Ellen DeGeneres has subjected her celebrity guests to plenty of awkward moments on her talk show over the years. Kanye West, Taylor Swift and Caitlyn Jenner can all attest to that. But when country singer Blake Shelton appeared on Ellen, a particularly shocking scene played out before the audience. In fact, the interview took a dark turn when the host asked Shelton a surprisingly personal question.
Everything had started so well, too. To begin with, you see, Shelton received some good-natured ribbing from DeGeneres – and Shelton played along. He even took mock-objection to the host pointing out that Shelton was no longer considered People’s “Sexiest Man Alive.” It was the kind of light-hearted banter audiences have come to expect from the quick-witted host. But the interview went downhill from there.
That’s because DeGeneres decided to grill Shelton about his relationship with singer Gwen Stefani. And while it appeared at first that the host was going to continue having a little fun with her guest, Shelton became visibly upset. In fact, Shelton’s reaction to the exchange showed that he wasn’t finding the presenter’s prodding as entertaining as the audience.
This is perhaps even more surprising considering that Shelton has previously had high-profile relationships that have attracted intense media scrutiny. In 2003, for instance, Shelton walked down the aisle with long-term girlfriend Kaynette Gern. The pair then divorced three years later, and in 2011 the singer married fellow country star Miranda Lambert – whom he’d met at the 100 Greatest Duets Concert.
After Shelton and Lambert split in 2015, then, Shelton began a relationship with his co-coach on The Voice Gwen Stefani. And as both the country star and the former No Doubt singer live their lives in the public eye, it seems that all kinds of rumors began to swirl around their coupling. So what was it that DeGeneres said to cause Shelton such discomfort?
Well, as many of us know, DeGeneres isn’t afraid to make her guests shift in their seats. And Shelton joins a host of stars who have been victims of the well-known TV personality’s acerbic wit on her talk show. This is, after all, just one of the reasons why The Ellen DeGeneres Show has proven to be so enduring.
Take, for example, the cringeworthy scene between DeGeneres and guest Dakota Johnson in November 2019. The actor, famous for her role in the Fifty Shades film series, was surprised when the host asked why she hadn’t been invited to Johnson’s birthday party. Johnson replied, “Actually, no, that’s not the truth, Ellen. You were invited.” And that was only the beginning.
You see, DeGeneres seemed surprised that she had been invited to the actress’ birthday soiree. Johnson continued, “Last time I was on the show you gave me a bunch of s*** about not inviting you, but I didn’t even know you wanted to be invited. I didn’t even know you liked me.” It was an awkward moment – and the interview never recovered from its rocky start.
Yet such is the nature of talk shows that there are also bound to be times when guests behave unpredictably. That is even more true when the celebrities in question are known for their erratic behavior. One such example is Kanye West, who took his opportunity on The Ellen DeGeneres Show to spend over eight minutes ranting about various topics.
During West’s monologue, though, DeGeneres occasionally glanced at the camera – her raised eyebrow communicating everything that the audience needed to know. Then at the end of his speech, West offered up an apology. The star said, “I’m sorry, daytime television. I’m sorry for the realness.” But after a brief pause to let the audience applaud, DeGeneres was at her witty best, quipping, “Well, it’s not daytime television anymore.”
And it’s moments such as DeGeneres’ chat with West that have propelled her into the hearts of the American viewing public. Her eponymous program has won a total of seven Daytime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Talk Show, after all. But perhaps DeGeneres’ greatest award was the one she received in 2016: the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Upon bestowing the award on DeGeneres, President Obama said, “Ellen counters what too often divides us, with the countless things that bind us together, inspires us to be better, one joke, one dance at a time.” He also praised “how much courage was required for Ellen to come out on the most public of stages almost 20 years ago.” It’s safe to say, then, that DeGeneres is American television royalty.
That’s why a slot on her show is highly valued by celebrities of all levels. And Blake Shelton certainly would have known what he was letting himself in for when he signed up to appear on the show in December 2019. After all, Shelton has featured on Ellen many times over the years – so he’s no stranger to DeGeneres’ wit.
In fact, it was one of Shelton’s previous appearances on the talk show that set the scene for the latest exchange between the host and her guest. That conversation had revolved around Shelton’s current belle, Gwen Stefani – who has been a guest on Ellen on a handful of occasions herself. Shelton and Stefani have even featured together on the popular program.
