Nominations came out this morning for the 89th Annual Academy Awards and movie musical La La Land cleaned up big with 14 nominations, notably for Best Picture, Best Actress for Emma Stone, and Best Actor for Ryan Gosling. Rounding out its nominations were two nominations for original song, one for the sleepy “City of Stars” and the other for Stone’s big closing number “Audition (The Fools Who Dream).” The question is not so much which song will win (it seems likely “City of Stars” will take that honor) but will the film’s movie star leads take the stage of the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles to sing them live on the night of the ceremony? With Oscar’s weird history with Best Original Song performances it’s really a crap-shoot.
Back in the olden days it wasn’t really standard for the nominated songs to be performed by those that originated them in the film but in the ’70s, think Isaac Hayes’ “Theme from Shaft,” producers got hip to asking either the original artists or an act who had a hit with their cover of the nominated tune. This on-again, off-again standard has mostly been the rule but strange exceptions have crept up.
In 2008 at the 80th Academy Awards, Amy Adams took the stage to do a serviceable job of the “Happy Working Song” from Disney’s Enchanted. However, at that same ceremony Broadway star Kristin Chenoweth sang the also nominated “That’s How You Know” from Enchanted. Presumably this was to take the weight of singing multiple songs off Adams and diversify the lineup.
At the 2003 ceremonies, Catherine Zeta-Jones performed the nominated “Move On” from Chicago. While the song was originally performed by Zeta-Jones and Renee Zellwegger for the end credits of the movie musical, it was Zeta-Jones’ more stage savvy co-star Queen Latifah who dueted with her. Does Zellwegger regret her choice nowadays? Likely, she chose to sit the live performance out and let her studio singing and nuanced approach to Roxie Hart speak for itself.
In some instances producers have chosen other artists to perform the nominated songs. A smart and hilarious example includes the late Robin Williams taking on “Blame Canada” from South Park: Bigger, Longer, & Uncut in 2000 rather than original voice artists Trey Parker and Mary Kay Bergman. Williams’ signature energy and unpredictability seemed a snug fit for the South Park mentality and it didn’t hurt that he could carry a tune.
A more peculiar circumstance was the choice to have not yet full-megastar Beyoncé Knowles perform not one but three of the nominated songs at the 2005 Oscars. We love Beyoncé, but the choice felt weird and forced. However, in 2007 she returned to the stage along her Dreamgirls co-stars to sing their three nominated songs, that made more sense.
In 2012 neither of the nominated songs, “Man or Muppet” from The Muppets or “Real in Rio” from Rio, were performed, with no explanation. So it’s a weird category when it comes to consistency.
So, what does that mean for this year’s nominee which also include: the Justine Timberlake’s hit single “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” from Trolls, the Lin-Manuel Miranda-penned “How Far I’ll Go” from Moana, and “The Empty Chair” from Jim: The James Foley Story written by a guy you may know by the name of Sting? In a category filled with a showman like Timberlake, IT boy Miranda, and a legend like Sting, you can expect for Stone and Gosling to put their dancing shoes. Hollywood loves to congratulate each other for trying something new and Stone and Goslings are big time movie stars. Who wouldn’t want to see them sing on stage?!
And here’s the other thing that the La La Land publicists don’t want you to know, their stars are more trained than they want you to think. Sure, neither one will be releasing an album anytime soon but both grew up in show business singing and dancing. The PR angle is to say they took a hundred voice lessons and dance classes to get to be “sorta” good but truth is, La La Land isn’t the first rodeo for its stars. Gosling appeared on the neo-variety show The All-New Mickey Mouse Club in the early ’90s alongside Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, Keri Russell, J.C. Chasez, and Christina Aguilera. Yes, Gosling crooned.
Meanwhile, Stone, who made her Broadway debut in the revival of musical Cabaret as Sally Bowles in 2015, also got her start belting out the tunes on TV (right here at VH1, actually). Then known as Emily Stone, the Oscar nominee appeared on VH1’s In Search of the Partridge Family where they were, like, looking for a new cast of a The Partridge Family reboot. Stone ultimately won the role of older sis Laurie but the pilot was never picked up. (Aside from the reality show winners the pilot starred French Stewart as Reuben Kinkaid.) Yes, Emma Stone channeled her inner rocker for a rendition of Meredith Brooks’ “Bitch” because, duh.
What Gosling and Stone lack in musical talent was what made their characters so grounded in the old-timey feeling La La Land so expect to be charmed by them once again when they bring their movie star wattage to the live stage at the Dolby on February 26. Will you be tuning in?