A voice for change
By Harry Belafonte
'I think art has a very important role to play in making us see each other as human.'
John Legend is a wonderful artist. He's a remarkable lyricist, and the songs he has giftedly crafted are straight-ahead beautiful melodies that will find a welcoming home in the great library of American songs. One of my personal favorites is "Glory," the duet he performed with Common for the Selma soundtrack—a song with a powerful message about overcoming adversity. With songs like this, he has rewarded a diverse fan base, and I am pleased to be part of such a multitude.
John uses his platform to push for meaningful social change, and the depth of his commitment is to be admired. He has visited prisons to raise awareness about mass incarceration—the new slavery—and he spoke out about the importance of Black Lives Matter at Sankofa's Many Rivers to Cross festival, which I helped organize. I hope John continues to grow as an artist and an activist.
Belafonte is a Grammy-winning singer-songwriter and an activist
Broadway's boy wonder
By Zac Efron
From the minute he stepped onto the Dear Evan Hansen stage, I knew there was something different about Ben Platt. His speech pattern had such a unique rhythm, and his singing—it's rare to hear a voice with such range, tone and pitch that can also convey complicated emotions musically. I wanted to give him a standing ovation after his first song.
Dear Evan Hansen tells a very particular story about teen suicide and anxiety. But because of the way Ben brings Evan to life, that story becomes instantly relatable for any person who has ever felt conflicting emotions without having an outlet. His performance brought me back to a sensitive place. It was almost difficult to watch, because it hit so close to home.
When I met Ben backstage, I was pretty emotional. I could tell that he was still recovering from the show too—it was like he had lived it. And he does that eight times a week.
Ben has mastered his craft at a young age, so I can't wait to see where he goes after this. I'd offer him some acting advice, but I think if anything, I should be asking him for a lesson!
Efron appears in the upcoming films Baywatch and The Greatest Showman
Standing against stigma
By Arianna Huffington
"There's no point to living life unless you make history," Lovato has said. "And the best way to make history is to help others."
It seems like Demi Lovato has already led many lives. The singer, songwriter, actor and activist, who made her acting debut at age 8, has done so much, and been through so much, that it's hard to believe she's still only 24. But she hasn't just grown up—she has grown in wisdom.
Now Demi is using her hard-won wisdom to benefit others. After being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, instead of hiding it she partnered with Be Vocal, a campaign devoted to getting people to speak up about mental illness and the stigma around it. She has also been a public role model, unashamedly chronicling her struggles with substance abuse (she is now five years sober) and eating disorders. And having been bullied as a child, Demi has taken up the cause to protect other children.
Demi Lovato is a remarkably talented artist and performer. But her courage, honesty and willingness to use her own experiences to help others are what make her a true star.
Huffington is the founder and CEO of Thrive Global
The novelist who reimagined history
By Oprah Winfrey
From the first page of Colson Whitehead's extraordinary novel The Underground Railroad I knew I was reading something ground-shifting. I've been a student of African-American history since about age 14, and I thought I knew just about everything there was to know about slavery and the Freedom Train. But that's what's so powerful about great literature: it deepens your perspective, opens your consciousness and allows you to be in the shoes of its characters, journeying alongside them.
In the year since I first read this book, it has been affirming to see how it's been embraced, winning the Pulitzer Prize and becoming a No. 1 best seller. I believe that's because Colson has a vision about what it means to make art. He didn't just write a historical novel about slavery and courage and the beating heart of freedom. Although the struggle continues and our challenges are not behind us, the brilliance of his vision is that he reminds us that, like his heroine Cora, we can never give up hope, can never stop trying.
Winfrey is the chair and CEO of the Oprah Winfrey Network
Pop music's new prince
By Taylor Swift
As a young, precocious redheaded boy growing up in Framlingham, Suffolk, Ed Sheeran decided he wanted to be a musician. He started writing songs and playing instruments like so many hopefuls do, but something very different happened that would set in motion one of the most impressive self-made careers in music.
