It took us a while to come around to the notion that celebrities—actors, singers and entertainers—could be counted among the world's most powerful women. It wasn't until 2010, in fact, a full seven years after FORBES inaugural list, that any entertainer with the exception of Oprah (who, to be fair, is a multi-hyphenate philanthropist with some of the world's deepest pockets) was counted in the ranks.
Oprah, it should be noted, debuted on the FORBES Power Women list at No. 9 in 2005, and even back then we weren't just interested in her pretty face or hard-won interviews. "With a net worth of more than $1 billion, an Academy Award nomination, a hit television show, a successful magazine and a cable channel," we wrote at the time, "There seems to be little else that Winfrey, 51, can do to add to her status as an international media phenomenon… Winfrey is also a vocal advocate for the education and well-being of women and children around the world, giving to those in need via Oprah's Angel Network and her personal charity, the Oprah Winfrey Foundation."
While Oprah still reigns supreme as the empress of celebrity power, we stay true to the precedent set in 2005 when we began our search of the women who most impacted the world over the past 12 months. The celebrity change-agents, taste-makers and world shakers are anything but the Photoshopped faces of the weekly gossip rags. (Well, some of them are that as well). Instead, all of the female entertainers considered for the 2012 list of the World's Most Powerful Women all have an additional hyphenate that gives credit to the breadth of their impact around the globe.
Take Angelina Jolie, UN Ambassador and tabloid fodder bride-to-be. The Academy Award winning actress, UN Goodwill Ambassador, and, as of April 2012, a special envoy to the High Commissioner of the UNHCR, the UN's special agency for refugees, is a fierce advocate for women and children around the world. The mother of six has had a busy 12 months despite not releasing a single big-budget film; she pulled in $20 million on residuals and smart ad campaigns.
But one half of Hollywood's most sought-after couple doesn't just lend her name to the cause, she puts her time and money to work: in June she donated $100,000 to the UNHCR to assist Syrian refugees, telling reporters that "Every individual refugee matters. Each has their own story. Each has suffered more than I could ever bear." In her work with the UNHCR the two-time speaker at the World Economic Forum in Davos has made over 40 field visits to conflict zones in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Haiti, Iraq and Sudan, and has personally donated over $5 million to build schools in Kenya and Afghanistan. All that and the mother of six only lands at No. 66 on this year's list.
Far above her are Lady Gaga, Beyonce and Shakira, who mobilise their personal (and exceedingly active) fan-bases around their various causes. The three women have a combined 50 million Twitter followers (roughly the population of South Korea or about five New York Cities piled on top of one another) and put their clout to good use.
This year Lady Gaga, an outspoken champion of underrepresented youth—particularly in the GLBT community—launched the Born This Way Foundation with a mission of safety, skills and opportunity for young people. In its first year a major sponsorship took off: in July, Office Depot officials say they hope to create a "braver, kinder school year" for students by partnering with the Born This Way Foundation for back-to-school. The retail outlet pledged $1 million to Gaga's campaign.
For her part Beyonce took up with the Obama administration in 2012, lending her support to the First Lady's healthy eating and fitness initiatives for children in the US. The "Get Me Bodied" music video she made for the campaign has been viewed more than 22 million times on YouTube.
And in South America, Shakira is an advocate for education. The UNICEF ambassador is the founder of the Barefoot Foundation, which she established in 1996 to improve and provide early education systems around the world. To promote her cause, she's met with world leaders like US President Barack Obama and Israel President Shimon Peres and recruited power players like Howard Buffett, son of the famed investor, to Barefoot's board, which lobbies governments to provide more funds to education and school construction.
Other celebrities make our list of Power Women for work that's possibly more self-interested but no less significant: building lucrative businesses. Take Jennifer Lopez—FORBES No. 1 Most Powerful Celebrity in theWorld for 2012—and the powerhouse behind a multi-media empire. Through her company Nuyorican Productions she produced and starred in Latin singing competition show Q'Viva for Fox and is developing an hour-long drama for ABC Family. In 2012 she launched her first international music tour–making stops in the US, South America, Europe and the Middle East—but decided not to return to reality competition series American Idol, where she was a judge for two years. "I'm a little bit tired now, I'm not going to lie," Lopez told FORBES at the time.
With all that the 43-year-old still manages to give back: through her family foundation she's developing telemedicine programmes in Puerto Rico, Panama and Los Angeles and, perhaps more notably Lopez is the first female spokesperson of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America in its 152-year history.
Another Latina businesswoman, Sofia Vergara, makes her debut on the ranking of the world's most powerful women at No. 75. The recent FORBES cover girl is the co-owner of a media company that focuses on the burgeoning US Hispanic economy, estimated to top $1 trillion in coming years. Media companies Fox, ABC and NBCUniversal are taking note and as one half of LatinWE, the Modern Family star—who is the highest paid actress on US television—is considered to be the leader of the focus on the lucrative demographic.