Alicia Keys never falls short of inspiring her fans.
During the sixth annual iHeartRadio Music Awards on Thursday night, the singer encouraged everyone to stay true to themselves while accepting this year’s Innovator award.
“Thank you so much. What a powerful, beautiful energy that’s in here tonight!” she said after hugging her husband Swizz Beatz and their sons on her way to the stage. “I feel y’all. So many amazing artists here tonight — I’m sitting and chillin’ with Taylor and Maren and we’re talking.”
Keys joked, “Actually, my son Genesis is maybe trying to take Taylor out later tonight — he’s working on it not sure how it’s gonna go but it looks pretty good right now!”
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Aww @aliciakeys son and @taylorswift13 are the cutest! #iHeartAwards2019 pic.twitter.com/0k4VXZbRUf
— iHeartRadio (@iHeartRadio) March 15, 2019
Getting serious, she said, “I gotta be honest with you — it means so much to be honored as an innovator because when I first started out, nobody was like, ‘Look at that tomboy from Hell’s Kitchen who graduated high school at 15, the one with the braids, who seems obsessed with her broken down piano … what a fantastic innovator she is.’ Nobody said that. It was like, ‘Who is that? What is she doing? What is she wearing?’ I’m telling you the — even when I first got signed it wasn’t about what new ideas and sounds can Alicia bring? It was more like, ‘How do we make her fit into this mold?’ and I think that’s what a lot of people experience in life.”
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Keys, 38, continued, “I looked at the greats — I looked at Nina Simone and Sade and John Lennon and I realized that there was nobody else like them on the planet. And I looked inside my heart and I realized that I am here to just do me. We are here do us, you know? It’s crazy … I know how it feels … all we can think about is how to be liked, and how to be accepted and we contort ourselves and change ourselves and starve ourselves and abuse ourselves and hate ourselves and instead, all we gotta do is just love who we are. That’s all we gotta do. All we really need to do is appreciate our individuality and embrace what makes us unique because in the end, you’re remembered because you’re different. Because you’re special.”
She concluded, “I’m finally more myself than I’ve ever been and even though it’s a constant process, I encourage you to continue to find the power and the beauty and the unique story in your own journey.”
Keys was chosen to receive the iHeartRadio Innovator award because of her “contributions to pop culture and social causes as an artist, songwriter, entrepreneur and activist,” according to a press release.
The 15-time Grammy winner has released six critically acclaimed studio albums, including her game-changing debut, Songs in A Minor. In 2018, she launched her nonprofit She Is the Music, which is focused on driving equality, inclusivity and opportunity for women across the music community.
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Keys is also a co-founder of Keep a Child Alive, a nonprofit which partners with grass-roots organizations to combat the physical, social and economic impact of HIV on children, their families and their communities in Africa and India.
Along with her charity work, Keys has long been an outspoken advocate for women’s rights and for going sans makeup in public.
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Past honorees of the iHeartRadio Innovator award include Pharrell Williams, Justin Timberlake, U2, Bruno Mars and Chance the Rapper.
Keys is also expected to perform. Other stars included in the show’s epic performance lineup are the Backstreet Boys, Ariana Grande, Halsey, Garth Brooks, John Legend and Kacey Musgraves.
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Most recently, Keys released new track “Raise a Man” — her first new music since her 2016 LP Here — after hosting the Grammy Awards in February.
Keys is married to fellow musician Swizz Beatz, 40. They share two sons: Egypt, 8, and Genesis, 4.
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The 2019 iHeartRadio Music Awards are broadcasting live from the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles on March 14 at 8 p.m. EST on Fox.