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Harriet star and future EGOT Cynthia Erivo sings Stephen Colbert to tears

Cynthia Erivo, Stephen Colbert
Screenshot: The Late Show

Stephen Colbert noted that guest Cythia Erivo is receiving Oscar buzz for her turn as American hero and person who’d be on the $20 bill but for Trump administration racism, Harriet Tubman in director Kasi Lemmons’ Harriet. Erivo was noncommittal about the possibility, which one supposes you can be when you’ve already got the EGT of your EGOT, with Colbert informing his audience that Erivo is on track to possibly become the youngest person ever to win an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony Award. Never heard of Cynthia Erivo? Shame on you.

With a Broadway presence mighty enough to have won those E,G, and Ts all thanks to her towering performance as Celie in the musical stage adaptation of The Color Purple, the British Erivo agreed with Colbert that it’s nuts that there hasn’t been a Harriet Tubman feature film before now. “Maybe it’s just that Hollywood wasn’t ready for” a major film with “a woman of color in the lead, in the center, doing action,” speculated Erivo, smiling. Courting the expected boos for Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s decision to indefinitely postpone the decision to replace Andrew Jackson with Tubman on the 20, Colbert asked Erivo why she thought the administration cancelling an honor to a heroic black woman was going on. “I don’t think there is any rationale to it,” opined Erivo, saying of Tubman, “She’s done the work.” (Colbert also showed off one of those Harriet Tubman stamps you can buy to cover up Jackson’s kisser, although he was quick to make everyone promise never, ever to go ahead and do such a thing in defiance of federal statute and a bunch of foot-dragging bigots.)


Apart from her Oscar chances, Erivo told Colbert about her preparations for playing yet another American icon in NatGeo’s upcoming third season of Genius, focusing this time on Aretha Franklin. Shown a clip of the late Franklin silently and rapturously singing along to her performance of “The Impossible Dream” at the Kennedy Center Honors, Erivo was moved all over again, although not as moved as Colbert got when he asked his guest if she wouldn’t mind showing off a little Aretha for everyone. Asking Late Show bandleader Jon Batiste if he knew Franklin’s “I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You)”—he did, of course—Erivo sang the song’s legendarily passionate lines while staring directly into Colbert’s eyes, which quickly filled up with tears. Of awe? Infatuation? Whichever—Colbert, taking off his glasses to wipe his eyes, said, once Erivo was done, “That’s like staring at the sun.”

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Dennis Perkins

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Danny Peary's Cult Movies books are mostly to blame.