Yes, back in 2014, Shelton and Stefani cropped up on The Ellen DeGeneres Show before they’d become a couple. Why? Well, the country singer and Stefani were presenting together as coaches for the seventh season of The Voice. This was the former No Doubt frontwoman’s debut on the hit American talent show contest, too.
Stefani went on to coach in further runs of The Voice, featuring in seasons nine, 12 and 17. But it was her stint on season seven that saw her and Shelton appear together on screen for the first time. Back then, though, Stefani was married to Gavin Rossdale of the rock band Bush. The pair were married for 13 years – before she filed for divorce in August 2015.
And in September 2015 – only a month after Stefani had filed for divorce from Rossdale – it was revealed that she was in a relationship with Shelton. The country singer himself had only announced his divorce from Miranda Lambert in July of the same year, too. So it was perhaps only inevitable that tongues would start to wag.
When Shelton and Lambert announced their split in June 2015, the couple released a joint statement. They said, “This is not the future we envisioned, and it is with [a] heavy heart that we move forward separately. We are real people, with real lives, with real family, friends and colleagues. Therefore, we kindly ask for privacy and compassion concerning this very personal matter.”
Things were a little more complicated with Stefani and Rossdale, however. The couple also released a statement, in their case to People magazine in August 2015. It read, “While the two of us have come to the mutual decision that we will no longer be partners in marriage, we remain partners in parenthood and are committed to jointly raising our three sons in a happy and healthy environment.”
A year later, though, Stefani was a little more candid in an interview with Cosmopolitan. The reporter asked the singer whether anybody knew about what had happened between her and Rossdale. Stefani responded, “Nobody except for my parents, the people involved and whoever they told. Nobody would believe it if I could really say what happened. I went through months and months of torture.”
Stefani also went on to address rumors that the couple had split due to Rossdale having an affair. She responded, “All you have to do is listen to every single song I’ve ever written, and it’s all there. It’s an ongoing theme that I’ve had for a long time.” So while these vague comments had people speculating, no one really knows what went down between the pair.
To the viewing public, though, it appeared that there was a certain frisson between the recently single Stefani and Shelton. The former told Cosmopolitan, “We were laughing our heads off when we saw the blind auditions. I love NBC, but they for sure edited stuff to look like we were flirting.” So was the sexual tension real – or just the invention of creative editors?
Well, Stefani denied that anything was going on during season seven of The Voice, which aired between September and December 2014. The singer noted that there was some chemistry, though. She said, “[NBC] chose to run with that story [of us flirting] before anything was even real. I hardly knew him. But it was like it was in the air – happening before it happened.”
After taking a hiatus on season eight of The Voice, Stefani returned for season nine – which aired between September and December 2015. This time, of course, any on-screen flirting between Stefani and her colleague Shelton was official. The pair were now a couple – and one of the music industry’s hottest at that.
And so to The Ellen DeGeneres Show. The host has teased both Shelton and Stefani separately about their relationship – and questioned whether they would get hitched or not. It all began when Stefani made an appearance on the hit program in December 2018. She and DeGeneres are friends in real life, you see, and it showed as the presenter said some deeply personal things about her guest.
DeGeneres gushed about her friend, “[Stefani] deserves everything she has. She deserves this love [with Shelton]. She deserves the life that she has and the career. Cause she went through a lot.” Naturally, many assume that DeGeneres was referencing the singer’s breakup with Rossdale in this case.
DeGeneres’ kind words had a visible impact on Stefani, and she started to weep. The star added, “Wow, now I’m crying on TV, too.” From there, however, DeGeneres took the conversation to a more light-hearted level – teasing Stefani about her relationship. The host cheekily remarked, “So Blake told me that y’all are engaged now.”
But Stefani was then quick to fire back at DeGeneres. The former No Doubt singer responded, “No, he didn’t. No, we’re not. No, we’re not. No, we’re not.” There seemed little doubt about the truth, then. But DeGeneres wouldn’t let it go, adding, “Yes, he told me you’re engaged. So let’s talk about that.”
Stefani again fought off the verbal assault from DeGeneres. The singer continued, “What are you talking about? We’re not. We’re not engaged, and we’re not married. And he’s my boyfriend still.” But DeGeneres wasn’t done, and she pressed on, “But when will you get married?” Seemingly giving up, Stefani then replied, “I don’t know. I do not know.”
