Musical Colonel: Reba McEntire to play KFC chain’s founder

The next Colonel Sanders is giving the character a little bit of “country music flair.” KFC has picked singer Reba McEntire to play the founder of the fried chicken chain, the first female celebrity in the role.

In commercials starting next week, McEntire dons the Colonel’s famous white suit and black tie, but with a twist.

McEntire’s outfit has fringe on the back, and a glittery shine, giving the getup “a little bit of the country music flair,” she told The Associated Press in an interview. McEntire sings on stage as the Colonel, with a white wig and white facial hair.

“I thought the transformation was really funny,” said McEntire, who will appear in the ads until the end of April. “I got a big kick out of it.”

A rotating cast of famous names have portrayed the Colonel since 2015, but McEntire is the first famous female to do it, and the first musician. She may also be the first woman in KFC’s nearly 90-year-history to depict the Colonel. The company said the “best historical minds at KFC” could not remember a woman having stepped into the role.

McEntire was approached about doing so in December. “I said ‘Holy smokes!’,” McEntire told The AP. “KFC has been a part of my life forever.”

KFC said it picked McEntire because of her Southern roots, and to help promote its new Smoky Mountain BBQ, which combines fried chicken with a taste of barbeque. McEntire said she’s eaten at KFC all her life, since her days growing up in Oklahoma.

She sings in the ad, in a tongue-in-cheek approach: “I’m Colonel Sanders, the same as always,” McEntire sings. “I’m definitely not a woman.” McEntire also appears as herself in the commercial, as an audience member.

Col. Harland Sanders, who died 36 years ago, first started selling fried chicken from a single restaurant in 1930. KFC, now owned by Louisville, Kentucky-based Yum Brands Inc., resurrected the Colonel for its ads in 2015 after a nearly 20 year absence, hiring Rob Lowe, Ray Liotta and other famous men for the role.

The ad was overseen by KFC’s new chief marketing officer, Andrea Zahumensky, who is trying to continue a turnaround of the brand. “I think this is going to be our most-loved Colonel yet,” Zahumensky said.

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