambling-addicted lesbian member of the Bellas, a ragtag bunch who belt out prudish renditions of old standards and are in need of a little "swag"--which Dean delivers in spades. She is, after all, the lady responsible for the Rihanna lyric, "C'mon, rude boy, can you get it up?... Is you big enough?" "I've always just been nasty," Dean says, laughing. "Rihanna's my favorite to write for, because she just says, 'Ester: Do you, bitch.'"
Pitch Perfect is out now.