Oscars | Netflix/Tudum

4 Famous Singers Robbed of Acting Oscars

Back in the Golden Age of Hollywood, it wasn’t uncommon for a bright-eyed performer to boast triple-threat status, taking on movies, concerts, and the Great White Way in a medium-spanning career requiring song, dance, and sentiment. Yet, over the years, fewer up-and-comers decide to roam outside their wheelhouse and, if they do, it’s not always met with critical adulation. That being said, there are a couple of individuals who have what it takes to do it all — to blow the roof off the ceiling with their operatic belts and leave you in shambles with their tear-jerking sincerity in dramatic cinematic turns. 

Though many singers have rightfully won Oscars for their movie roles — including Cher in Moonstruck, Jennifer Hudson in Dreamgirls, Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl, and Frank Sinatra in From Here to Eternity, some singers who deserved that coveted prize were totally robbed. This list will highlight four acting performances from vocalists who were robbed of acting Oscars.

Judy Garland | ‘A Star Is Born’ 1954

1954’s A Star Is Born was a musical retelling of the 1937 Janet Gaynor-starring film of the same name. The narrative has since been revisited two more times — in 1976 with Barbra Streisand in the leading role and in 2018 with Lady Gaga taking on a character only legends have played — placing her on a shortlist among some of Tinseltown’s greatest. 

A Star Is Born was Garland’s comeback role, and critics agreed it was a tour-de-force performance. As The Wrap notes, it was widely believed she would win the Oscar for the part — so much so that NBC set up TV equipment outside the hospital room where she was with her newborn son, so they could cut to her when her name was announced. In the end, Grace Kelly won for The Country Girl in one of the most memorable Academy snubs. 

Garland breathes life into Esther Blodgett’s journey from aspiring talent to luminous star. She seamlessly intertwines vulnerability and resiliency. Her voice resonates with emotional depth — there’s a raw quiver beneath her powerful belt as she serenades us with “The Man That Got Away.” the power in her voice is matched only by the focus in her eyes. She captivates with side smirks, grand gestures, and an unparalleled triumphant sound. 

Not only does the film feature a character ascending, but it also parallels Garland’s own triumph over adversity, blurring the lines between art and reality to create one of the most moving performances ever seen on screen. As she discusses Norman’s decay — crumbling away “bit by bit” due to alcoholism — she notes that “love isn’t enough” to save him. And, as someone who struggled with drug dependency, this is an all-too-relatable monologue for Garland. Her voice shakes as she expresses heartache and anguish at the same time — compassion and utter aggravation. The tears flow. Her voice is breathy, as she, Esther, questions her future with Norman — and maybe her own, as Judy Garland, in tandem. 

Bette Midler | ‘The Rose’ 1979 

When Bette Midler gets on stage to sing a ballad — whether it be “Wind Beneath My Wings,” “From a Distance,” or “The Rose,” she inhabits the number. She does not sing. She performs. She becomes. There’s an authentic tenderness to her more moving numbers but also a sort of theatricality, for she is acting as much as she is singing. She gives the audience a different character with each number. Lovelorn and lost for “Stay With Me” to reflective and pensive for “Hello in There” or playful and effervescent for “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.” She allows her voice to follow her emotions. Thus, it should come as no surprise that, when playing a Janis Joplin-like figure in The Rose, she came, and she conquered.

Midler captures the rock & roll spirits from the second she steps on that stage — her wild curly hair and black-painted eyelids in stark contrast to the exhausted physicality being held at bay via a fiery and fierce energy — maintained via audience reciprocation. She finds a rocker in her. Right before she dies — trying to sing one more song — drugged up and staring into the abyss, a smirk comes across her face, and a glimmer lights her watery eyes as she looks at the audience. She gives the crowd her last moment. She whispers. Her voice cracks. She tries to sing a note but a strained breathiness prevails. She looks up into the sky, her eyes roll back, and she collapses with a resounding thud.