Whether by choice or an unconscious evolution, when he decided on his musical ambitions, Ed became less of a boy and more of a tank. He is protected by an impenetrable and ever-present armor of enthusiasm that has helped him endure any setback, letdown or underestimation. His reaction to any idea that fails is to almost immediately come up with a new one. He's like a fighter who pops back up on his feet before you even noticed he'd been knocked down.
A few years ago, in a rare moment of admitting feeling defeated, Ed said to me, "I'm never going to win a Grammy." Yes, you are, I said. You're going to sweep the whole thing one of these years. It was a few weeks later when he met me in a dance-shoe store in London, where I was picking out rehearsal outfits, and said, "You have to hear this." It was a song he'd just finished called "Thinking Out Loud," which would go on to win Song and Record of the Year at the 2016 Grammy Awards.
Congratulations to my friend Ed, for the legacy you've already built and the brilliant hook you probably just came up with five minutes ago.
Swift is a 10-time Grammy-winning singer, songwriter, producer and musician
The emerging icon
By Brie Larson
"I still have a lot of growing and learning and work to do," Stone said after winning her oscar. "This is a...symbol to continue on that journey."
I can't imagine film without Emma Stone. And I don't want to. As an actor, Emma is brave, devastating, hilarious, real, complex, charming and so much more. Her Oscar-winning performance in La La Land is just the latest example.
But Emma takes on significant roles off-screen as well. The selfless friend. The wise psychiatrist. The fearless leader. The coolest girl at the party. (She's even the intense soccer mom, cheering you on, no matter what, at the top of her lungs.) I know that she has played all of these roles in my life. And for that I'm lucky to call her my friend.
But what I really admire about Emma the person—as well as Emma the actor—is that she is never afraid to show us the most difficult thing you can show the world: yourself. What that entails is not always pretty. But with Emma, it is real, and it is beautiful.
Larson is an Oscar-winning actor
The mind behind Moonlight
By Kathryn Bigelow
Barry Jenkins is one of the rare artists who are willing to look into the deeper places of themselves and society in order to provide a lens through which we may discover the humanity at our core. And he has come to the attention of the world at precisely the right moment, just when we most need someone to give voice to those who have not been heard.
From his first feature, Medicine for Melancholy, to Moonlight, which he wrote and directed, each film tells an important and timely story that brings you into its world. He not only knows where he is coming from, but he has the gift of being able to show you that place and make you understand it—from capturing the literal colors of a city to the deep untold anguish of a young boy searching for his place.
Bigelow is an Oscar-winning director whose next film, Detroit, opens Aug. 4
The real deal
By Helen Mirren
Can the name be real? It is such a perfect movie-star name, like something that could be on a '40s marquee. How fitting, then, that Ryan Reynolds has the same loose-limbed charm as Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart. He's the Everyman, but somehow with more of everything: wit, elegance, looks and general hunkiness.
Of course, in the real world—for us, this was often at 6 a.m. in a makeup trailer—Ryan is also rumpled, kind, committed and generous, especially to women. He likes them in the most simple, direct, unadorned way: for their humanity. (How very appropriate that he is the father of two girls.) He has a natural wit, which he often turns on himself, and he can balance his private and public life with great dexterity. He is open and generous, but never inappropriate. I suspect this is part of what makes him such an appealing performer.
When we were shooting the movie we did together, Woman in Gold, Ryan was about to start his now legendary journey toward becoming Deadpool. That movie's incredible success was so deserved, and it was brought about by Ryan's singular commitment, energy and imagination. I loved Deadpool. But I also miss spending time with the actor who played him—his warm, intelligent, inquisitive brown eyes, his readiness to laugh...sigh.
P.S. The name is real, like everything else about Ryan.
Mirren is an Oscar-winning actor
SNL's fearless comedian
By Russell Crowe
She's a tiger.
She's a lioness.
She's a pussycat.
It wasn't just the comedy that drew me close to Leslie Jones. Although her brand—edgy, insightful and honest—is the kind I lean to.
It wasn't just the bonhomie, the easy friendship and the shared sense of gratitude.
It wasn't just the beauty, though it radiates from her unchecked.
