At Barack Obama’s first inaugural ball in 2009, he and Michelle Obama shared their first dance as president and first lady to Beyoncé’s live version of Etta James’ “At Last.” Also performing that night were supporters Jay Z, Mariah Carey, Alicia Keys, Mary J. Blige, Stevie Wonder, and a host of others.
Four years later, Beyoncé took the stage at Obama’s second inauguration to controversially lip sync “The Star-Spangled Banner.” That event also featured performances by James Taylor and Kelly Clarkson.
So far, Donald Trump has booked a 16-year-old former America’s Got Talent singer named Jackie Evancho.
America’s celebrity president-elect was a little too vocal during the campaign about his disdain for celebrities who endorse politicians, whining to a crowd just a few days before the election that he didn’t need Jay Z and Beyoncé to draw a crowd like his opponent did in Cleveland. “I’m here all by myself. Just me, no guitar, no piano, no nothing,” Trump said, defensively.
But now, Trump is reportedly so “unhappy” with his inauguration planning committee’s failure to attract top musical talent for his swearing-in that the team, led by The Celebrity Apprentice producer Mark Burnett, has brought on former American Idol and Dancing with the Stars booker Suzanne Bender to execute a “Hail Mary” with less than a month to go.
Besides the little-known Evancho, the biggest names that Boris Epshteyn, communications director for the inaugural committee—a job title only slightly more glamorous than Trump TV host—was able to announce on CNN Thursday were the Radio City Rockettes and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, both of which have performed at previous inaugurations. An invite to the remaining members of the Beach Boys (sans Brian Wilson, who is the Beach Boys) is still under consideration by the band.
There is a much longer list of artists and groups to whom the Trump team has reached out, but have politely declined, opting to steer clear of an event that is shaping to draw less celebrity firepower than the Republican National Convention—which featured such luminaries as Scott Baio and Antonio Saboto Jr.
Below is a list of the major talent that has said no to Trump so far.
One of the first names to emerge as a possible inauguration performer for Trump was Elton John, who Anthony Scaramucci, a vice chairman of the presidential inaugural committee, said would be doing a “concert on the Mall” for the event, adding, misleadingly, “This will be the first American president in U.S. history that enters the White House with a pro-gay-rights stance.” But according to a spokesperson for the singer, “Elton will not be performing a Trump inauguration.”
Asked about Trump’s use of his song “Tiny Dancer” at his campaign rallies earlier in the year, John replied, “I don’t really want my music to be involved in anything to do with an American election campaign. I’m British. I’ve met Donald Trump, he was very nice to me, it’s nothing personal, his political views are his own, mine are very different, I’m not a Republican in a million years. Why not ask Ted fucking Nugent? Or one of those fucking country stars? They’ll do it for you.”
JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE, BRUNO MARS, and KATY PERRY
Last week, “insiders” to the process told The Wrap that the inauguration team had its “sights set on top-tier talents like Justin Timberlake, Bruno Mars, Katy Perry, and Aretha Franklin, and were willing to pay steep fees for the performers.” They even reported that some celebrity bookers were being offered ambassadorships if they could offer names of that caliber.
It remains unclear whether invites actually went out to those specific performers, but it is safe to say that Perry in particular will not be singing on behalf of Trump as she was one of Hillary Clinton’s top celebrity surrogates through the election. No one should expect to see Timberlake (who hosted a Hillary fundraiser at his home) or Mars either, but don’t count out Aretha Franklin, who, along with her meme-worthy hat, sang “My Country ’Tis of Thee” at Obama’s 2009 inauguration. Asked about the possibility of her attending this time, she said recently, “That’s a very good question. We’ll see.”
When the question of performing at Trump’s inauguration was first posed to him, country star Garth Brooks seemed open to it. “It’s always about serving. It’s what you do,” he told TMZ. But now The Wrap is reporting that Brooks has decided not to accept an offer to appear.
The Italian tenor was reportedly approached personally by Trump after one of his concerts at Madison Square Garden this month, and was apparently considering it. But after he started taking “too much heat” from fans on social media, complete with the #BoycottBocelli hashtag, he decided to back out.
Asked by TMZ if KISS would be performing at Trump’s inauguration, Gene Simmons and his wife Shannon Tweed said “no” before adding, “That’s not to say they didn’t ask.” Back in March, Simmons described Trump as “the truest political animal I’ve ever seen onstage.”
The president-elect’s fellow Las Vegas hotelier/pal Steve Wynn reportedly promised Trump that he could get Celine Dion to perform at the inauguration, but then failed to deliver. A spokesperson for Wynn denied the report, however, saying, “Mr. Wynn was not asked to book specific performers for the inauguration, nor did he ever a make a commitment to find specific performers. So the reports are false.” Still, don’t expect a heart-wrenching American anthem from the French-Canadian singer.
The producer of such hits as Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” and Celine Dion’s “The Power of Love”—and stepfather to Gigi and Bella Hadid—squashed rumors that he would play a “pivotal role” at the inauguration, posting on Instagram this past weekend, “For the record, I was asked to participate in the upcoming inauguration and I politely and respectfully declined.” The Washington Post has reported that Foster feared angering Hillary Clinton supporters who also happen to be donors to his charitable foundation.
WASHINGTON, D.C.-AREA HIGH SCHOOL MARCHING BANDS
According to NBC News, “At least one D.C. public school marching band has participated in the past five inaugural parades, but none applied for consideration this year.” For some reason, America’s teenagers just can’t get excited about marching down Pennsylvania Avenue to celebrate President Trump.
Trump’s new best friend Kanye West has not personally ruled out the possibility of playing at the inauguration, but Tom Barrack, the chairman of the inaugural committee, told CNN that it’s not going to happen. “Donald is a great admirer of Kanye, as we are all, but he is not performing at inauguration,” he said last week.
But that was before the latest news about stars declining Trump’s invites began to break. With no one else of note on the books, Trump might need the rapper to keep his inauguration culturally relevant. And if West wants to officially cement his place as the most controversial figure in America, he will rush the stage and throw down an epic version of “Famous.” We can only hope that Trump will keep his clothes on this time.