FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
I'm Farai Chideya and this is News and Notes. Queen Latifah tells the New York Times she doesn't care if people think she's gay. Jennifer Hudson's debut album comes in at number two on the Billboard charts, and Russell Simmons tells us why so many people are plugged in to what celebrities say about voting. We've got Newsweek magazine's Allison Samuels sifting the rumors from the truth. Hey, Allison.
Ms. ALLISON SAMUELS (National Correspondent, Newsweek Magazine): Hi. How are you doing?
CHIDEYA: Hi. I'm doing great. So earlier in the week, we chatted with hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons about his various efforts - and he does wear a lot of hats - to get out the vote. And we also asked him about his call to celebrities to encourage voting even though some of his friends are disqualified for various reasons. Here's his response.
Mr. RUSSELL SIMMONS (Co-founder, Def Jam): Each one of us does the best we can with what resources we have. Many of us only have celebrity and we use it the best way that we know how. You know, every person who has a good intention counts. And if they don't make it to the poll themselves, but they inspire others, then good.
CHIDEYA: So, what do you think about that? Some celebrities have been either disqualified for say, felony, voting issues, or just not so enthusiastic about voting and to bother registering, but have done PSAs. It sounds like Russell is saying that that has value. What do you think?
Ms. SAMUELS: I think it does have value in the sense - it shows that they're - the celebrities are thinking beyond themselves, and I think that's the thing that we haven't seen over the last sort of 10 and 15 years with celebrities. I remember, famously, Eddie Murphy told Arsenio Hall that he never voted.
And I think that that's - you know, that's discouraging. He sort of said, you're so removed from the regular person and the regular world that this doesn't impact you. And I think it's interesting to have rappers like T.I. and people like that say, you know what, no, I care about you, so you need to vote.
Because you're my fan and if you're struggling, you know, it is going to have a full-circle effect on my celebrity. So I think it just shows an intelligence to say, I can't do it, but you really need to.
CHIDEYA: Now, Russell Simmons is an Obama fan. There's something very interesting. Democrats have been criticized or lauded or both for using a celebrity strategy when we asked a Republican strategist about the GOP's use of celebrities to reach out to African-Americans, we got a surprisingly candid answer.
He said, it's just not our style; if we attack Obama's use of celebrities on his campaign, we just can't turn around and use them ourselves. What do you think of the idea that, you know, celebrities for the Democrats, that's their style? Republican spokesperson saying, mm, not so much for us?
Ms. SAMUELS: Well, I actually think Democrats - and like with Obama, I know that a lot of the celebrity people who support him, it's not because he's, you know, encouraging them to support him. That is just, you know, the way it happens to turn and Hollywood has been traditionally very liberal and very Democrat. And I think, as Russell said, you have to use what you have.
But I also know that someone like Obama has been hesitant to use people like George Clooney and Tom Hanks who really wanted to come out and do more publicity for them - him - and get out there and actually get the vote. But he's been hesitant, because I think he's being careful about - you know, people sometimes can take that the wrong way.
It can help you, but it can also hurt you if you have people out there who are not at all relatable to the average person. And so I think that's a sort of tricky situation that, you know, a candidate can find himself in. But I think for liberal Hollywood, which is, you know, liberal, they've always gone for Democrats, and I don't think that's going to change.
CHIDEYA: Somebody here on staff - and I will let the guilty be guilty silently - said that Obama is going to have to appoint a minister of black persons just to control everybody who wants a favor like, I want to stay in the Lincoln White House.
I want this. I want that. Hang out with me. A minister of blackness. Do you think there should be a minister of hypocritude?
Ms. SAMUELS: Well, I actually think that Michelle that can take care of all of that. That's what I think.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. SAMUELS: I think - you know, I see Michelle - I think she can handle all those other little things that will bother her husband. I think she'll be perfectly capable of handling that. But I mean, he's going to be a different kind of president.
CHIDEYA: All of a sudden, I have an image in my mind of Michelle, just like whipping out some kung fu and knocking people side-to-side.
Ms. SAMUELS: Yeah. But I could just see her just being very clear, he can't do that. He can't do that, and he won't be doing this. I mean, I think that is going to be one of the things that, you know, she'll be very good at. So I mean, he's going to be a different kind of president.
People are going to expect different things from him, and it is going to be interesting to sort of watch how he sort of navigates that, because it's going to be tricky, probably.
CHIDEYA: What about a McCain presidency? It ain't over until it's over.
Ms. SAMUELS: Right.
CHIDEYA: If Senator McCain wins, black celebrities just go back to rhyming and singing?
Ms. SAMUELS: Yeah. I think there's not much - I mean, yeah. I don't see where black celebrities...
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. SAMUELS: Will have much to say about McCain. He just doesn't bring that excitement, that spark. The interest, I think, that sort of - you know, the creative types and the Hollywood types or whatever.
So yeah, I think they'd go back to doing what they were doing before. But you know, Obama gets them going. So...
CHIDEYA: Speaking of singing, American Idol flunky Jennifer Hudson's debut album...
Ms. SAMUELS: I think to sort of, you know, the creative types and the Hollywood types or whatever. So yeah, I think they go back to doing what they were doing before. But, you know, Obama gets them going, so…
CHIDEYA: Speaking of singing.
