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Top 10 Thursday: The Real Top 10 American Entertainers

Michael Jackson dies and all of a sudden he's the greatest entertainer of all time. Not so fast. MJ made three great albums, invented the moonwalk and, well.... Let us take another look at the performers who have truly proved most thrilling over the years.

1. Elvis Presley

Michael Jackson may have dubbed himself the King of Pop but Presley -- who has sold more records than anyone on this list -- has always worn the crown. An unstoppable sex symbol, he brought ass-shaking rock and roll to the masses and forever altered the cultural landscape of the '50s, paving the way for The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and so on. Check out Elvis the Pelvis doing "Blue Suede Shoes" in '56.


Presley remained on top -- or close to it -- with a horde of hits and starring roles in a bunch of fun, albeit fluffy, high-grossing feature films during the '60s. Presley then infused pop with operatic grandeur with underrated recordings, and especially under-appreciated concert performances, throughout the '70s. He's in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Country Music Hall of Fame and has a star of Hollywood's Walk of Fame. Here's a clip of a bloated, unhealthy Presley delivering an utterly chilling rendition of "Unchained Melody" a few months before his death in August of '77.

2. Frank Sinatra

An equally excellent jazz and pop vocalist, Sinatra ranks as the greatest singer to ever record. The 11-time Grammy winner also established himself as an ace actor, earning an Oscar nomination for his haunting portrayal of a junkie in the controversial 1955 film Man with the Golden Arm. He won an Academy Award for playing Private Angelo Maggio in the 1953 blockbuster From Here to Eternity. Last year, U.S. Congress designated May 13 as Frank Sinatra Day. Here's Ol' Blue Eyes at his acting/singing finest, performing the ultimate saloon song "One for My Baby (And One for the Road)" in the 1954 film Young at Heart, which featured him on screen opposite Doris Day.

3. Bing Crosby

Although he didn't have Sinatra's jazz chops, Crosby possessed a stunningly sonorous voice that enlivened and warmed everything from cowboy songs to pop standards to Irish lullabies. In 1962, he became the inaugural recipient of the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. The first person to truly dominate all facets of media, Crosby was also an enormously successful actor who won an Oscar for his role in the 1944 film Going My Way and is perhaps most beloved for starring alongside Danny Kaye in the timeless 1954 holiday favorite White Christmas. Here's the famed clip of Crosby collaborating with David Bowie on "Little Drummer Boy," from a 1977 Christmas special taped about a month before Crosby's death in October of 1977.

4. Barbra Streisand

An amazingly popular singer, Streisand went on to not only become a screen star but also  an acclaimed filmmaker. She has won two Academy Awards, nine Grammys, four Emmys and a special Tony Award. Streisand has sold more records than any other female artist, according to the RIAA.

Here's the scene with Kris Kristofferson from 1976's A Star is Born in which he and Streisand sing "Evergreen." Streisand composed the song, and for this film she won an Oscar for Best Original Score.

5. Michael Jackson

The self-proclaimed King of Pop had a fascinating tenor, sizable songwriting chops, and amazing dance moves -- but his A-game only lasted a decade. His acting skills, as evidenced by countless music videos, were adequate at best. A child star in the '60s with the Jackson 5 and then the Jacksons, he didn't emerge as a serious solo act until the release of his 1979 disco delight Off The Wall.

Of course, it was 1982's Thriller and, to a lesser extent, 1987's Bad that made Michael Jackson the undisputed supreme pop star of the '80s -- and one of the biggest record sellers of all time. By the '90s, though, his career had largely sunk into a succession of over-hyped, disappointing recordings and those highly disturbing accusations of child molestation. But in his prime, MJ ruled, like he did this night in 1983 when he performed "Billie Jean" on the TV special Motown:Yesterday, Today, Forever.

 

6. Judy Garland

Garland was both a multiple Grammy-award winning singer and a spectacular actress who won a Juvenile Academy Award and a Golden Globe. The American Film Institute ranked her number eight on its list of "AFI's 100 Years ... 100 Stars." In 2007, contemporary listeners were reminded of her ongoing influence as a vocalist when Rufus Wainwright reprised Garland's landmark New York City 1961 concert and issued Rufus Does Judy at Carnegie Hall.

She's probably best remembered for her role as Dorothy Gale in the 1939 musical masterpiece The Wizard of Oz. Here she is, on screen, presenting what would come to be her signature song, "Somewhere over the Rainbow."

7. Prince

Easily the most talented musician on this list, singer/songwriter and killer guitarist Prince is a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer who has won seven Grammys, a Golden Globe, and an Academy Award. Not the greatest actor, he did manage to pull an Elvis and turn in a serviceable, rather charming performance as the star of the 1984 flick Purple Rain. Still a major force, especially in concert, here's Prince covering Radiohead's "Creep" last year at Coachella.

8. Madonna

Sex sells and The Material Girl knows it! In fact, she'll probably be remembered as the sexiest, most shocking singer of the 20th Century. A capable but not remarkable vocalist, she has proved deft at changing with the times, writing most of her own stuff and coming up with outrageously raunchy and compelling dance moves to accompany each new video and tour. An above-average actress, she won a Golden Globe for her starring role in the 1996 film Evita. Here's Madonna onstage doing "Like a Virgin" back in '85.

9. Will Smith

He started out as a rapper back in the '80s, when hip-hop was more about fun than body counts, and scored hits as the Fresh Prince with "Nightmare on My Street" and "Parents Just Don't Understand." Then came the hit sitcom, the movies, and the slightly more serious pop hits under his given name. Still in the prime of his career, Smith has been nominated for four Golden Globes, two Academy Awards, and has won a gaggle of Grammys. Here's the video for the school's-out, good-times classic from 1991, "Summertime."

10. Liza Minnelli

Judy and Liza, mother and daughter, on the same list? Hell yeah. Minnelli has won an Oscar (for her awesome role in the classic Cabaret), four Tonys, an Emmy, and a Grammy. Sure, she's kooky these days and has a strange way with gay men, but back in the day, she was adorable. Try watching Arthur and not developing an instant crush. Here's Minnelli rocking "Mein Herr" in the career-making Cabaret.

-- Wade Tatangelo


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