This week I engage in one of pop culture's eternal debates: Should celebrities speak their minds when it comes to politics and social issues? Or — to steal the name of conservative pundit Laura Ingraham (search)'s best-selling book — should they "Shut Up and Sing"?
I posed this question at two recent events: the Avon Foundation (search)'s 50th anniversary dinner celebrating its efforts to end breast cancer and domestic violence, and UNICEF (search)'s unveiling of a public awareness campaign for children with HIV/AIDS.
The Avon soiree at the Museum of Natural History in New York City brought out company CEO Andrea Jung (search), actress and Avon spokesmodel Salma Hayek (search), country singer Lee Ann Womack (search), who performed a 30-minute set, and playwright and evening honoree Eve Ensler (search) ("The Vagina Monologues"). The UNICEF event drew stars like Whoopi Goldberg (search) and Sir Roger Moore (search).
Decked out in a low-cut black number, Hayek pondered my question, while onlookers pondered whether her breasts are real (let’s be honest here).
Said Salma: "I think it’s a strange question, because you are detaching yourself from the responsibility. It has nothing to do with whether we are celebrities or not.
"Everybody should participate in doing whatever we can to make this world a better place — whether you are a celebrity or a housewife or anyone."
Even those in the "shut up and sing" camp have to admit that’s a decent answer. But the jury’s still out on her breasts.
Before we move on to Lee Ann, an update on Salma’s latest project. She's trying to bring the successful Columbian telenovela (read: soap opera) "Yo Soy Betty, La Fea" (search) to ABC. It’s about an ugly secretary who falls in love with her boss, the head of a fashion design company.
"We are developing it right now and the script is being written," she said. "We will see if we get the pilot [order] and … you know how it goes." (Salma herself started out in a soap opera in her native Mexico, playing the title role in the hugely popular "Teresa.")
Lee Ann Womack
OK, onto spitfire country singer Lee Ann, who is tied with Brad Paisley (search) for the most CMA award nominations this year — six. (The ceremony airs Nov. 15.)
"Politics — I'm not too crazy about how celebrities feel," she said.
And why is that? Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger (among others) convinced plenty of folks to care about how celebrities feel.
"Well, now, if you want to shut up and run for office, go ahead," Lee Ann said. (Note to Ingraham: Next book title, "Shut Up and Run for Office"?)
Added Lee Ann: "I just get sick of it. I did during the election — seeing celebrities tell people what to do. I don’t like it. However, I do like to see celebrities who don’t point their fingers, but do support causes like [breast cancer]."
One reason she supports women’s issues is because "I've been told that my music really speaks to women. Be it funny or serious, a lot of my music is geared that way. I can't help it — I'm a mother. I have two girls, and so it's important for someone who can to lend her time and talents to an event like this."
I couldn't let Lee Ann go without mentioning the horrifically embarrassing moment I saw recently on "The View" (search). Dolly Parton (search) was guest, and host Joy Behar (search) fawned over Dolly, saying how much she loves her song "I Hope You Dance" — which, of course, is Lee Ann's, not Dolly's.
"When I heard about that, I was mortified!" said Lee Ann, who "worships" Dolly and appears, along with Norah Jones (search), on Dolly’s new recording of "Where Have All the Flowers Gone."
"However," she added with a smile, "I am glad Joy likes the song."
Back to the question of whether stars should say what they think, if you're not familiar with Eve Ensler, all you have to know is that she wrote a play with the word "vagina" in it. This is clearly a woman who speaks her mind. In fact, she's made a career of it.
Over at the UNICEF event, Whoopi joined Sir Roger for the presentation of a poster to raise awareness for the plight of children living with HIV/AIDS.
Through the years, Whoopi has used her humor to poke fun, or lash out, at many politicians. Just ask the folks at Slim-Fast, who dropped her as company spokesperson for going a bit too far with a Bush gag during the 2004 election.
Does she think the public wants stars like her to simply shut up and tell jokes?
"If that were true, your network would not have an audience," she told me. "People do want to know what celebrities think.
"Cynicism or not, the bottom line is that there are those of us out there who were [advocating causes] before we were famous. No one cared before. Now, because you're famous, [people] want to know what we're doing.
"And [in] politics — we should be listening to everybody who has an opinion. This is still the United States. We should be making our opinions not because some celebrity says so, but because we’ve listened to different facets of an argument and we've made a decision.
"That's what should happen."