After a five year absence, Reba McEntire returns to host the 53rd Academy of Country Music Awards live from Las Vegas’ MGM Grand Garden Arena on April 15 on CBS.
The move comes at a busy time for the country superstar, who, in addition to being up for female vocalist of the year at the ACMs, is coming off Grammy Award and Dove Award wins for her gospel album, Sing It Now: Songs of Faith. She and longtime friends, Brooks & Dunn, continue their successful residency at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. Plus, she is the first female to portray KFC’s iconic founder Colonel Harland Sanders in the brand’s celebrity colonel campaign.
As she tells Billboard, she has plenty on her plate, including a new country album in the works and, potentially, some kind of reunion with the cast mates of her beloved sitcom, Reba, which ended in 2007. As she prepares for her ACM return, she says it all started with saying yes to the dress.
How did your return to hosting the ACMs happen?
My manager, Clarence Spalding, came to me and said that [ACM executive producer] Rac Clark had called him and said, “Would Reba be interested in hosting the ACMs again?” I looked at Clarence and said, “I never thought I’d say this, but I had missed hosting the ACMs so much. Yes, I would love to.” It’s always a situation with me of can I get the dresses that I want. I said “Clarence, before I say yes, let me make sure I can get my outfits in order.” And it didn’t take long to have that confirmed and then we went right into, “Yes, let’s do it,” and logistics.
I told Rac, “When you’re out in the audience watching the show, you’re like what are they doing backstage? I wish I was back there. Are they running long? Are they running short? Any problems? Anything I can help with?” And I told him, I really very grateful to come back. I’m really going to have a lot of fun with it.
Is Col. Sanders going to make an appearance?
You never know where that rascal is going to show up (laughs) I haven’t packed a white suit. I bet the Colonel is going to stay in Kentucky a little longer. He’s got a lot of work coming on.
This is your 15th year hosting the ACMs. What’s the key to being a good host?
Look relaxed, if you are or not. Look like you’re having a good time. It will keep the audience relaxed and everybody in a great mood. Keep it flowing. The hardest work is making sure that everything is going to be set with our dialogue, costuming, make sure everything is ready to go before we ever walk out on stage. Be prepared, know your material and then get out there and have a wonderful time.
If I’m a nervous wreck or I’m mad, the audience can tell it immediately so it’s your responsibility as an entertainer, as a host, to go out there and have a good time. Put everybody at ease and it be the best night ever.
There will be a tribute during the show to the victims of the Route 91 Harvest mass shooting. This will be the first time that a number of fans and artists will be back in Las Vegas since the Oct. 1 shooting. How do you strike the right tone?
That is a very critical and important thing to do. We do pay tribute, we pay honor to those who were victims of that shooting and then we remind everybody that we are Americans and we do not let that shut us down. We will go on, we will have a great time that night and we’re going to have fun for them and remember them.
You sound very strong and forceful when you talk about it.
We’ve got to be strong. Americans are strong. We’ve been through a lot of stuff where people have tried to tear us down and make us weaker, but we are not. We will gather up and huddle up. We will hug. We’ll remember, we’ll cry and we’ll move forward, but never will we ever forget what happened.
When the ACM nominations were on March 1, you told Entertainment Tonight you wanted to duet with Dolly Parton on the show. How is that coming?
No, that didn’t work out…It’s going to be a great night of entertainment, but unfortunately I’m not going to get to perform with Dolly. I am going to perform though.
There are no females in the entertainer of the year category. What’s up with that?
That’s disappointing to me. I’m always fighting for the girls to get in there for entertainer of the year. It’s also cyclical in the business. I’ve been in it 42 years. I’ve seen it go very male dominated, very female dominated, very contemporary, very traditional and I think it’s fixing to come around to where the girls are going to take over again and I’m looking forward to that.
Which women do you think could lead the way?
I got to sing with Kelsea Ballerini, Maren Morris. Brandy Clark, [who is] a talent in her songwriting and singing also. There’s a lot of kids that I’m really excited about coming on also, I think it’s time for the girls to take over. I do love Ashley McBryde. I love [Kacey Musgraves] too.
You’re coming off Grammy and Dove award wins for Sing it Now: Songs of Faith. Will there be a Volume 2?
I don’t know. I haven’t planned that right now. I’ve had a lot of requests from fans who say, “Please do another album.” It’s all in the timing. I think I’m ready to do another country album. I’m looking for songs right now. Maybe later on. There are so many great gospel songs, but I hit my favorites on this first round.
You’ve been teasing us about a possible reboot of Reba, including posting a photo in Instagram last week of you with your former cast mates Melissa Peterman and Christopher Rich. What are the odds of that happening?
It won’t happen in the near future. I know that for sure. Maybe in a year that might could be something we could work on. I am totally booked up for this year and I know Melissa’s very busy and JoAnna [Garcia Swisher] and Steve [Howey] and Chris have got things they’re working on. Hopefully in the next two years, we’ll be able to do something with it. I would love to get back with them, whether it’s a TV movie or a reboot, whatever, just to get to work with those people would be a dream come true for me.
It seems like it’s a good time to be Reba.
I’m loving life. I”m having a great time. I’m working. My personal life is great. As they say, I’m batting 1000 right now, and I give credit to God and thank Him very much for all the things I’m getting to do at the level I’m getting to do it. I’ve always played hard and worked hard and that’s never stopped, but it seems to me that things are really clicking and I’m just having a blast with it.