Music legends, Kermit the Frog, and a message from space: host Vanessa Williams on 2021’s ‘A Capitol Fourth’

Courtesy PBS

With fireworks and large gatherings cancelled over COVID-19 concerns, along with the racial strife in the streets, PBS’s annual A Capitol Fourth celebration was a more somber affair last year. For Sunday night’s telecast, however, host Vanessa Williams tells ABC Audio things feel different.

“It definitely feels like the needle has moved forward,” Williams explains. “There has been so many people are healthy and businesses are open again, so there will be a refreshing take this year to the Capitol Fourth.”

The actress and recording artist’s hosting and singing segments will be live, as will the fireworks, though “amazing” musical acts have been pre-recorded. 

Kermit the Frog is actually going to be doing a couple of segments with me. So it’s not John Stamos, but it’s Kermit, so we’ll take that,” she says with a laugh about her frequent co-host. 

Williams continues, “Broadway phenoms like Cynthia Erivo and Christopher Jackson from Hamilton and Alan Jackson from country. Jennifer Nettles from the Country world, Train from the Rock and Roll world. My dear friend Renée Fleming from the opera world. Pentatonix…I mean, so many,” she enthuses.

There will also be a message from astronauts on the International Space Station.

As she did last year, Williams’ performances will touch on deeper issues. “I’m doing a tribute to Juneteenth…to highlight our new federal holiday, and I’m singing ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’, which has been kind of our Negro national anthem back in the day.”

She adds, “I will be singing ‘God Bless America’ while the fireworks are in the air.”

“It’s a wonderful tradition,” Williams says of the celebration that starts at 8 p.m. Sunday. “So I’m happy to listen to everyone and be a fan as well as a host.”  


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“Hasta la vista, baby”: ‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day’ turns 30 on Saturday

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On July 3, 1991, James Cameron‘s Terminator 2: Judgment Day, the sequel to his low-budget 1984 sci-fi classic The Terminator, blasted into theaters.

The original had a human resistance fighter traveling back in time to save a young woman named Sarah Connor from an unstoppable killing machine from the future, so that she one day could give birth to a son who would turn the tide in a future war against the machines. 

Terminator 2: Judgment Day reunited Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor, with Arnold Schwarzenegger‘s T-800 cyborg — but this time he was sent back to protect her 10-year-old son, John, played by Edward Furlong, after the Skynet artificial intelligence that controls the machines sends back an advanced terminator model, a shape-shifting liquid metal prototype known as the T-1000, played by Robert Patrick, to kill John. But first, the T-800 and John have to break Sarah Conner out of a psychiatric facility.

Then most expensive film ever made and boasting then-bleeding edge visual effects, Terminator 2: Judgment Day was a smash hit, and remains one of few sequels to surpass the original in the eyes of many fans. It grossed more than $520 million worldwide and earned Academy Awards for Best Sound Effects Editing, Best Makeup for late legend Stan Winston, and Best Visual Effects for the team at George Lucas‘ Industrial Light and Magic, which used nascent computer technology to bring the liquid metal killing machine to life.

There have been four Terminator films since Terminator 2: Judgment Day, the most recent being 2019’s Terminator: Dark Fate.  But none have reached T2‘s critical and box office heights.


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Idris Elba admits to struggling with his anger when he first started dating his wife, Sabrina

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Idris Elba admits he was not the best boyfriend when he started dating now-wife Sabrina Dhowre Elba.  The Luther star said he struggled with his temper, which led to angry outbursts and “tantrums.”

“Sabrina and I, very early in our relationship, I was very stressed so I had these massive anger tantrums that were like explosion,” Elba recently revealed during their Coupledom podcast, according to The Daily Mail

The British actor admits his outbursts would cause Sabrina to ask “Who are you?,”  which sometimes caused Elba to give an ultimatum to his then-girlfriend.

