Q&AA: Reba McEntire, Crooner Colonel

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Credit: Pablo Ingelesias

Reba McEntire is the first woman­—and the first music star—to play Colonel Sanders in a campaign that's nearly three-years-old. She's also the first celebrity Colonel under U.S. Chief Marketing Officer Andrea Zahumensky, who joined KFC in December. McEntire's Smoky Mountain BBQ fried chicken campaign debuted just as the Oklahoma native picked up her third Grammy. McEntire, 62, spoke with Ad Age from her home in Nashville. Our conversation has been edited.

What was your response when you first heard about the Colonel gig?

I was thrilled to pieces. I thought it was a great idea. It was something totally different than anything I'd ever done. Of course, I had questions and we went through discussions about it. Then after I saw the boards about what they had in mind, I was like, "Oh heck yeah, I'll do this. This is going to be so much fun."

Were you familiar with any of the celebrity Colonels who came before you?

Yeah, I was, and then I got online and refreshed my memory on all of it. I just thought it was really a great idea and I was very flattered to become the first female Colonel. I just really liked the whole concept.

What is it you like about it?

I think shocking everybody. They didn't think I would do something like that. That's always when it's the most fun to me, when it's a shocker, like, "Oh my gosh, I couldn't believe she did that!" I like surprising my fans.

Was there ever any conversation about making the Colonel a woman rather than playing him as a man?

They sent it to me as Reba trying to help out the Colonel. So it was kind of confusing—I'm Reba, and I'm Reba the Colonel—until we got to see the boards and when we filmed it. I get to play Reba McEntire and I get to play Reba as the Colonel.

Had you ever played a man before?

No, not to my knowledge.

Did you eat KFC growing up?

Yeah, when I was growing up in Oklahoma, I sure did, and when I went to college, and traveling all over the country. And it's really neat to go places outside the United States and see it. It's cool.

You have a lot of other businesses: a boots line, clothing, makeup and of course music. What do you spend most of your time on these days?

It changes. It's kind of hard to say what I'm working on most right now because we're also working on TV projects, developing more things in TV and movies. I spend a little time on something and I get to move to something else. And that helps me because I never get bored with anything.

Will we see you back on TV?

We're working on it. Hopefully.

Are there any projects you can talk about?

Oh Lord, no. We're in the very infancy stage of all of that. TV is a very funny animal. … It's a lot of work, a lot of hurry up and wait. Nothing we can talk about now, though.

You were Annie Oakley in "Annie Get Your Gun" in 2001. And you saw some shows when you were in New York for the Grammys. Any chance you'll be back on Broadway again?

That's another situation where it's got to be exactly the right project and subject matter. We saw three wonderful plays on Broadway, and it kind of gives me an itch to go back and do it again. I love doing Broadway. It's so much fun and the theater people, it's just the best community.

What would be a dream product for you to represent?

The product has got to be Americana. That's what I loved about KFC. I grew up with KFC. How much more Americana can you get? I was also teamed up with Cracker Barrel [on a line of items sold in its shops]. People come in and you just feel good about it. That's the kind of things I like.
When you say KFC, you get a smile
on your face. It's family-oriented,
and that's the kind of thing I like to be associated with.

Have you ever been approached by a brand that wasn't a good fit—that didn't have those qualities you're looking for?

Sure I have, and I've respectfully turned it down. I just don't do it until I have a real good gut feeling about it.

Any you can mention?

No. I wouldn't do that.

You wore a white rose to the Grammys for the "Time's Up" movement. How can people take it beyond a gesture and turn it into something that's actually impactful in the industry?

The reason I wore the white rose is because I wanted to bring into the topic that I think we need to go back to the Golden Rule and treat everybody like you want to be treated. Be kind. I think if we did that this world would be so much better off and we would just be all happier. Just treat people like you want to be treated.

Other than your KFC commercial, do you have a favorite commercial?

Oh, my KFC commercial is my favorite, absolutely. I totally love it.

Do you have a favorite commercial that's not yours?

Nothing that I can think of right now off the top of my head.

What's one thing your fans don't know about you?

There's not a thing my fans don't know about me. I am an open book. What you see is what you get. I've been very honest with my fans and they've been very loyal to me and I love them with all of my heart.

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