Queen Latifah
Credit: Robert Voets/CBS

Founded in 1997 by Carlos de Abreu to recognize excellence in filmmaking, the Hollywood Film Awards ceremony is arguably the beginning of awards season. And the event has remained one of the industry’s best-kept secrets—until Friday. Now in its 18th year, the Hollywood Film Awards is finally making its broadcast debut.

Queen Latifah is hosting the ceremony, which will hand out 18 awards on air, tonight at the Hollywood Palladium. She will be joined by stars such as Reese Witherspoon, Michael Keaton, and Julianne Moore, who have received early buzz for Wild, Birdman, and Still Alice, respectively.

In advance of tonight’s show, Latifah tells Entertainment Weekly her thoughts on awards season and what to expect from the Hollywood Film Awards’ inaugural broadcast.

EW: The Golden Globes, the SAG Awards, and the Academy Awards, among many others, will follow this show the next few months. How do the Hollywood Film Awards compare?

Queen Latifah: They all have unique characteristics. Is it something that’s being voted on by a particular body, is it the press, is it the critics, is it the people? They all have a different flow based on that, but I think they’re all important. Each one of those award shows has a group of people voting for those actors or producers or directors. They are the people who watch movies and enjoy movies, so they are the people who should dictate who should be honored or recognized.

This is the first year that The Hollywood Film Awards is being broadcast on television. Is there added pressure for you as the host? What does this mean for the show at large?

I don’t think there’s added pressure for me. It’s really just time to bring it to television, bring it to the public, bring it to the people. CBS is the peoples’ network. I’m just happy to be a part of it, happy to be the one to kick it off and let the world know. Really, bringing these films to the attention of the public. A lot of them are kind of new, and some of us have seen them, but the public hasn’t. You’ll see where the tide goes tonight and what stuff you need to be checking out.

You’ve hosted award shows in the past, including the People’s Choice Awards and BET Awards. How did you prepare this time? Were there any hosts, maybe Ellen DeGeneres or Neil Patrick Harris, that you took inspiration from?

I’ve taken inspiration from all of them. I think [DeGeneres and Harris] are great hosts—totally different, though. It really depends on the show, and what the vibe is for that show. Each show has its own tone. I think the room is going to dictate what the vibe is going to be.

Tonight, then, will you be playing off the audience, setting the tone that way? What can we expect from the evening?

It’s not really for me to hijack the thing and take over, although I may. I’m not saying I won’t do that. People are going to get the tone and the pulse of what’s happening in this room by everyone in this room, and they’ll see what it’s like. It’s going to be a lot of fun. People are going to be drinking, relaxing, chit chatting, and just kind of going crazy and celebrating. It’s like a big party that everyone in the world gets to come to.

The Hollywood Film Awards airs at 8 p.m. (live ET/delayed PT) on CBS.