“I was always the first to say, ‘Hey, if you’re not happy, leave. Move,'” the Emmy nominee recalled. “It was kind of like a male instinct.”

Elba wasn’t proud of his past behavior and admits he’s “been getting better” at working toward more peaceful resolutions.

“Sabrina and I both have strong personalities and typically it’s Sabrina who says, ‘Look, I don’t want to fight,'” he explained. “I’ve been getting better at it recently but when I do it, I get nothing back.  When she does it, I go, ‘Thank you.'”

The star of the forthcoming The Suicide Squad said working through his anger has helped him forge a stronger bond with his wife, whom he wed in 2019.  He adds the two have been “literally inseparable since we met” in 2017.

“I’d say we’re in a good place,” Elba assessed. “It was a challenging year, but ultimately, when you look to the side and you’ve got someone that’s been there, ride or die, that’s really comforting.”

Sabrina added, “We’re newly business partners, but we’re also newlyweds. Idris is my best friend. I want to be around this guy every day of my life, so it’s really great to be able to see what that morphs into.”

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‘We the People’: Chris Nee, Peter Ramsey & H.E.R. share the vision behind their “Active Citizenship” episode

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Just in time for the 4th of July, Netflix is offering a U.S. civics lesson with their new animated series We The People.

Executive-produced by Barack and Michelle Obama, Kenya Barris and Chris Nee, the 10-episode animated music series, which has been compared to Schoolhouse Rock!, is designed to educate young Americans about their rights as citizens. Nee tells ABC Audio that the first episode, “Active Citizenship” was actually President Obama’s idea.

“President Obama came up with [it] on his own [because] he thought [it] was an important separated topic,” she says. “And the rest of it [laid] out what would be the basics and a curriculum.”

Sung by Grammy-winner H.E.R., the first We The People episode also features Biden inauguration poet Amanda Gorman, whom Nee says “takes [viewers] into the future” with her words. “Active Citizenship” director Peter Ramsey agrees, noting that H.E.R.’s lyrics also served as a “big inspiration” for the episode.

“H.E.R.’s line, ‘If I’m just one person, will my voice even stand out?,’ put her finger on an emotion that anyone can feel,” Ramsey explains. “Most people have asked that question in their daily lives. So taking that and saying, ‘Well, yeah, how can you make your voice stand out? What can you do? And then what can happen as a result?’ That was kind of the spirit of what we wanted to get across.”

As for H.E.R., she says joining the project spearheaded by the Obamas was an easy decision to make, considering it was “in line with what [she does]…in music.”

“Which is tell the truth and make people feel something through music and give people perspective,” H.E.R. says. “So I was so excited to be a part of it.”

We The People drops July 4.

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Surprise! Amber Heard is a new mom

Amber Heard surprised fans on Thursday with the news that she’s a new mom.

The Aquaman actress took to Instagram to announce the birth of her daughter, Oonagh Paige Heard, on April 8, 2021. The newborn appears to be named after Heard’s mother, Paige, who died in 2020.  Oonagh [OO-nah] is a traditional Irish name that is variously translated as ‘lamb’ or ‘unity.’

“I’m so excited to share this news with you,” Heard, 35, began. “Four years ago, I decided I wanted to have a child. I wanted to do it on my own terms. I now appreciate how radical it is for us as women to think about one of the most fundamental parts of our destinies in this way.”

“I hope we arrive at a point in which it’s normalized to not want a ring in order to have a crib,” she continued. “A part of me wants to uphold that my private life is none of anyone’s business. I also get that the nature of my job compels me to take control of this.”

The post, which included a picture of Heard laying in a hospital bed cradling her newborn daughter, concludes by calling the baby “the beginning of the rest of my life.”

Heard is currently embroiled in a contentious legal battle with ex-husband Johnny Depp. The couple divorced in 2017 after two years of marriage.  She went on to date Elon Musk, but the two went their separate ways in 2018.


