Brooks, McEntire Are People’s Choices

PASADENA, Calif. – Country music played a major role Sunday night (Jan. 13) in an awards setting weighted heavily toward Hollywood.

Garth Brooks and Faith Hill took two of three music trophies handed out at the 28th annual People’s Choice Awards, while Reba McEntire snatched the honor for favorite female performer in a new television series, recognizing her work in the WB sitcom Reba.

Brooks took the 12th People’s Choice award of his career, tying him with Kenny Rogers for the most honors among country stars in the show’s history. However, unless Brooks becomes a contender in another category, this is likely his final People’s Choice victory, since he has retired from touring.

“I love this awards show,” he said backstage, “‘cause it’s so low pressure. It’s like a celebration more than, ‘Oh, my God, what’s gonna happen, good or bad?’ This is our last year for this, and if we’re here again in some other category, then so be it.”

Brooks, in fact, has been nothing short of dominant in the category for male musical performers, where he has racked up 10 of his 12 trophies. Only Ricky Martin, who shook his bon bon into the winner’s circle two years ago, has taken the category since Brooks first earned a People’s Choice nod in 1992.

Hill repeated as favorite musical performer, out-polling Jennifer Lopez and Britney Spears. An ill-timed bathroom trip, however, could have prevented at-home viewers of the CBS telecast from hearing about her win. She was mentioned almost as an after-thought at the close of the two-hour program. Hill did not attend the show — no surprise, since she also stayed in Nashville Wednesday (Jan. 9) when she won a trophy at the American Music Awards in Los Angeles.

Only host Kevin James (The King of Queens) was on camera more than McEntire. Dressed in a spangly, flag-themed top and red dress, she sang “I’m a Survivor,” the theme song from her TV series, then walked off with her award, supporting her transition from singer to actor.

It marked the ninth People’s Choice award of McEntire’s career, tying her with longtime friend Barbara Mandrell for third place among country winners in the event’s history. It also placed her in a unique category, as she joined Mandrell and Dolly Parton among country singers who’ve won TV trophies at the People’s Choice ceremony.

“I watched Dolly, I watched Barbara,” she reflected backstage at the Pasadena Civic Center. “[Barbara’s] Get to the Heart Tour, I think, I wore the Beta tape out. I am still such a fan of both of those ladies — friends, too, I’m glad to say — and they have influenced me tremendously, not only on hard work, but staying as they are inside. They’re sweet ladies, and they’re my heroes.”

McEntire turned a major corner in her career in the past year. While she debuted as an actress in the 1990 sci-fi picture Tremors, her stint last year on Broadway in Annie Get Your Gun solidified her reputation as a thespian. Doing the same role on a daily basis, watching the audience react differently to a change in inflection, helped her understand the role better. But even her recent acting advances, she said last night, came from her musical foundation.

“I drew from my experiences of singing songs and playing that character during that song [for] 3-1/2 minutes and flew by the seat of my pants, and here we are,” she observed. “I’ve never had an acting lesson, so it’s pure instinct and watching and imitating great actors and actresses.”

McEntire and Brooks have shared the spotlight often at the People’s Choice Awards. For seven years, from 1992-1998, the Oklahomans reigned as favorite female and male musical performers in balloting that purports to reflect the tastes of real people rather than industry insiders who have a vested interest in the outcome of voting.

First broadcast in 1975, the People’s Choice Awards are determined by a survey of the American public by the Gallup Organization of Princeton, N.J., a firm better known for its opinion polls regarding presidential elections and political issues.

Country’s standing in this year’s poll likely surprised some people, though Brooks was not among them.

“I don’t know if anybody’s ever dove into where these [polling] people actually call, but if it’s a reach of Texas or somewhere in the Midwest, there’s a good chance we’re represented pretty well,” he noted.

Indeed, country had solid representation even beyond the winners. There were no pop acts in the male musical performer category, where Brooks defeated George Strait and Tim McGraw . The Dixie Chicks were in the running for favorite music group or band, an honor that went to ‘N Sync. Even the boy band has a country connection: they joined Alabama in the 1998 re-make of their hit, “God Must Have Spent a Little More Time on You.”

The seating chart for the event placed Brooks directly behind Frasier star Kelsey Grammer, who called the People’s Choice trophy “the heaviest of all the awards.” Made of lead crystal, the tear-shaped piece went to such performers as Grammer, Julia Roberts, Jennifer Aniston, Ray Romano, Damon Wayans, Eddie Murphy and Tom Hanks, who picked up two.

Country’s strong performance in an awards show that pays more attention to film and TV than music, should remind critics of the genre that while it may not be at the peak it enjoyed in the early ‘90s, country remains a significant idiom for America’s heartland.

“For a little while there, country music was very, very popular,” McEntire noted. “It’s kinda not as popular right now. It’s kinda taken its turn. [But] I’ve seen that happen three times. It’s all coming back.”