Ms. SAMUELS: Mm-hm.
CHIDEYA: American Idol flunky Jennifer Hudson's debut album landed at a remarkable number two on Billboard's chart.
Ms. SAMUELS: Mm.
CHIDEYA: She has the highest-rated R&B album by a woman since 2004.
Ms. SAMUELS: Yeah.
CHIDEYA: Let's listen to a little bit of her song "Spotlight."
(Soundbite of "Spotlight")
Ms. JENNIFER HUDSON: (Singing) Are you a man who loves and cherishes and cares for me? Is that true? Is that true? Is that true? Are you a guard in a prison maximum security?
Is that true? Is that true? Is that true? Do we stay home all the time cuz you want me to yourself? Is that true? Is that true? Is that true?
CHIDEYA: All right. Let's talk two things, the music and the chart. First of all, the music. Who is this for?
Ms. SAMUELS: I think it's for anybody, I think, and definitely R&B fans. I mean - you know - I mean - I think, that's the great part, this is the first really R&B album to come out to do really well on the charts by a woman, and I think, you know, it's steals Mary J. Blige fans, it's people who really just want to hear great singing with good music. And I think, you know, this album does it. That's why it did so well.
CHIDEYA: What's the significance of it doing this well? Does it mark a shift in people's buying patterns of music, or just the cheese of fan of people?
Ms. SAMUELS: I think people really like her, but I think she also brings a shift, because she, again, is not that traditional look, she's not the video girl with the slim, you know, figure. She's, you know, a regular-looking girl with, you know, regular features, and I think if she can bring that trend back of - you know, as I tell people, if Chaka Khan or Aretha Franklin would've come out today, they wouldn't have careers, because they - you know, we just don't support people like that anymore.
So, I think if Jennifer Hudson can come back and just sort of change that, it's amazing. And I think that's what she's doing slowly.
CHIDEYA: She is in "The Secret Life of Bees" with Queen Latifah, who we're going to talk a little about in a moment. But some people were saying her acting skills - her acting chops, not so great. What's the evidence so far?
Ms. SAMUELS: "Sex and the City" I didn't think she was great. I have to say that I didn't - I thought she was just ill fit for that role. But with "The Secret Life of Bees," she does a little bit better, and I think that's also because of the ensemble cast and her feeling comfortable, and it just being a little bit more of her style of - you know, just her environment, I think worked a little bit better for her.
But, you know, I think she's a much better singer than she is an actress. But, you know, again, Alicia Keys, hadn't liked her before "The Secret Life of Bees" in acting, and I thought she did really well. So I think it's just a matter of her growing to that point.
CHIDEYA: What about Queen Latifah? In a recent New York Times article, Queen Latifah says she doesn't care if people think she's gay. And since, you know, we human beings have a tendency to pry into other people's business, there has been any number of...
Ms. SAMUELS: Yeah.
CHIDEYA: Articles of speculations...
Ms. SAMUELS: Mm-hm.
CHIDEYA: Saying she's dating her trainer and, you know...
Ms. SAMUELS: Right.
CHIDEYA: This, that, and the other, and she did, to my knowledge, DJ at a gay club, at a women's club in New York City.
Ms. SAMUELS: Right.
CHIDEYA: What's the state of these rumors that she's even married, possibly, her long-time girlfriend, if that woman is her girlfriend at all, I should say?
Ms. SAMUELS: Right, right, right, right. OK. Like - you know, the state - what I love about Latifah is because she is Latifah, and she's been around for so long, and she does her thing, is that people sort of question it. But I don't think it impacts her career or her life at all, which I think is great, because that's not always the case. I mean, she's been able to really do a great job of sort of, you know, just sort of getting around a lot of those questions.
Obviously, she's been asked it, but her - she sticked to that same answer of, I don't have to answer that. You don't need to know, or you don't have to know what I'm doing in my personal life. I think those rumors are going to persist until she actually says something.
But I have a feeling she probably won't. I think, you know, particularly for African-American celebrities, this is really, really tricky to come out and say that you're gay. And I'm not saying that she is, but I'm just saying that if - that's just not something that an African-American celebrity can lightly go on and say, and expect their career to sort of remain the same. That's just - you know.
CHIDEYA: Is this similar to the don't-ask-don't-tell military policy?
Ms. SAMUELS: Pretty much. I think so. You know, because I think you can draw whatever conclusion you want from Latifah in her life. She's a beautiful girl. She's been out there for a long time, but, you know, she's just not going to talk about it, and I think as African-Americans, we all understand the difficulty of sort of telling all of your business, and how that may come back to haunt you. So I don't think we're going to hear her come out.
CHIDEYA: But she will have an album come out?
Ms. SAMUELS: She - well, yeah. She - I mean - that's the one I actually just want to see her act. I really don't want hear anymore albums from her.
CHIDEYA: You're over her music?
Ms. SAMUELS: I'm over the music. I think, you know, her time in music is gone. I think she's really, you know, worked out the acting thing really well.
CHIDEYA: OK, on that note. Thanks so much, Allison.
Ms. SAMUELS: Thank you.
CHIDEYA: That was our entertainment news guru, Newsweek magazine's international correspondent, Allison Samuels. She joined me in our studios at NPR West.
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