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Alyson Stoner reveals she put herself through conversion therapy

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Alyson Stoner opened up about one of the lowest moments of her life, revealing she went through conversion therapy in 2018.

Conversion therapy is described as a practice to forcibly change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity.  At least 20 states have banned the practice on minors.

The Suite Life of Zach & Cody star recently spoke to Insider and admitted she struggled to come to terms with her sexuality because it conflicted with her religion.  Stoner, who identifies as pansexual, said her struggles worsened after she fell in love with another woman.

“I felt stuck. I felt wretched. I felt like everything was wrong with me,” Stoner, 27, explained. Shortly after, she said she admitted herself into an “outpatient variation” of conversion therapy “because I just wanted to do the right thing.”

Stoner admits what she experienced while undergoing conversion therapy three years ago is “legitimately difficult” to discuss.

“My mind doesn’t want to even go there,” the actress confessed, noting that trying to recall the memories makes her shake. “I’m not capable yet of going back and recounting specifics, which is an indicator of just how difficult that chapter was for me.”

The Mind Body Pride author hopes her story will serve as a cautionary tale for others considering conversion therapy, noting, “The dangers are measurable.”

LGBTQ youth who undergo conversion therapy are more than twice as likely to attempt suicide compared to those who do not, reports LGBTQ suicide prevention organization The Trevor Project.  Stoner admits the therapy made her wonder if her “life was worth living.”

“Even if someone comes out of it on the other side and says, ‘Hey, no, I’m living a great life,’ there are scars there. There are shadows,” she expressed, noting she now understands that her sexuality is “very natural.”

If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide, or worried about a friend or loved one, help is available. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 [TALK] for free confidential emotional support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Even if it feels like it, you are not alone.


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‘Fresh Prince’ star Janet Hubert blasts Phylicia Rashad for supporting Bill Cosby

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(NOTE LANGUAGE) Former The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air actress Janet Hubert isn’t happy about Phylicia Rashad‘s support for Bill Cosby after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned his sexual assault conviction.

Rashad, who played Cosby’s onscreen wife in The Cosby Show, reacted to the news by tweeting, “FINALLY!!!! A terrible wrong is being righted- a miscarriage of justice is corrected!”

“Phylicia what are you thinking!!! I don’t know you but to say this was terribly wrong. EVERYONE knew what he was doing back then,” Hubert, 65, tweeted on Thursday.  “How could you NOT! Get your umbrella sista here comes the s*** shower. I am outraged that he has been released. Yes he is an old a** guilty man!”

Hubert added that Rashad could have said, “He’s old he’s out and I’m happy for him, but he still …guilty.”

“I know 5 women who have not come forward,” Hubert continued.  “Enough ya’ll, we know better. Powerful men do wrong things, black or white…”

Rashad has since deleted her original tweet, while posting another expressing her support for survivors of sexual assault.

“I fully support survivors of sexual assault coming forward,” the actress wrote. “My post was in no way intended to be insensitive to their truth.”

“Personally, I know from friends and family that such abuse has lifelong residual effects,” Rashad continued. “My heartfelt wish is for healing.”

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Kevin Feige teases Marvel’s next phase contains “deeper, further stories that will have ramifications”

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Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige says fans should be excited about the latest phase in the Marvel Cinematic Universe… because he certainly is.

Speaking with Entertainment Tonight, Feige opened up about the future of the MCU and what fans can expect.

“I hope what people have taken away from Wandavision and Falcon and the Winter Soldier and Loki, and seeing Black Widow soon, is how unique and different all the corners of the MCU can be,” he said before noting the MCU now has more storytelling freedom because it expanded onto the Disney+ streaming service.

“That’s what Disney+ has given us, is an ability to tell more deeper, further stories that will have ramifications across features and series,” he explained. 

Feige also noted how the current Disney+ series Loki has allowed the MCU to feature lesser-known elements from the comic books, like the Time Variance Authority (TVA) that guards what is known as the “Sacred Timeline” and stops alternate universes from forming.