It was, in fact, the kindness, the thoughtfulness and the way she owns all of who she is.
She stalks the audience from the stage and in front of the cameras. Like the comedy greats throughout history, she's there to give, and what she is prepared to give is all of who she is.
All the absurdity and pathos of being human. All the joy of having a heart that big. She's going to be the person who says out loud what you were thinking, when you didn't even realize you thought like that.
Yes, it was Leslie Jones who drew me close to Leslie Jones.
Crowe, who hosted Saturday Night Live for the first time last year, is an Oscar-winning actor and a producer
Kerry James Marshall
By Grant Hill
Marshall's pioneering work includes Rythm Mastr, a black superhero series set in Chicago
For too long, the contributions of black people in American society have been ignored, marginalized and denied. Kerry James Marshall confirms and confronts those depictions and omissions with artistic flair, portraying everyday events in black lives. As the rest of the world learned through the stunning retrospective exhibition "Mastry," Kerry's narrative paintings are direct, bold and in-your-face views of moments in our lives, and they cannot be ignored. Black is his dominant color, and his persistent, consistent and masterful use of it, in all its palettes, defines, engages and draws countless viewers to each creation. He forces people to assess the American experience through the black experience. In so doing, he has established himself not only among the giants of the black art milieu, but as one of the most influential American artists anywhere.
Hill, a seven-time NBA All-Star, is a leading collector of African-American art
By Tina Fey
When Donald Glover started as a staff writer on 30 Rock, he was still living as an RA in a dorm at New York University. He worked hard and contributed a lot of good jokes. After a few years, he requested a meeting with me and fellow producer Robert Carlock. Donald was grateful for the opportunity but felt like he should leave to pursue acting. Of the many writers who have suggested this over the past 20 years, Donald is the only one with whom I've ever agreed. One hundred percent, he should go be a star.
Now Donald is serving you best-case-scenario millennial realness. He embodies his generation's belief that people can be whatever they want and change what it is they want, at any time. When you're tired of starring in a network comedy, take a break to pursue your rap career for a Grammy nomination. When you've learned all you can from acting in other people's movies, sit down and create your own piece of art.
This could have easily presented itself as a clothing line or one really good painting. Instead, Donald gave us Atlanta, a TV series that is basically him: funny, beautiful, stylish, melancholy and startlingly confident.
But as any good millennial knows, when your creation wins 10-plus major awards, you don't rush into Season 2. You step back, take a breath and just, like, be Lando Calrissian or something.
Fey created 30 Rock and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Singer of truths
By Kerry Washington
"I hope...it's a revolution," Keys, a 15-time Grammy Winner, has said of her #noMakeup movement
Alicia Keys' debut, Songs in A Minor, infused the landscape of hip-hop with a classical sensibility and unfolded the complexity of being young, gifted, female and black for a new generation. Alicia became an avatar for millions of people, always remaining true to herself.
Since then, Alicia has continued to evolve as an artist, an advocate and a person. And we have grown with her.
Last year, Alicia sparked a #NoMakeup movement. She expressed her desire to go makeup-free, released her single "In Common" with bare, gorgeous cover art and began making public appearances with the same beautiful commitment. Why? Because Alicia doesn't hide her truth, her flaws, her dreams or her journey.
It is that authenticity and vulnerability that endear her to us. We are drawn to her honesty, we respect and adore her, and in doing so, we move closer to embracing our own true selves.
In the entertainment industry, there is intense pressure to conform in order to create an easily marketable product. But if you listen to Alicia's music, learn about her Keep a Child Alive foundation or witness her life, you know that she is not a product of anyone but God, her family and her truth.
Washington stars on ABC's Scandal
Gucci's creative force
By Jared Leto
On a quiet night in January 2015, just outside of Milan, there was a creative explosion.
A bright light burned its way across the Italian sky, fusing together the past, the present and the future, and releasing upon the earth a new and exciting voice that would change fashion forever. On this magical evening, an unassuming young artist made a statement so strong that it set the sartorial world afire and ushered in a new renaissance for the infamous House of Gucci.
