KFC, a company whose fried chicken is nearly comparable to the majestic thighs at Popeye's but not quite, has rebooted their classic Colonel Sanders mascot and it's ... not what I expected. In fact, the new Colonel Sanders is now played by Reba McEntire, country music singer extraordinaire, former WB sitcom star, and gifter of my personal favorite breakup song "Going Out Like That." It is quite the update, and nowhere near as harrowing as the time Wendy's used an IRL adult redhead in their ad campaign.
Indeed, McEntire made her debut as KFC's first female Colonel Sanders on Thursday when the company tweeted out a clip from their new ad campaign hawking their new Smoky Mountain BBQ fried chicken. The clip features McEntire donning the Colonel's iconic white wig, mustache, and suit while performing a rather rousing jingle complete with cute winking lyrics like, "Please ignore a likeness to famous country singers / I'm definitely not a woman." There are also shots of non-Colonel Reba munching on fried chicken in the crowd, which is extra cute, plus there are, of course, quite a few cowboy hats in the frame.
The campaign officially kicks off on January 28th, but here's a preview:
The Colonel Sanders mascot is designed after Colonel Harland F. Sanders, who according to the Verge founded Kentucky Fried Chicken in the 1930s (and also reportedly lived a pretty wild life). The real Colonel sold the company in 1964, but part of the sale mandated he remain the mascot, and so over the years KFC's had a slew of Colonels mimicking his slow Southern drawl.
Though most of KFC's past Colonels were animated, starting in 2015 KFC started running commercials featuring the "new Colonel," i.e. a real actor (and, in one case, a CGI creation) hamming it up in the Colonel's suit. Paste recently ranked all the famous Colonel Sanderses, the likes of whom have been played by Rob Lowe, Vincent Kartheiser, George Hamilton (who portrayed an "extra-crispy" Colonel Sanders, thanks to his tan), Ray Liotta, Billy Zane, Norm Macdonald, Jim Gaffigan and Darrell Hammond, who was the first and probably best new Colonel:
But McEntire earns stripes as the company's first lady Colonel, and the Internet seems pretty pleased KFC's adding some gender equity to its repertoire of wings, thighs, and breasts. "Finally, women have broken the fried ceiling. Congratulations
@reba," one woman tweeted. "Always thought we'd have a woman president before we had a woman Colonel Sanders tbh," another Twitter user added, which, I mean, me too, but I'll take a small victory.
Of course, while some folks are psyched that KFC tapped a woman to front their new flavor — and, more importantly, a woman as fierce with a microphone as Reba McEntire — others appear to find the gender-bending a little unsettling:
Personally, I'm all for changing up mascots, even for something as unsuspecting as sticking Reba onstage in a Southern gentleman's suit. For one thing, gender-bending in ad marketing is a good way to appeal your product to another segment of the population—though, certainly, love of fried chicken is universal across the gender spectrum. But also, as is the case with representation in film and television, putting women in roles previously held by men challenges pre-conceived stereotypes, and though Reba in drag might not really change anything, it's a teensy step in at least some sort of direction. I'm nowhere near as psyched about this as I was about the aspiring astronaut American Girl doll, but, hey, progress is slow, as is the cooking process of a particularly crispy piece of cast-iron skillet-cooking fried chicken, soon to be available Memphis-style at your local KFC.