Making the transition from a chart topping musical artist selling out arenas and playing night after night in front of a sea of adoring fans to an A-list movie star lighting up the big screen is no easy feat. For an elite group of celebrities it can be a smooth transition, and for others, not so much. Here I have compiled a list of the top five celebrities who have braved the transition from musician to actor.
Few celebs have been able to make as smooth of a transition from musician to actor as Will Smith has; he practically created the blueprint! He first kept us entertained in the late 1980’s as one half of the musical duo DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince, cranking out such hits as “Parents Just Don’t Understand,” for which he won the first ever Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance. Soon after we welcomed him into our homes every week when he starred in a television series loosely based on his own experience as “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.” He later set his sights on the big screen, landing the lead roles in blockbuster hits such as Bad Boys (1995), and Independence Day (1996), and showed off his dramatic acting chops in 2006’s The Pursuit of Happyness. He received rave reviews for his performance in that film and further cemented his A-list status when he went on to become the first Hip Hop artist nominated for an Academy Award that same year. He now commands roughly $20 million USD a movie, and counts people such as Tom Cruise and Oprah Winfrey as close personal friends. He has proved himself to be just as successful whether he is rapping about “Summertime,” or dominating the summer box office.
It pains me to include her on this list because Jennifer is my girl, but I know that no one can forget the catastrophe that was Gigli. This 2003 cinematic gem was “bizarre and clumsily plotted…just a mess,” according to Rotten Tomatoes. Surely this one film does not void out any of her any successes. Her debut album, 1999’s On the 6, went six times platinum! She was the first Latina actress to be paid $1 million USD for a movie role in Selena (1997)! She has toured across multiple continents, launched a successful line of perfumes, and even has a line of clothes available in Kohl’s. But there is little that we can do to wipe Gigli from our minds; it even won her a Razzie for worst actress. Despite this fact, she is still able to command nearly $15 million USD per movie; so it looks like the joke is on us!
Many of us first remember Mark Wahlberg as the hot younger brother of New Kids on the Blocks’ Donnie Walhberg. In fact, it was his brother Donnie who used his connections to help secure him a record contract. Mark filled his role as the bad boy rapper who danced around in his boxers as part of his group Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch. It was the way he filled those boxers that soon landed him a modeling contract with Calvin Klein. However, his rap career was short-lived as his second album was a total flop. He decided to try his hand at acting, and took on a disturbing role in Fear (1996) as a violent, obsessed stalker opposite a young Reese Witherspoon. He landed his big break as Dirk Diggler in Boogie Nights (1997) and soon took on more dramatic roles in films such as The Perfect Storm (2000) and more recently Contraband (2012). He showed of his comedy skills in 2012’s Ted, and received positive critical reviews for his role in the 2010/11 film The Fighter. He solidified his superstar status when he received a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his work in The Departed (2006). He has further expanded his resume with his work as executive producer of “Boardwalk Empire,” “In Treatment,” and the hit series “Entourage,” which was loosely based on his own experiences in Hollywood. He has certainly come a long way from strutting his stuff in his tighty whiteys; although I’m certain few would mind if he decided to reprise that role (just as long as he leaves the mike at home).
With a voice like hers, and the attention it has garnered her, it is difficult to understand why she would want to attempt anything else since she is seemingly destined to sing. Unfortunately, not even destiny could stop her from making her acting debut in the ill-fated 2001 film Glitter, which loosely traced her real-life trajectory to fame. With a 7% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, where it was labeled “one of the worst films of all time,” is was definitely not her shining moment. She received scathing reviews for that movie and, after suffering a breakdown, decided to stick to music for a little while. While the film was bad, it did nothing to underscore her successes. Her 1990 self-titled debut album went multi-platinum, spawned four consecutive singles, and led to her taking home the Grammy for Best New Artist and Best Female Vocalist. She is currently the only artist since the Beatles to have so many number one singles and albums! Sitting comfortably at the top of the charts, she decided to try her hand at acting once again. She took on a small role in the 2009 drama Precious for director Lee Daniels, where she played New York social worker Ms. Weiss. This character was the complete opposite of the real-life Mariah; in fact she underwent a “make-under” to play the unglamorous social worker. She was barely recognizable and went on to receive rave reviews for her work in the film. So perhaps when you strip away all the “glitter,” she really can do anything!
Proof that humble beginnings, hard work, and a helluva lot of talent can get you far in life; Jennifer Hudson is the ultimate example of a musician making a successful transition into the world of acting. Hudson grew up singing in church, performing in musical productions on a Disney Cruise ship, and even worked at a Burger King before auditioning for “America Idol.” Ultimately she was the 6th runner-up on the third season of Idol, but she soon became the perfect example of how not winning the title is not necessarily the end of a childhood dream. Hudson went to land the role of Effie Melody White in 2006’s Dreamgirls, beating out 782 other actresses, including fellow Idol competitor Fantasia Barrino. She was able to outshine both Beyoncé and Eddie Murphy, which is no easy task! She received rave reviews and won a slew of awards including a Critic’s Choice Award, Golden Globe Award, SAG Award, and the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. She is also only one of fifteen actors to win an Oscar for their film debut. In 2008 she released her self-titled debut album, which was certified gold by the Recording Association of America, and won her the Grammy for Best R&B album. Jennifer Hudson has certainly proven herself worthy of all her successes, and made her mark as a multi-talented musician turned actor.
It is no easy feat making the transition from musician to actor, but these people have proven that it can (or can’t in some cases) be done!