Reba McEntire on Hosting the ACM Awards, New Music and ‘Happy’s Place’

Is Reba McEntire running a little behind Bob Hope, as an awards-show-hosting perennial… or actually a little bit ahead? It depends how you count. Because this year marks her 17th year hosting the Academy of Country Music Awards, aka the ACMs, and Hope did the Oscars 19 times, so she’s still two years from matching his record, if we compare these gigs.

However, McEntire has also hosted a rival program, the CMA Awards, five times over the years. So if we include all the times that McEntire has hosted one country awards program or another, she’s actually up to 22, if we’re doing our math right… well ahead of Hope. Something’s clicking, to say the least.

Variety clicked onto a Zoom with McEntire for a few minutes in the run-up to Thursday night’s ACM Awards, which for the third year are being broadcast live exclusively on Prime Video (as well as Amazon’s Twitch channel). We also asked about her forthcoming new album and single (which she’ll premiere on the show), her surprise appearance at Stagecoach with Miranda Lambert, and what to expect out of her just-green-lit “Happy’s Place” sitcom for NBC. Not much time to get in a question about “The Voice” to boot, but she’s a woman with so many irons in the fire, it’s a good thing she could almost do the ACMs in her sleep.

You are not far from taking an all-time TV hosting record from Bob Hope, and by our most inclusive measure, maybe you did already.

Oh, there’s nobody that can outdo Bob Hope.

Is there any kind of mantra you have to keep yourself on your toes to make sure that you’re keeping that spark alive and not coasting through it in any way, as you go into it?

Oh, I hate to telephone it in. I hate to coast through it. It’s preparation. If you’re very prepared, you don’t get nervous, you don’t get anxious. It’s when you don’t know what you’re gonna do is when the nerves start happening. We’ve already been working on all the costumes, the monologue, the script, and so the more we can do that, the more prepared we are. And then when you get there, the night of the show is just going to be fun, and let it rip.

Being in Texas, does that make your commute any easier? You’ve said Oklahoma’s “up the roadfrom Texas, so you don’t mind the show being back out of Nashville.

It would be if I was in Oklahoma, but I’ll be in L.A. doing “The Voice,” and so I go out to do the awards show and then fly back to continue the last week of “The Voice.” We’ll be flying back and forth.

It’s good with the ACMs when, the artists that come in for it, they’re all in the same hotel. Then they can visit before the show, after the show, after rehearsals, before or after, whenever they can get in the hotel and just visit. If everybody’s kind of strung out in different hotels and everything, it doesn’t make it as fun. So we loved it during the years in Vegas, for that reason. And now I’ll be going to Frisco (the home base for the show, outside Dallas) and I’ll have to report back to you to give you my comparison.

You said something the other day about how you saw Dolly and Garth host last year, and it brought out something competitive in you.

I meant in a fun way, you know, that they were having so much fun, I wanted to be a part of it. But yeah, I do, I miss it. And I’ve got new music, and it’s a great way to promote that, and to just kind of get back in the swing of things. Dolly’s my hero. She always has been, and Dolly stays relevant. She works hard to stay out there, and I am just kind of following in her footsteps, taking her lead.

Is there anybody on the show that excites you? Luke Combs and Megan Moroney are the most nominated, and then Jelly Roll and Lainey Wilson are suddenly the two newer perennials of all the award shows right now.

…and Cody Johnson.  Man, everybody that is gonna be there, I’m really excited about. Megan, I’ve not met before, and I’m not familiar with her music, so I’m gonna get educated on that, and then I’m gonna walk up to her and say, “Hi, how you doing? Big fan!” I know I’m gonna be a big fan. That’s kind of like the family reunion situation. You go to family reunions and you see all the family and then there’s kids that have been born since the last time and you get to meet them too. I’m cheering ’em all on because I know they’ve been working really, really hard or they wouldn’t have gotten nominated. Last year I got to meet Lainey and Jelly Roll for the first time, and they were just sweethearts and I love ’em to pieces. Miranda’s gonna be there, my buddy from Stagecoach, so we’ll just have a blast.

Speaking of Stagecoach, that was an exciting moment when you came out with Miranda for the extended climax of her headlining set. It felt like that needs to be like a co-headlining tour, someday, with the two of you together for 20 minutes at the end. Obviously you’re both fine on your own, but any chance you’d ever do that?

Oh, heck yeah, of course. I’d love to tour with Miranda. I love her sassiness and her fun energy and I love her music, so you bet — that’d be a great tour.

(L-R) Miranda Lambert and Reba McEntire perform at the T-Mobile Mane Stage during the 2024 Stagecoach Festival at Empire Polo Club on April 27, 2024 in Indio, California.
Getty Images for Stagecoach

For Stagecoach, she texted me, told me what she was doing, and I said, ‘Absolutely, love to. What do you wanna do?’ And she said, ‘Well, let’s do one of mine, one of yours.’ And I said, ‘You just tell me how you wanna do it and I’ll learn your music.’ And I’ve been singing her songs ever since. You know, you’re memorizing, memorizing, memorizing, and then you do the performance and then you can’t get ’em outta your head. Thank God they’re great songs.

Your coming NBC series reunites you with a lot of talent from your original series.

We shot the pilot the 1st of April… It’s the same producer, same writer, same show runner. And then we got Melissa (Peterson) in on it and Rex Lynn, my boyfriend. We’ve been trying and working to get another sitcom going ever since they canceled us on the “Reba” show… which they happened to just announce is going to be on Netflix. We’re thrilled to death about that. So, yeah, we got all the team back together. We did “Malibu Country” for a year on ABC, and then Julie Abbott, Kevin’s wife, came up with the idea of “Happy’s Place,” about my dad and myself owning a tavern in Knoxville, Tennessee. And then my dad passed and he’s passing down total ownership to me. But then there’s a little hiccup in the situation that I found out that I’m not too happy about, but it resolves itself in the pilot.

HAPPY’S PLACE — “Pilot” — Pictured: (l-r) Reba McEntire as Bobbie, Belissa Escobedo as Isabella.
Casey Durkin/NBC

On the ACMs, we assume you’ll be up there not just chatting away, but singing something for everyone. What will you be performing?

Yeah, fortunately I get to do a brand new single that’s gonna be released sometime this year, called “I Can’t.” I got to record it with Dave Cobb; he produced the album. It’s a very strong woman’s song that I hope everybody enjoys.

Is there an album with Cobb producing to follow?

Yeah, it’ll be sometime this year that the rest of the album be released. I worked with Tony Brown for a long time, and then I got to work on a project with Dave Cobb and I thought, “Wow, I’d like to try him on an album.” It’s good for me to kind of mix things up and do something different, and I love working with Dave and his musicians. We had a blast and we’ll see how everybody receives it.