Midler became a troubled artist for this performance with such an unwavering grasp on the rock & roll lifestyle — in all its glorious grandiosity and its gritty grime. She received an Oscar nomination but ultimately lost to Sally Field for her performance in Norma Rae. 

Queen Latifah | ‘Chicago’ 2002 

Note: Queen Latifah started her career as a rapper/musician before transitioning into more acting. 

Queen Latifah portrays the supporting character Matron “Mama” Morton in the 2002 Oscar-winning movie musical Chicago, and boy is she magnetic. When she sings “When You’re Good To Mama,” she has the audience eating out of the palm of her hand. Sashaying those hips with ferocity, delivering each double entendre with a playful side smirk and stiff upper lip. With one hand on her hip and the other holding a feather-adorned fan, she is a diva-esque badass in glittery gold. Sexy and sultry.

Yet, when the movie shifts back to reality, leaving the fantastical realism behind, she returns to the Queen of the Clink with no makeup and a straightforward attitude featuring a side of pottymouth. Yet, whether clad ballgown or gray onesie, the charm remains. She oozes confidence and control. Yet, despite that demanding sense of authority, subtle facial expressions indicate her softer underbelly. There’s a vulnerability there, and a sense of compassion that only gets mere seconds to breathe, for it is one thing to lend a hand, it’s quite another to appear weak. 

Though she doesn’t have much screen time, she gives a dynamic performance that balances vulnerability with control, earning her an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. She lost to her co-star in the same film Catherine Zeta-Jones, who played Velma Kelly. However, the fact that Zeta-Jones was in the supporting category is questionable at best. Thus, it’s not that Zeta-Jones did not deserve this Oscar, but rather, she deserved to win in the Lead category, so Latifah could have taken home the supporting statuette. It’s fair to say that Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart (Renée Zellweger) are both primary protagonists in the narrative. 

Lady Gaga | ‘A Star Is Born’ 2018 

Though Janet Gaynor, Judy Garland, and Lady Gaga were all nominated for their performances in A Star Is Born, none of them took home the prize. Gaga did take home the Oscar for Best Original Song for her work on “Shallow,” but that award is in the music realm, not the acting one. 

Gaga and Bradley Cooper boast palpable chemistry that oozes from the screen and seeps into our pores in this film. Yet, we always knew Gaga could become a star, for she is one. The question is: could she convincingly turn back the wheels of time to be a simple Italian Girl with messy brown hair and a band t-shirt? Could she pull it off? Yes. Yes, she could. And it is her transformation, so authentic, so well-paced, that makes this performance awe-inspiring. The giddy excitement on the private jet. The champagne pop gives her a slight fright as if she hasn’t heard the sound a million times. But then there’s that bathtub scene…

Cooper’s Jackson comes in the bathroom as she’s in the bathtub. A stern expression rests on Gaga’s face — stoic but disappointed. He begins to insult her pop song — suggesting it’s several notches below her talent caliber — and she reacts with anguished shock as he calls her “embarrassing.” Her eyes widen with rage, but she shifts between that and a sort of despondent, fed-up dismissal. She explains that she would just like her husband to love her. She tells him to “clean [his] shit up” with indignation because he’s a mess. You believe this fight. They feel like a couple battling jealousy, alcoholism, expectations, history, and an unknown future. All the baggage comes across as Gaga shifts her facial expressions and vocal delivery with each line. When he begins to call her ugly, she stands up in that bathtub, soap bubbles covering her body, and yells at him to get out, but her voice cracks on the final scream for she’s not just angry, she’s heartbroken. How dare the man she loves go there? 

It is in these moments that Gaga’s talent as an actress shines. We already knew she could sing the songs. We already knew she could bounce from ballad to pop hit with ease, and take on the stage with power. Those moments are glorious too but in a more expected way. She snagged the nomination but ultimately lost to Olivia Colman for The Favourite, who totally deserved the award too. Why couldn’t we just have a tie again like when Katharine Hepburn and Barbra Streisand both won for The Lion in Winter and Funny Girl, respectively? It has happened! 

About the author

Josh Lezmi

Josh is an entertainment writer and editor at Thought Catalog.