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Talented Trailblazers: A Look at Influential and Trendsetting LGBT Entertainers

5 minute read | July 2015

It’s a liberating time to live in the U.S. With the milestone Supreme Court decision to legalize same-sex marriage in all 50 U.S. states coming at the tail end of Pride Month, it’s evident that people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) are influencing policy and equal rights in significant ways. And as evidenced by the critical acclaim for Laverne Cox as Sophia Burset in “Orange is the New Black” and soccer star Abby Wambach helping the U.S. Women’s team claim victory in the World Cup, entertainers who identify as LGBT are not only some of today’s most recognizable personalities—they’re highly influential as well.

A recent Nielsen study found singer Elton John, who’s long been recognized for his music and his outspokenness on LGBT rights, and singer-songwriter Barry Manilow, to be highly influential. The two were viewed as such by 56% and 47% of Americans, respectively. Influential performers like these two helped set the stage on which a new generation of LGBT musicians continue to thrive. This past year, Sam Smith became the first openly gay artist to win the GRAMMY for Best Pop Vocal Album, and in 2009 Adam Lambert was the runner-up on American Idol. And now, Lambert is considered a trendsetting LGBT entertainer, seen as one by 24% of Americans who recognize him. LGBT consumers may be most likely to recognize EDM (electronic dance music) artists, according to Nielsen’s upcoming 2015 LGBT Consumer Report, but the influence of rock and pop artists such as these can’t be ignored.

News personalities are among some of today’s most influential LGBT entertainers across all genres. Over half of those who know Suze Orman (51%) found her to be influential. Similarly, 50% of Americans who know Anderson Cooper and Rachel Maddow found them to be influential.

Ellen DeGeneres is a major influencer in her own right, having come out publicly in 1997 during the fourth season of her TV sitcom, “Ellen,” and now in her 12th season as host of her own talk show. Compared with the average talk show host, DeGeneres boasts an awareness rating 61% higher and a likeability rating 35% higher. Additionally, she’s viewed as a role model by nearly 40% of people who know her.

DeGeneres’ status has certainly helped her cross her stardom from the small screen to voicing beloved characters such as Dory in “Finding Nemo” on the big screen, but she isn’t the only LGBT star to do so. Laverne Cox, seen as a role model by more than one-third of Americans who are aware of her, and best known for her role in “Orange is the New Black,” recently appeared as a transgender tattoo artist in Lily Tomlin’s film “Grandma.”


Whether LGBT or straight, the ability to influence consumers to watch a TV show or commercial, or buy an advertiser’s product, can make any entertainer more marketable – just ask American Express, CoverGirl and J.C. Penny: they’ve all signed the highly influential DeGeneres as a spokeswoman. Here are examples of LGBT spokespeople who seem to be a good fit with the products they endorse, as their fans also have an affinity toward it. Compared to the general U.S. population:

  • Fans of Heineken spokesperson Neil Patrick Harris are 5% more likely to drink beer and 15% more likely to have consumed imported beer in the past 30 days. Adverts featuring NPH are also likely to have reached the LGBT community beyond just his fans; the top indexing category for LGBT consumers is liquor, according to the upcoming LGBT report.
  • Fans of Good Morning America host Robin Roberts, a breast cancer survivor who partnered with WebMD recently to explore the future of health, are 26% more likely to have health insurance and 11% more likely to have bought medicine/prescription medications online in past 12 months. They’re also 18% more likely to belong to health/fitness club or gym.
  • Fans of Jim Parsons, who plays lovable nerd Sheldon on CBS’ The Big Bang Theory and is a spokesperson for Intel, are more likely to own items like a wearable device (23% more likely) or a smart TV (20% more likely). They’re also 25% more likely to have shopped online for consumer electronics in the past month.


Caitlyn Jenner, formerly known as Bruce Jenner, has gained the spotlight recently for coming out as a transgender woman. Prior to her interview with Diane Sawyer, Caitlyn Jenner – surveyed as Bruce Jenner at the time – was known by 86% of Americans. Following the interview on 20/20, her awareness among the general U.S. population rose to 93%, while her likability remained the about the same (24% before and 26% after the interview). Comparatively, Jenner gained ground in both influence and trendsetting after the interview, as both rose significantly from when she was surveyed as Bruce Jenner: influence increased from 19% to 27%, and trendsetting grew from 5% to 15%. Her transition wasn’t universally well received, however. Her offensive rating went from 16% pre-interview to 26% post-interview.

Perceptions, however, can vary depending on factors like age or even the region where you live. For instance, people under the age of 34 were more likely than those aged 55 and older to think of Jenner as influential and trendsetting following interview. And conversely, the jump in her offensive rating was twice as high among Americans over the age of 55. The under 34 year-old set was more likely to consider Jenner successful (38% to 42%) and a role model (13% to 19%) now than a year ago, while those over age 55 were less likely to consider her a role model (14% to 9%) and successful (44% to 34%).

Additional insights on LGBT celebrities who have broken ground in the entertainment industry, as well as the media and purchase habits of U.S. LGBT consumers, will be available in Nielsen’s 2015 LGBT Consumer Report.


Nielsen Talent Analytics is the collective Nielsen intelligence, insights and solutions for linking brands and audiences to entertainment personalities. Nielsen N-Score is Nielsen’s syndicated tool for evaluating the endorsement potential for personalities across the sports, television, film, music, book publishing and radio industries. Approximately 1,000 U.S. consumers who are representative of the U.S. population are surveyed on a weekly basis (English-only) and are asked to assess 50 different personalities, including awareness and likeability along with 10 other attributes. Nielsen N-Score survey data can then be linked to other Nielsen solutions to produce additional segmentation and demographic information.

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