Gwyneth Paltrow is getting beat up pretty dang good for her new movie Country Strong, about an alcoholic Nashville warbler struggling to stay on the charts. But although the flick flatlined, Gwynnie's vocals proved surprisingly decent, an effervescent midrange coo she also loosed in 2000's Duets and on TV's Glee, where she played Holly Holiday, a role she'll reprise this spring. Of course, Paltrow is a member of a rather rare group: actors who can sing well. Alas, a much larger demographic is actors who can sing well enough to make cats explode. Herewith, some of the best and worst thespians-turned-golden throats, with a special place reserved our all-time king of pleasurable pain.
JAMIE FOXX: Granted, the fast-talkin' comedian sounds better as Ray Charles than as himself. Nevertheless, the Oscar winner's champagne-room vibe helps sells his smooth R&B bangers.
NEIL PATRICK HARRIS: It doesn't matter if he's the belt-it-out host of every other awards show or slaying us as Bryan "Dream On" Ryan on Glee, NPH is our No. 1 man-crush. His top pop moment? A hilariously sobby end-credit version of Cat's in the Cradle on How I Met Your Mother.
JENNIFER LOPEZ: Yes, Jenny From the Block makes for tabloid fodder. And her upcoming American Idol stint has bustaroo written all over it. But time travel to any Ybor club on a Saturday night circa '97, and you'll find a mass grind-a-thon to the Latina heat of Waiting for Tonight.
Other good actor-singers? Richard Harris, Vanessa Hudgens, David Soul and Lee Majors. (You know: 'Cause I'm the unknown stuntman that makes Eastwood look so fine…).
BRUCE WILLIS: Remember the ripe, faux-blues awfulness that was 1987 hit Respect Yourself? Bruce's desire to caterwaul was the second-worst case of a vainglorious Hollywood actor doing whatever he flippin' pleased.
DAVID HASSELHOFF: There are large groups of people (namely, Germany) who will disagree with our disparaging of the Hoff. But if you've ever YouTubed one of his classics — try Jump in My Car — you'll be aghast at how the Hoff has no problem sullying the planet with his aural badness.
EDDIE MURPHY: The fact that I have 1985's Party All the Time on my iPod (it's a Rick James thing, okay?) does not excuse Eddie from being No. 1 on our Hollywood all-ego team. He was a brilliant comedian, and we still root for a comeback. But Ed's desire to dominate in all facets of entertainment was the very height of fame-hungry sliminess.
Other bad actor-singers? Leonard Nimoy, Jack Wagner, Don Johnson and Patrick Swayze. (Oh, come on. She's Like the Wind stinks!)
It's hard to put William Shatner in either category. After all, his 1968 rendition of Mr. Tambourine Man is so bad it's actually good — well, "good" if you enjoy overwrought, hamtastic spoken-word readings that make you shoot milk out of your nose.
Sean Daly can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8467. His Pop Life column runs every Sunday in Floridian.