Donald Trump is a president-elect obsessed. Not with the intricacies of policy and governance—God forbid—but with SNL and A-list stars.
Everyone knows that Donald Trump is obsessed with celebrities. At a final campaign rally for Hillary Clinton, President Obama expressed genuine confusion at the notion that any “working person” would believe that Donald Trump was on their side. “He’s got some support,” Obama acknowledged. “And the most frustrating thing is, some of his support coming from working folks. People say well, you know, he’s going to be our voice. Are you serious? This is a guy who spent 70 years, his whole life, born with a silver spoon, showing no respect for working people. He spent a lot of time with celebrities. Spends a lot of time hanging out with the really wealthy folks but you don’t see him hanging out with working people unless they’re cleaning his room or mowing the fairways on his golf club.” That unflattering portrayal of Donald Trump actually gives him too much credit. The real-estate mogul didn’t spend his entire adult life partying with A-listers; he wasted it sitting by his gold-plated phone, waiting for them to return his calls.
Trump has always oversold his celebrity status, even going so far as to pose as his own publicist to plant stories in local tabloids. But like the gold leaf that adorns his tacky abodes, Trump’s aura of influence is really just a cheap veneer. For all of the A-list friends that he loves to boast about, Trump couldn’t even get Tom Brady to come to his RNC. Initially, the nominee promised a star-studded night to remember. “It’s very important to put some showbiz into a convention, otherwise, people are going to fall asleep,” Trump told The Washington Post in April. At the very least, we imagined that he would reel in Jon Voight or Clint Eastwood. Even Stacey Dash would add some glamour to the dark, dystopian affair. Instead, we were greeted by the kind of quote-unquote celebrities who might have been cast in a particularly uninteresting season of Celebrity Apprentice. For all of his preening and posturing, Donald Trump and his convention was decidedly C-list. From Scott Baio to Antonio Sabáto Jr. to the guy from Duck Dynasty, each star was less famous than the last.
Doubtlessly, Donald Trump thought that ascending to America’s highest political office would finally afford him some Hollywood pull. After years of hamming it up as the millionaire clown, crashing photo-ops and inviting himself to high-profile weddings, Trump has finally found himself center stage. Traditionally, performing at an inauguration has been seen as quite an honor—at President Obama’s 2013 inauguration, Beyoncé all but volunteered her services, only asking that her travel and production costs be reimbursed. Of course, Trump’s looming presidency is unprecedented and tradition-defying.
According to recent reports, Trump’s team has struggled to find a single A-lister to perform at the historic event. In fact, they’ve become so desperate that they’ve offered huge sums of money and even ambassadorships to talent managers in return for wrangling some top-tier talent. So far, their efforts have gone over about as well as a Trump Tower Grill taco bowl on Cinco de Mayo. First, a Trump aide claimed that Elton John would be performing at the Inauguration Day festivities—a rumor that his representatives swiftly and curtly shut down. Reports indicated that the president-elect was fixated on big names like Justin Timberlake and Aretha Franklin, the exact brand of proudly liberal performers Trump could never score. Leave it to our president-elect to demand the impossible, and view his own inauguration as an opportunity to humiliate his critics and bring those who publicly opposed him to heel.
While Trump’s ideal inauguration performance might be Katy Perry loudly sobbing while dressed in an Ivanka Trump sheath dress, for now, the president doesn’t have the power to force artists to sing on demand. Low on options and almost out of time, the president-elect opted for the next-ish best thing: a 16-year-old former America’s Got Talent contestant. On a recent Today show appearance, singer Jackie Evancho announced that she would be crooning the national anthem at the president-elect’s swearing-in ceremony. As the first confirmed performer for Trump’s inauguration, Evancho has garnered her fair share of social media flack. But most tweets and Facebook statuses have been downright dismissive, the most common sentiment being “Who the hell is Jackie Evancho?”
In fact, for a 16-year-old, Evancho has been surprisingly prolific. That’s because she got her big break when she was just 10, performing operatic numbers on America’s Got Talent. Apparently, Evancho’s pipes were so precocious that she faced persistent accusations of lip-synching. Since coming in second place in the televised competition, Jackie has released a slew of albums, including several Christmas collections and an album of film and showtune covers. Much like Tiffany Trump, Evancho has experimented with the pop single. In April, she released “Apocalypse,” an earnest ballad with a not-so-subtle faith component.
The crossover singer has performed at numerous official ceremonies during the Obama administration; in 2010, she sang at the lighting of the National Christmas Tree and got to meet President Obama himself. According to Jackie, “That was awesome.” Still, Evancho hasn’t given any indication that her next, decidedly more controversial D.C. performance will be any less awesome. Reflecting on her previous governmental gigs during her recent announcement, Evancho exclaimed, “I felt really honored to get a chance to perform for the president again.” In an unabashedly liberal industry, Evancho’s bland, bipartisan patriotism is something of a revelation.
Of course, the prodigy’s noncontroversial demeanor—not to mention her age—hasn’t been enough to save her from social media critique and accusations of career suicide. Online opiners are particularly focusing on Evancho’s sister, Juliet, who publicly came out as transgender last year. The 18-year-old is currently part of a lawsuit against a Pennsylvania school district over restroom access. According to the federal discrimination lawsuit, Evancho’s school board recently voted to reverse the district’s inclusive restroom practices, forcing transgender students to use separate bathrooms. According to Juliet, “The day after the vote, it felt different in school: I felt exposed and vulnerable… I even thought about dropping out, or trying to finish school from home. But then my classmates nominated me for homecoming queen, showing that they know, accept and respect me for who I am. So, why can’t everyone else?”
In a recent piece for Teen Vogue, Juliet shared her story and explained the personal impact of Jackie’s ascendency. “Jackie’s newfound fame put our entire family under a microscope. This made things even more difficult for me,” she said. “Now, I not only worried about what my family thought of me, but I also worried about some trashy magazine trying to make a spectacle out of me if they found out, and it hurting my family.” While Juliet hasn’t publicly commented on Trump or on her sister’s inauguration performance, she has liked a pair of Twitter posts urging her to educate her sister on vice president-elect Mike Pence’s anti-LGBTQ politics.
Jackie Evancho has briefly addressed the backlash to her announcement. “My family is kind of a big target,” she told People. “I have a transgender sister and so a lot of hate goes towards us… I also get a lot of love. We pay most attention to that.” According to reports, Evancho will also share the stage with Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli, a longtime friend of Trump’s. If Evancho and Bocelli end up helming the festivities, it would mark a rare inauguration celebration, starring two performers who technically could not have voted for the president-elect. Of course, when you didn’t even win the popular vote, sometimes an America’s Got Talent runner-up and a reticent pal are the best you can do.