DeGeneres enthusiastically picked up the marriage theme again when Shelton appeared on her show in May 2019. So, after discussing Shelton’s part in the movie UglyDolls, DeGeneres moved on to a tale about a former guest on the show. She said, “Jennifer Lopez was here, and I wanted to help her out with [her boyfriend Alex Rodriguez] because she wanted to marry him, obviously, like [Stefani] wants to marry you.”
DeGeneres continued with the Jennifer Lopez story, saying “I gave her a clock and just to remind that she could give to him that the clock is ticking. That time is passing. So I gave her that clock and literally like a week later he proposed to her.” And all through this reveal, Shelton looked on awkwardly as a video screen showed the clock in question.
But DeGeneres wasn’t done just yet. The host continued, “So what I want to do… so Mother’s Day is coming up. I have something for you to give to her.” By this time, Shelton was visibly shifting in his seat – and then an assistant brought out a clock with a picture of him and Stefani kissing. Looking a little awkward, Shelton said, “Oh, look at that.”
Which brings us to the now-infamous episode between DeGeneres and Shelton in December 2019. So, as previously mentioned, the two first talked about John Legend – Shelton’s colleague on The Voice – replacing Shelton as People’s Sexiest Man Alive. But DeGeneres was quick to move the conversation on, remarking, “Let’s talk about [Stefani].”
By Shelton’s reaction, it’s clear that the singer knew what was coming – but was powerless to stop it. DeGeneres went on, “Now, I gave you a clock. Remember that clock I gave you? To remind you time is ticking.” Shelton again appeared to look sheepish as the audience giggled. But it was at this stage that Shelton began to fight back.
An awkward exchange ensued between the guest and his host. He retorted, “But you didn’t give it to me. I walked backstage, and somebody back there was like, ‘Hey, thanks for being on the show. Can I have [the clock back?]’ And they took it.” He continued, “And I haven’t seen it. So they didn’t really – time didn’t really start ticking at that moment.”
DeGeneres seemed a little shocked by Shelton’s revelation that he wasn’t allowed to keep the clock. The presenter remarked, “We haven’t given it to you? Well, that’s not right. We can’t – why do we need it?” It’s at this point that Shelton revealed his true feelings about the little joke that had begun during one of Stefani’s appearances on the show.
Visibly ruffled, Shelton went on the attack, suggesting he knew exactly why he wasn’t allowed to keep the clock. He said, “You took it back because whoever your next guest was, you replaced the picture and did the same cr*p to them and embarrassed them.”
But the problem when you go toe-to-toe with a quick-witted comedian is that there is always a retort that will leave you with egg on your face. And that is exactly what transpired in this exchange with Shelton. The multi-award-winning host retorted, “You’re right – because we did [the clock gag] to Jennifer Lopez and now she’s engaged.”
Kudos to Shelton, however, as not only did he shrug the exchange off, but he also got his own back on DeGeneres. Talking about a doll that had been made of his character in UglyDolls – which had then been presented to the host – Shelton responded, “I won’t take it back from you like you did the clock.”
Of course, it’s exchanges such as this that are central to the maintained popularity of The Ellen DeGeneres Show. With the talk show in its 17th season, it’s clear that the viewing public can’t get enough of celebrities wriggling under the relentless drollery – and charm – of the eponymous host.
DeGeneres doesn’t always make her guests squirm, though. In the aftermath of Kobe Bryant’s tragic passing, many celebrities, fans and organizations paid touching tributes to him and his family. And among these was a statement from DeGeneres – who had been marking her birthday as news of the NBA legend’s demise broke. But when the TV host began her speech, she simply couldn’t hold back her tears.
At the time of his death, Bryant had been traveling via helicopter to a basketball game, where he would have coached his daughter Gianna’s team. But the S-76B aircraft crashed into a hill, and all on board were killed. These were Bryant, 13-year-old Gianna, pilot Ara Zobayan, Alyssa Altobelli (aged 14), Alyssa’s parents, John and Keri Altobelli, Payton Chester (aged 13), her mother, Sarah, and assistant coach Christina Mauser.