Yves, Karl, Gianni, Giorgio, Christian, Coco. It's rare that a new name can be added to such an illustrious list. But Lallo, as he is known to his closest friends, has more than earned his place. I have witnessed firsthand the amount of thought, care and passion he puts into everything he creates. It's inspiring to behold.
People don't just like Gucci. They desire it. And I think it's because they have some sense that Alessandro Michele pours his heart into every single thing he does, and shares with us that ever-so-elusive and powerful ingredient—love.
Leto is an Oscar-winning actor and a musician
By Venus Williams
When I first met Ava DuVernay, I had no idea how great an impact she would have on my life—and on so many other lives as well. But by the time I found out that she wanted to do a program with me, the "Venus Vs." episode of Nine for IX, I didn't need much convincing. If you have a chance to work with Ava, you do it right away.
Ava's point of view is fresh, it's inspiring, it's original, it makes people's heads turn. But she also embraces other people's perspectives. When we worked together, Ava was able to integrate herself into my life and see things through my eyes. It takes a very special person to do something like that.
Ava makes it her mission to tell important stories, from Selma to her prison documentary 13th, and to empower important storytellers—by choosing only female directors to helm each episode of her OWN show, Queen Sugar, for example. She's opening doors, and that's courageous.
Williams is a champion tennis player
The carpool king
By Elton John
For years, James Corden has been a beloved part of British pop culture. By the time he started his career in America, James had written and co-starred in his own hugely popular TV series. In fact, James' first ever version of "Carpool Karaoke" took place in London in 2011 with my dear friend, the late George Michael.
When he began hosting The Late Late Show in 2015, most Americans still had no idea who he was. But it wasn't long before he skyrocketed to fame in the U.S., too. It took just over a year for James' show to be nominated for four Emmy Awards. He then went on to host the Tony Awards and the Grammy Awards. He has also Carpool Karaoke'd with Adele, Lady Gaga, myself and more.
James is one of the most hardworking and talented people you will ever meet. But that alone doesn't explain his extraordinary success. Anyone—friends and fans alike—can tell you that James doesn't take himself, or others, too seriously. And that's why he's able to make us laugh, cry and sing—sometimes all at once.
His authenticity has allowed him to shape pop culture in an incredible way. We can expect to see more of James in the coming years—and that's a wonderful thing for television, comedy and humanity.
John is a singer and composer and the founder of the Elton John AIDS Foundation
An audacious talent
By Martin Scorsese
Like no one else—that's what Margot Robbie's like. You're asked this question a lot about actors—"What's she like?"—and I've never been able to give an answer I'm happy with. With Margot, you can recall some classic precedents: the comedic genius of Carole Lombard, for her all-bets-off feistiness; Joan Crawford, for her grounded, hardscrabble toughness; Ida Lupino, for her emotional daring. Margot has all this in addition to a unique audacity that surprises and challenges and just burns like a brand into every character she plays. She clinched her part in The Wolf of Wall Street during our first meeting—by hauling off and giving Leonardo DiCaprio a thunderclap of a slap on the face, an improvisation that stunned us all.
This is not a complete answer to the perennial question, but it's a start. Margot is stunning in all she is and all she does, and she will astonish us forever.
Scorsese is an Oscar–winning filmmaker
By Cate Blanchett
When someone is as unique and unboxable as Sarah Paulson, it takes time for creative spaces to open up that are large and porous enough to hold the depth and complexity of her talent. In remaining true to her distinct voice, she has been at the forefront of a generation of women who are changing the landscape of the film and television industry. She has played everything from a two-headed circus performer (American Horror Story: Freak Show) to an unflappable Marcia Clark (The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story). Ryan Murphy, who cast Sarah on these shows, has played no small part in cracking open the shell of a rare pearl.
I, too, have had the privilege of working with Sarah. When I first met her, on the set of Carol, I was floored by her buoyancy, her irreverence, her left-field sense of humor and her devotion to her craft. You enter a scene with Sarah and it's game on. She brings with her, in work as in life, the sense that anything is possible. Anything.
Blanchett is an Oscar-winning actor