By Diane Anderson-Minshall
Originally published on Advocate.com November 30 2012 5:00 AM ET
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]
Above: Lily Tomlin and Reba set a spell.
Your film debut was in one of my favorite movies, Tremors.
Thank you, thank you very much. I was walking on to my dressing room here on set yesterday and there were some guys sitting on a bench taking a break and they suddenly said, "Tremors!" So that’s really funny how that pops up every once in a while.
It’s like a nice little cult following.
Since then, you’ve certainly achieved acclaim in film and TV and, as you mentioned earlier, Broadway, and of course music. Is there anything you haven’t done that you still want to do?
I just love doing what I’m doing, and I'm having a great time doing the television and touring. I’d love to go back and do Broadway again someday. I just hope to get to continue doing what I’m doing. I’m just loving life.
Well, you’re certainly one of the biggest female hit-makers in country music history. Do you keep trying to outdo yourself or do you just keep doing what you love to do?
Love what I do. The competition thing is still good for me. I love to be in competition with other folks, and it just makes it more exciting. But I’m just having a real good time, and I think that’s what the most important thing is: Just love your job, love what you’re doing. That’s the most important thing. And I do love my job.
Two of my favorite Reba songs were actually covers. and I’ve always wanted to ask you about them: Bobbie Gentry’s "Fancy" and Vickie Lawrence’s "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia." What drew you to those two songs?
I’m like you — I just loved them. My producer at the time asked if there’s a song I’d like to do a remake of and I said, "'Fancy' is one of my favorite songs." Tony Brown, my producer, said, "Oh, my gosh, that’s mine too. Let’s go do it." So we did that and he asked me later, he said, "Do you got another one?" And I said, "That’s 'The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia,'" so he said, "OK, great." So we were both fans of the songs. It worked out wonderful.
You would think with "Fancy" there would be some drag around not wanting you to do it because —
Oh, there was! There was. My producer before Tony Brown was Jimmy Bowen, and he said, "Oh, woman, you won’t be doing that song about a prostitute." I said, "Yeah, but it’s a rags-to-riches song and … that’s what I like to sing." I want to sing something people can relate to. And have feelings for. Not just about gum.
A few years ago, around your 20th wedding anniversary, you told Out magazine that the secrets to an enduring marriage were respect, faith, love, trust, and lots of patience.
I still agree to that.
What about picking the right person to begin with?
Well, that goes without saying. Narvel and I — yeah, that goes without saying. Narvel and I have worked together since 1980. He was my steel guitar player, and my admiration for him started early on because he was so good at what he did and he put his heart and soul into it and he was, he is very smart and a great idea man. And we just make a great team.
And how does that team work now, over 20 years later? Have you grown even more from there?
I think so. I think it’s deeper, it’s thicker, better. I’m pulling for him, he’s pulling for me as always. We’re just as happy as we can be.
Marriage equality was a big issue during the election. Since you’ve been married a long time, do you have a lot of gay friends asking for marital advice?
[Laughs] No, nobody asks me for marriage advice.
I’ve actually been married 22 years and people ask how we do it, and I always just say, "Stick it out. Just assume you’re going to be there every day."
Well, you know, I was married before and that just wasn’t right. And it was like if I had stayed with that and not gone out and followed my heart and followed my gut feeling, I wouldn’t be where I am today and as happy as I am with Narvel. So I guess everything works out for a reason, and it has to be each individual case.
Now is your stepson your manager?
No, no [he's] Blake Shelton’s manager. Blake is managed by my husband and my oldest son, Brandon Blackstock. My husband is my manager.
Does your husband go on tour with you?
That’s probably part of the secret of keeping it together.
Yeah, we work together, we play together. But Narvel manages me, Blake Shelton, and Kelly Clarkson.
And there are rumors that someday Kelly Clarkson might become your daughter-in-law.
Well, there’s rumors — I’ve heard that. [Laughs]
But you know nothing about it?
Well, I don’t know. Everybody said, "When are they getting married?" I said, "I haven’t been told." When are they having kids? I haven’t been told. [Laughs] So that’s for them to be doing the announcing.
OK, what are your biggest hopes for Malibu Country?
Oh, let’s see, a seven- or eight-year run. That’s what Lily was saying the other day. She said, "Can’t you just see us in our fifth or sixth year?" And I love that positiveness from her. I said, "Way to go, Lily!" She’s a spunky rascal. I just love to work with her. Love her.