8 Surprisingly Great Acting Performances by Musicians

Mariah Carey, PreciousLionsgate via Everett Collection

Performing is performing. ‘Nuff said. But there are different skills for singing and acting. You wouldn’t want a dance track by Patrick Stewart featuring Ian McKellan (okay, bad example, that sounds awesome). You also wouldn’t watch The English Patient with Justin Bieber. Or Apollo 13 with the boys from 98 DegreesOr Crossroads with Britney Spears. But music artists like Mark Wahlberg, Queen Latifah, and Mandy Moore have all found great success by answering the call of the silver screen. Acting and singing are two different skills but some singers have managed to give some really amazing performances. Here are a few of our favorites.

Alecia Moore (Pink) in Thanks for Sharing

This heartfelt dramedy about sex addicts slipped under the radar. However, Pink’s performance shows that she’s more than just a singer… and acrobat. Her choice to use her real name to distinguish her acting from her music shows she’s serious. She plays a no-nonsense girl, which is pretty true to form, but she captures the humanity of the burden of sex addiction.

Mariah Carey in Precious

It’s hard to imagine the insanely high maintenance Carey without makeup. However, for her role in Precious, Carey abandoned her diva image in favor of playing a stern social worker. Carey’s acting abilities have incorrectly tied to the ill-fated flop Glitter. However, Carey is able to embody roles that are way more folksy and real than her media persona. Carey also deserves an honorable mention for her role in the film WiseGirls. The film is forgettable but her performance as a smart-mouthed waitress is impressive. 

Cyndi Lauper in Vibes

Lauper rarely gets her due as an actress. She is an amazing performer and is only an Oscar away from EGOT-ing. Her thick New York accent puts her in that Joe Pesci category of actors who must play New Yorkers or Italian Americans. All the same, in the 1980s Lauper had top billing in a comedy about psychics starring Jeff Goldblum. The film did not do well box office wise but Lauper proves herself to be both compelling and funny.

Whitney Houston in Waiting to Exhale

It’s sad that Houston’s amazing talent is often eclipsed by her personal issues. Not only was she an amazing singer, she was a very gifted actress. Her role in this drama, based on the popular Terry McMillan novel, showcased not only her solid acting chops but also her ability to draw an audience. She was able to hold her own against the likes of Angela Bassett and Loretta Devine.

Diana Ross in Mahogany

Ross is an icon. Her songs are timeless. Her performance in this film is legendary. She plays a young girl who gets transformed into a supermodel with tons of booze and poor choices along the way. Plus, her love interests are Norman Bates and Lando Calrissian. Pop reference overload.

David Bowie in Labyrinth

Bowie’s performance in this bizarre children’s movie shaped a generation. They were either scared by goblins, engrossed in the music, or titillated by Bowie’s royal jewels visible in his tights. Bowie does deserve some credit for the acting challenge of performing exclusively with Muppets. Jennifer Connelly is one quarter Muppet, right?

Jennifer Hudson in Dreamgirls

Hudson earned an Oscar for her role in the film version of this popular musical. She has the pipes to sing the popular song “I Am Telling You.” She also has the ability to shine as the breakout star of this blockbuster. She is scrappy yet vulnerable, and proved to be the surprising highlight of this star-studded film.

Janet Jackson and Tupac Shakur in Poetic Justice

Both Jackson and Shakur acting experience before Poetic Justice. Jackson did a lot of television shows like Fame and Diff’rent Strokes, which was an extension her squeaky clean pop star image. Shakur also kept his gangsta rap image for his role in Juice. Both actors stepped out of their comfort zones in this 1990s classic. Jackson opted for a harder exterior and a rougher neck. Shakur showed his softer side. Check out this clip that has enough F-bombs to rival Wolf of Wall Street.