Above: Reba and the cast
She's the spitfire musician who took over Broadway, the record holder for the most Academy of Country Music Awards for top female vocalist, and the star of a new (and surprisingly gay family-friendly) ABC TV series on Friday nights. Created by Dave Stewart (one half of the Eurythmics) and costarring lesbian comic Lily Tomlin and Sara Rue, Malibu Country offers McEntire as a divorced country music singer who moves her family from Nashville to Malibu, Calif. So far, it's given us many on-screen gays and won many LGBT fans.
The Advocate: Your last TV series, Reba, featured you as a strong woman finding your footing after a divorce. Malibu Country is different, of course, but it still features you as a strong divorced woman starting over. Are you drawn to those roles, or are they just drawn to you?
Reba McEntire: It was just a coincidence that it was like that. Mainly, what drew me into this story was the no-nonsense sensibilities of my mother, played by Lily Tomlin. She really grabbed my attention because that’s the way I was raised. With my mama saying, "No! You cannot do that!" And children knowing their boundaries, knowing what they can and cannot do, and the parent being the leader. And there weren’t any other television shows out there like that, so I really did, I was drawn to that circumstance.
There’s a great moment in the first episode with Lily Tomlin’s character, in fact. She's carefree and she’s smoking pot and all, but then there’s a great moment when she turns around and says, "Look, Reba it happened to me." It turned comedy into drama. Malibu Country creator Dave Stewart said that you and Lily together are "just fireworks."
What’s it like working with Lily?
Well, it’s wonderful working with Lily. She’s just so much fun. She’s down-to-earth. She’s not a diva at all. She’s not pretentious. She’s always working on honing her craft and making sure that her character comes to life and [finding out] what’s the background. She’s always studying it, and I’ve learned so much from her.
Well, Dave also compares you to comedy legend Lucille Ball.
How does that comparison make you feel?
Well, wonderful, my gosh, she’s a legend. She’s the best. She’s wonderful.
I was amazed at the amount of gay-friendly content in Malibu Country. Do you think that would be different if the show were actually set in Nashville?
No, no, I don’t think so. I’ve got a huge gay following, and they’ve always been very supportive, so I wouldn’t be surprised if there weren’t any difference between Nashville and LA.
Your daughter on the show has a gay friend, Sage, who she makes out with on the first episode, and then a lesbian friend, Lily, who we haven’t seen yet. Will we see more of those kids?
Oh, yeah, they’re definitely in the show.
And Jai Rodriguez, who was in Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, shows up as a recording industry assistant who gives you some advice. Is there a chance we’ll see him become your assistant on the show — or was that a onetime thing?
No, it’s not a onetime thing. Jai will definitely be a part of show. He is an incredible actor. Great in person to get to work with, and I smother him to pieces. He was doing Rent on Broadway when I was doing Annie Get Your Gun in 2001 on Broadway. It’s really funny how our paths have run parallel for so long. I was auditioning the people for his role of the assistant of the record executive, and when he came in it was just clear he was the one for the part. Jai’s incredible. Yeah, he’s in a lot of episodes.
Your characters have really great chemistry together on the show.
They so do, don’t they?
I love the song at the end of the first episode, "The New Me." Did you cowrite that?
Yes. Dave Stewart and myself and my husband-manager [Narvel Blackstock], we wrote that.
Will you be singing in each episode of Malibu?
Not each episode. So far, I’m in two episodes singing, and we’re just going to try to incorporate more music when it calls for it. Not just to have the music there, but when it calls for it. It’s got to be honest.
When you did Reba you had to take a little bit of a musical hiatus while you worked on the show. So this kind of allows you to keep performing.
Yes! And also the schedule is so that Lily and I can go do our performances on the weekend. You know, she does her comedy routine when she flies off and does her work, and I can do mine too, so this schedule of TV is just perfect for us.
At one point Reba was the WB’s highest-rated show among 18-to-49-year-olds. Do you think the same audience will be tuning in for Malibu Country, or do you think it’s a whole different audience?
No, I think the same audience will be — and then more. There was over 10 and a half million people watching the show Friday night [the night it premiered] so we’re thrilled with the outcome so far.
And that’s tough on a Friday night too.
Yeah, but I think it’s a wholesome show — it’s a family show so the family can sit in there at dinner and watch the TV show together. Last Man Standing starts us off. It’s a wonderful night of family entertainment.
Malibu Country feels like one of those crossover shows that’s neither red state nor blue state. It's one of those shows everybody can watch.
Yeah, we’re kind of Switzerland. [Laughs]