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With a Grammy Nomination, Viola Davis' EGOT Is in Sight

Which four audiobook narrators stand between the How to Get Away With Murder alum and history?
  • Viola Davis with her Emmy Award (Photo: Elizabeth Goodenough/Everett Collection)
    Viola Davis with her Emmy Award (Photo: Elizabeth Goodenough/Everett Collection)

    Ever since she won the Academy Award for her performance in Fences in 2017, Viola Davis has found herself in rarefied air among entertainers. Along with her Emmy win in 2015 for How to Get Away With Murder and two Tony Awards (in 2001 for King Hedley II and in 2010 for Fences), Davis stands one award away from the prestigious EGOT disctinction. Artists who have won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony award include such legends as Richard Rodgers, Audrey Hepburn, Rita Moreno, Mike Nichols, Whoopi Goldberg, and Andrew Lloyd Webber. Only 22 people have ever achieved this, with the most recent to earn the distinction being Jennifer Hudson, after her Tony Award this past spring for producing the musical A Strange Loop.

    An even larger group are stranded one award away, and that's where Davis sits, needing a Grammy to complete the quartet. And as of this week, she's in a position to make that happen. Davis was nominated for a Grammy on Tuesday in the "Best Audio Book, Narration, and Storytelling Recording" category for narrating the audiobook to her own memoir Finding Me. Which means on February 5th, Viola Davis could become our 23rd EGOT winner.

    This is all possible because in 2014 Viola Davis, who by that point was already a movie star and two-time Oscar nominee, took the lead role on a network drama, ABC's How to Get Away with Murder. As Annalise Keating, whose approach to teaching law was especially hands-on, in that she embroiled her students into a succession of murder plots that they would have to cross innumerable ethical lines to get out of, Davis brought every inch of her considerable acting arsenal to bear. Her Annalise was strong, flawed, sinister, and often unexpectedly vulnerable. In the sheep's clothing of a network legal drama, Davis was a wolf ready to bare her teeth at a moment's notice. She won the Emmy the very next year, the first Black woman to win Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama. The relative scarcity of performers who can pull off the kind of crossover success that Davis did is why the EGOT remains such a prestigious achievement.

    Looking at the list of performers who are sitting one award away from an EGOT, it’s full of actors whose only chance at that Grammy is following the audiobook route that Davis has taken. That includes the likes of Frances McDormand, Al Pacino, Helen Mirren, Ellen Burstyn, Geoffrey Rush, and Maggie Smith. The list of entertainers who are one Oscar win away presents a few more varied possibilities. Lin-Manuel Miranda, Marc Shaiman, and Cyndi Lauper are one hit song (or score) from a musical away from winning their Oscar. Hugh Jackman, Audra McDonald, Cynthia Erivo, Cynthia Nixon, and Lily Tomlin are among a group whose next acting performance in a film could be the one that nets them the EGOT-clinching Oscar.

    So now that Viola Davis has gotten her first Grammy nomination, the question is: can she win? Her competition is a wildly eclectic bunch who each present their own challenge:

    • Jamie Foxx, nominated for narrating his memoir, Act Like You Got Some Sense: And Other Things My Daughters Taught Me.
    • Lin-Manuel Miranda for narrating the audiobook for the YA coming-of-age novel Aristotle and Dante Dive Into the Waters of the World, by Benjamin Alire Sáenz.
    • Mel Brooks for narrating his memoir All About Me!: My Remarkable Life in Show Business
    • Questlove for narrating his book Music Is History, which explores popular music through the context of American history over the past 50 years.

    All of these nominees are either EGOT winners or contenders. Jamie Foxx and Questlove are both Oscar and Grammy winners, with Questlove winning his Oscar just this past year (and rather infamously, as his Best Documentary Feature for Summer of Soul was the award that Chris Rock was presenting when Will Smith charged the stage and slapped him).

    Lin-Manuel Miranda just needs an Oscar to complete his EGOT, and might have done so last year had Encanto submitted the surprise hit "We Don't Talk About Bruno" as its official submission. Mel Brooks, meanwhile, already has an EGOT, completing it in 2001 by winning three Tony Awards for The Producers.

    This all means that if Viola Davis is going to be denied an EGOT on February 5th, it will be by someone who already has the G in their EGOT journey. Somebody's gotta let the Grammy voters know! They might otherwise be inclined to vote for the nominees who have more musical backgrounds like Questlove, Miranda, and Foxx. Or they might be swayed by the living-legend status of 96-year-old Mel Brooks. Grammy voters might not realize the history they could be making by making Viola Davis only the third Black woman to achieve EGOT status — and the only one to do so via four performance awards, as Jennifer Hudson and Whoopi Goldberg both won their Tonys for producing.

    History is in your hands, Grammy voters.

    Joe Reid is the senior writer at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: Viola Davis, The Grammy Awards, How to Get Away with Murder, The Tony Awards, Jamie Foxx, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Mel Brooks, Questlove, The Academy Awards, EGOT, Primetime Emmy Awards