Ellen, somewhere along the line, joined the rare pantheon of U.S. celebrities identifiable by first name. And unlike the likes of Oprah, Cher and Madonna, she reached the distinction without the benefit of an unusual moniker.
Now Ellen DeGeneres is again vying to prove herself worthy of being mentioned favorably in the same breath as another one-name, common-named Hollywood icon that represents uncommon achievement – and, perhaps, unreasonable expectations: Oscar.
DeGeneres returns Sunday to host the Academy Awards for the first time in seven years – a period during which she's secured her place as a comedy heavyweight (she earned the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor in 2012) and as popular daytime talk show host with a penchant for silly dancing. She'll need to stay fast on her feet as she plays Hollywood's biggest – and most slippery – stage.
DeGeneres garnered generally positive reviews for her 2007 Oscars turn. Critics haven't been as kind to more recent hosts, who variously annoyed many (James Franco and Anne Hathaway in 2011), couldn’t fully recreate past glories (Billy Crystal in 2012) or proved controversial ("Family Guy" creator Seth MacFarlane last year).
Those hosts' perceived weaknesses, unfairly or not, puts pressure on DeGeneres to come up big. So do recent memories of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, whose back-to-back hilarious Golden Globes stints sent them well on their way to becoming known simply as Tina and Amy. DeGeneres faces the added challenge of mounting a funny show as the entertainment world reels from the death last month of Philip Seymour Hoffman.
But DeGeneres, whose talents include a knack for making viewers feel comfortable, arrives equipped to succeed. She's knows she's onstage to entertain the 1 billion or so folks at home around the world, not the constellation of stars planted in the Dolby Theatre.
DeGeneres was speaking for those viewers seven years ago when she quipped in her opening monologue: "Let's be honest, it's not that we don't have time for long speeches – it's that we don't have time for boring speeches."
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She comes off as a fan, as she showed in 2007 when she charged through the studio audience and got Steven Spielberg to snap a picture of her with Clint Eastwood while giving the famed director directions.
DeGeneres, who doesn’t let a lack of musical training stem her enthusiastic singing or dancing, isn't afraid to look silly. Which might just be what the Oscars, where too many involved tend to take themselves too seriously, need.
We'll see Monday morning whether her performance will be enough to make Ellen a household name around the world. In the meantime, revisit her 2007 Oscars opening monologue below:
Jere Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.