Like an old, sweet song, Ray Charles seems to be on plenty of minds these days. His last CD, Genius Loves Company, has sold half a million copies. And Ray, a film based on his life, opens Oct. 29. But first, Jamie Foxx, the star of that biopic, will host a CBS tribute to the 12-time Grammy winner, who died of liver disease in June. The special will feature performances by Elton John, Reba McEntire, Stevie Wonder and other Charles fans. Says Foxx of the event: "For Ray, we're going to do it right."
TV Guide Online: Your performance in Ray has already been generating Oscar buzz. Do you care, or are you one of those "it's an honor just to be nominated" types?
If you play for the Lakers, you want to go to the championship. I just look at this stuff as a beautiful testimony to Ray Charles' life.
TVGO: You've worked previously with a lot of big stars, like Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise and Denzel Washington. Did you get any tips from them?
They all help you along. Denzel's advice was, "Don't hurt yourself." Then he asked how old I was at the time. I said I was 36. Then he said, "OK, then. You can hurt yourself a little." That was pretty funny.
TVGO: Did you have any favorite Ray Charles songs growing up?
"I Got A Woman" was definitely high on the list. And his versions of "Georgia On My Mind" and "America the Beautiful" were part of our culture. And when I went to college on a classical piano scholarship, the Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles songbooks were the first ones you got.
TVGO: Before he passed away this past spring, did Ray give you tips on how to play him?
I went 60 Minutes on him. I asked him if he spent time with a lot of beautiful women. He'd tell me no. Then I'd say, "Be honest." Then he'd smile that smile of his and say, "Well, there was this one girl.... " And that one girl turned into this whole collage of women.
TVGO: Since music is such a major part of your background, will you be performing on the CBS special?
I doubt that I'll do anything. We've got people like Elton John, Alicia Keyes and Usher. It's time for them to do their thing for Ray. I've already done mine.
TVGO: Will the concert be somber or celebratory?
It's going to be an emotional thing because you seldom get a chance to say goodbye to your friends in this type of fashion. I remember when Redd Foxx passed, nothing was said and I thought, "Wow! I watched him so many years, and there wasn't any [big tribute]."
TVGO: You've hosted the ESPY awards the past two years. Now you're hosting this special. Have you ever thought about ditching acting and becoming a full-time host?
I think doing the ESPYs is enough. That's fun. The secret is to make sure you're prepared. Even if you have a bad joke, tell it with confidence. Do it like Johnny Carson did it, man! He could tell a bad joke but the way he did it, it still ended up funny.