Feige said he is “so excited” by how receptive MCU fans are to the previously unknown TVA.

“Nobody outside of very, very particular comic nerds like myself had heard of the TVA [before Loki,]” he gushed. “And now that’s something that people are embracing and wondering, when will the TVA come back?”

Unfortunately, that is one question Feige will not be answering — including speculation over which characters will appear next in the MCU.

“Everything we make is hopefully with the intention of exceeding expectations and fulfilling surprises,” he teased. “Not every rumor you read about online is true, not by a long shot, but not every one is false either. So that’s the fun.”

As for when Feige can address those MCU rumors, he grinned, “I hope sometime in the near future.” 

Marvel is owned by Disney, the parent company of ABC News.

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New ‘Alien’ series won’t feature Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley; will battle “inequality,” creator says

Weaver holding Carrie Henn in a promotional picture for ‘Aliens’ — Mondadori via Getty Images

When one thinks of the Alien movies, they immediately think of Sigourney Weaver‘s tough-as-nails Ellen Ripley, as well as acid-bleeding xenomorphs stalking humans in the shadows of space.

And while alien warfare certainly comes to mind when one thinks of the films, class warfare likely doesn’t, but that theme is a major element of a new Alien series for FX, according to show creator Noah Hawley.

Hawley, who brought the trippy, X-Men-based Legion to life, and also adapted the Coen Brothers‘ Oscar-winning Fargo into Emmy gold, firstly tells Vanity Fair that his Alien series is “not a Ripley story.” 

He explains, “She’s one of the great characters of all time, and I think the story has been told pretty perfectly, and I don’t want to mess with it.”

While the original 1979 film may have touched down on far-flung planet LV-426, Hawley says the still-in-development series will tackle issues on humans’ terrestrial home.

“You will see what happens when the inequality we’re struggling with now isn’t resolved. If we as a society can’t figure out how to prop each other up and spread the wealth, then what’s going to happen to us?”

He tells Vanity Fair that what he finds interesting about Ridley Scott‘s original, as well as about James Cameron‘s beloved 1986 sequel and David Fincher‘s 1992 Alien 3, was that they “were great monster movies” that are “not just monster movies.”

Hawley adds, “There’s that great Sigourney Weaver line to Paul Reiser [in Aliens] where she says, ‘I don’t know which species is worse. At least they don’t f*** each other over for a percentage.'”

The series should go before cameras in 2022, Hawley says.


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Steven Yeun, Laverne Cox, Andra Day among 395 new Academy members

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On Thursday, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) announced the addition of 395 new members from 50 countries. 

Among them are a diverse group of performers, from Minari Oscar nominee Steven Yuen and winner Yuh-Jung Youn, to trans Promising Young Woman actress and activist Laverne Cox, and singer/actress Andra Day, who was nominated last year for The United States vs. Billie Holiday

Other invitees included Da 5 Bloods‘ Jonathan Majors and Isiah Whitlock, Jr.One Night in Miami‘s Leslie Odom, Jr.The Trial of the Chicago 7‘s Yahya Abdul-Mateen II; and actress and producer Issa Rae.

The full list is posted on the Academy’s website.

Ever since it was taken to task with the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite in 2016, the Academy has made efforts to boost diversity both in front of and behind the camera, as well as in its own ranks. In 2020, it announced that it instituted new standards for representation and inclusivity when considering films for Oscar nominations, including the esteemed Best Picture category.

In 2021, a record nine actors of color were nominated, including Minari’s Yeun, the first Asian American to be nominated for Best Actor.

Last year was also the first time in Oscar history that white men were in the minority in the Best Actor category — however, the low-rated telecast made headlines for all the wrong reasons once again when Anthony Hopkins won the trophy for The Father, instead of the actor many believed would win, the late Chadwick Boseman for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.

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