Keke Palmer Graces January Cover of ESSENCE
Nino Muñoz

To kick off the new year, ESSENCE spotlighted 21-year-old Keke Palmer, who is brilliantly stepping into a new chapter of her life.

The former child star, who captured our hearts in Akeelah and the Bee, is now all grown up and making major career moves. Building off the momentum of 2013’s VH1’s biopic, CrazySexyCool: The TLC Story, in which she played Chili, Palmer took on a role that made history and raised her status as an actress, playing the first Black Cinderella on Broadway.

“I know that the role of Cinderella is primarily for a Caucasian girl, but it didn’t stop me from going in and it didn’t stop them from seeing me,” says Palmer. “There is a bit of intimidation. You think about Denzel, Viola Davis, and you think, Only great people can do Broadway. That was the scariest thing about it, but I’m the type who thrives on pressure.”

And her history-making doesn’t end there. In the new year, Palmer’s BET talk show, Just Keke, will be syndicated by Telepictures, making her the youngest host to have her own talk show.

On a personal note, Palmer is embracing this transitional moment. After a recent breakup, she felt lost and alone. But with some guidance from her father, quality time with her mother/manager and plenty of prayer, she came out on top.

“I realized that I’m a lot freer of a spirit. That was the beginning of me standing up for myself.” She continues: “I would love to have somebody but this is such a great time in my life, in my career. I really am liking myself.”

We are too, Keke!

For more on how Keke Palmer responded to her nude images being hacked, why she takes social media sabbaticals, how she stays positive no matter what—”I sometimes have an issue of wanting everybody to have that positive outlook, but you can’t change the way anybody else is gonna think”— and more, pick up the January issue of ESSENCE, on newsstands now.