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Keke Palmer Takes PEOPLE Behind Her 'Very Rat Pack' Look at the NAACP Image Awards (Exclusive)

Get all the details on her iconic tuxedo, her date for the night and more

<p>Kenya Rucker</p> Keke Palmer getting ready for the NAACP Image Awards

Kenya Rucker

Keke Palmer getting ready for the NAACP Image Awards

The NAACP Image Awards are a special show for Keke Palmer.

The actress, 30, tells PEOPLE that this awards show, in particular, feels a bit like a "family reunion" every time she comes because she gets to see so many people who mean so much to her year after year.

At this year's show on March 16, she brought PEOPLE along for the occasion, where she was nominated for four awards, including entertainer of the year. Ahead, she shares the story behind her incredible tuxedo for the night — including the inspiration behind it — the sweet story behind her date and why this awards show means so much to her.

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Boundary-Pushing Style

<p>Kenya Rucker</p> Keke Palmer getting ready for the NAACP Image Awards

Kenya Rucker

Keke Palmer getting ready for the NAACP Image Awards

"When we were discussing direction for my look for the NAACP Image Awards, I had a vision in mind. I always like each red carpet look to be a moment and tell a story. It makes every time I get my photo taken feel like it has a bigger purpose. This time, for the NAACP Image Awards, I was nominated for entertainer of the year so I wanted to page homage to all of those incredible boundary-pushing entertainers who have inspired me from the start of my career: Sammy Davis Jr., Tyler Perry, Carol Burnett, Lucille Ball."

Joining the Rat Pack

<p>Kenya Rucker</p> Keke Palmer getting ready for the NAACP Image Awards

Kenya Rucker

Keke Palmer getting ready for the NAACP Image Awards

"We wound up going with a Tom Ford tuxedo jacket, shirt and bowtie, with Dolce & Gabbana pants and shoes, a red rose and, of course, a cane. Very rat pack!"

Serving Looks!

<p>Kenya Rucker</p> Keke Palmer getting ready for the NAACP Image Awards

Kenya Rucker

Keke Palmer getting ready for the NAACP Image Awards

"This is my stylist Seth Chernoff (in concert with Sergio Hudson) putting finishing touches on the look. I love the way it came together. I felt so strong, timeless and full of the inspirations who have gotten me to where I am today as an artist. It was beautiful and bold, feminine and masculine all at once. We accomplished what we set out to do. This look served!"

Getting Glam

<p>Kenya Rucker</p> Keke Palmer getting ready for the NAACP Image Awards

Kenya Rucker

Keke Palmer getting ready for the NAACP Image Awards

"I have to get my hair and makeup done so often, it is really fun when my team is ready to have some fun with me during the process. These artists (Kee on hair [top of page] and Kenya Alexis on makeup) are very very talented but are also great collaborators who are up for back-and-forth discussion and feedback. I personally feel like no idea is a bad idea and I welcome everyone’s opinions, and it is really nice to work with a glam team who encourage that energy too."

A Very Special Plus-One

<p>Kenya Rucker</p> Keke Palmer getting ready for the NAACP Image Awards

Kenya Rucker

Keke Palmer getting ready for the NAACP Image Awards

"It always feels like we have so much time when I sit down in the chair, yet it’s a race to the finish line at the end every time! I wanted to snap a few photos with my very special date to this year’s awards. We ran out of time to get set up in the room, so my awesome photographer Dalvin Adams had to literally set up in the hotel driveway to take pictures for all of two minutes. We got the shots! My date was the one and only Larry Palmer, my dad, who, along with my mom has been one of my biggest supporters. I couldn’t be where I am without my parents or their sacrifices and passion behind me. My dad had accompanied me to these same awards when I was a little girl so this felt like a full-circle moment and was very special."

A Moment for This Look

<p>Kenya Rucker</p> Keke Palmer getting ready for the NAACP Image Awards

Kenya Rucker

Keke Palmer getting ready for the NAACP Image Awards

"I truly felt SO good in this look. I remember going down in this elevator, trying to be present in the moment and thanking God for all of the blessings in my life. I truly love what I do."

Posing with Dad!

<p>Kenya Rucker</p> Keke Palmer at the NAACP Image Awards

Kenya Rucker

Keke Palmer at the NAACP Image Awards

"Here I am with my dad at the awards. He was such a great date!"

Stars of the Show

<p>Kenya Rucker</p> Keke Palmer at the NAACP Image Awards

Kenya Rucker

Keke Palmer at the NAACP Image Awards

"Larry had excellent commentary and he is hilarious, so was cracking jokes the whole time in between awards. My parents were actors themselves and did a lot of community theater. They really instilled that theatricality in me and when we are together our humor is larger than life."

Family Reunion

<p>Kenya Rucker</p> Keke Palmer at the NAACP Image Awards

Kenya Rucker

Keke Palmer at the NAACP Image Awards

"On the red carpet I was interviewed by Kyla Pratt, who was a huge inspiration to me growing up through today. The NAACP is particularly fun for me because I get to see so many friends and colleagues who feel like family to me at this point. It's like a big family reunion."

Backstage

<p>Kenya Rucker</p> Keke Palmer at the NAACP Image Awards

Kenya Rucker

Keke Palmer at the NAACP Image Awards

"Here I am backstage, ready to go on to present two awards with Lil’ Rel."

Making Memories

<p>Kenya Rucker</p> Keke Palmer at the NAACP Image Awards

Kenya Rucker

Keke Palmer at the NAACP Image Awards

"We had a lot of fun together! He is hilarious so were just joking around."

Inspirations

<p>Kenya Rucker</p> Keke Palmer at the NAACP Image Awards

Kenya Rucker

Keke Palmer at the NAACP Image Awards

"What can I say about this photo other than 'WOW.' To be honored among these true icons of our time is a complete thrill for me. The accomplishments and impact each of these legends has made on our world inspire me daily."

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