To many, the tragedy was simply unthinkable. Not only were several of the victims teenagers, but one of the biggest names in basketball was also gone in an instant. So memorials and tributes quickly sprung up as fans worked to process their grief. Hundreds of people even visited the scene of the crash to leave flowers and basketballs.
Another quickly arranged tribute took place on the same day that Bryant and his daughter died. That’s because the Grammy Awards happened to be holding its ceremony merely hours after the devastating news had hit the headlines. During the show, then, Boyz II Men and Alicia Keys performed the song “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday,” and Bryant’s jerseys at the Staples Center were illuminated as well.
Keys also announced, “To be honest with you, we’re all feeling crazy sadness right now. Because… Los Angeles, America and the whole wide world lost a hero. We’re literally standing here heartbroken in the house that Kobe Bryant built. We’re gonna love together, and we’re gonna make sure we celebrate the most powerful energy… the one thing that has the power to bring us all together. And that’s music.”
Celebrities walking the red carpet had also taken the opportunity to pay tribute to Bryant. Presenter Ryan Seacrest said, “He was on the phone with me a few months ago, talking about the love of being a father, talking about his daughters so pridefully, and I think so many artists here tonight will be thinking about this and wanting to share their stories.”
And on the same day, NBA commissioner Adam Silver released a statement on behalf of the whole organization. It read, “The NBA family is devastated by the tragic passing of Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna. For 20 seasons, Kobe showed us what is possible when remarkable talent blends with an absolute devotion to winning.”
It continued, “He was one of the most extraordinary players in the history of our game with accomplishments that are legendary: five NBA championships, an NBA MVP award, 18 NBA All-Star selections and two Olympic gold medals. But he will be remembered most for inspiring people around the world to pick up a basketball and compete to the very best of their ability.”
The statement also mentioned that Bryant “[took] special delight in passing down his love of the game to Gianna.” Finally, Silver’s message ended with a note of condolence to the rest of the Bryant family. This included the basketball star’s wife, Vanessa Bryant, and their three other children: Bianka, Natalia and baby Capri.
Stars who had known and loved Bryant also released statements. David Beckham wrote on Instagram the day after the crash, “His legacy will live on. My family’s love and prayers go out to Vanessa and the girls, to Kobe’s basketball family, and of course to the families of those who were tragically lost with him yesterday.”
Actress Jessica Simpson lives close to where the helicopter crashed, and she shared a photograph and statement on Instagram. She wrote, “Eric [Johnson, her husband] took this photo from our backyard right after the accident happened where Kobe, his daughter, and other beautiful souls were lifted up to be with God for eternity.”
Such was the impact of Bryant’s life and death that even some former presidents tweeted about him. Barack Obama wrote on Twitter, “Kobe was a legend on the court and just getting started in what would have been just as meaningful a second act. To lose Gianna is even more heartbreaking to us as parents. Michelle and I send love and prayers to Vanessa and the entire Bryant family on an unthinkable day.”
While Bill Clinton tweeted out the message, “I’m deeply saddened by the tragic loss of Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, & all who died in today’s accident. Kobe lived a very large life in a very short time. My prayers are with Vanessa, Natalia, Bianka, Capri, and all those who lost loved ones today.”
So it’s obvious that many people were understandably devastated. Yet, as previously mentioned, there was an extra blow for Ellen DeGeneres – because her friend had died on her birthday. The day Bryant, his daughter and their companions were killed, you see, DeGeneres should have been celebrating turning 62 years old. Instead, the star put a statement of her sadness on Twitter.
DeGeneres tweeted out on January 26, “Like everyone, I’m stunned and saddened by the news about Kobe Bryant. My heart is broken for his wife and family.” It’s worth noting, too, that the talk show host released this statement before the media confirmed that Gianna had been in the helicopter with her father and had also passed away.
DeGeneres and Bryant had been friends for a few years. The NBA legend first appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show back in September 2012, when he was introduced to a ten-year-old superfan named Jarred Jones. The two of them even had a basketball shooting contest, watched over by DeGeneres, and Bryant praised the little boy’s skills.
Then, in November 2013, Bryant teamed up with DeGeneres to surprise a family who had lost everything in a house fire. The family sat down on the show and received a video message from the basketball star – plus a signed ball. And in the end, they walked away with $20,000 from DeGeneres.
So when Bryant retired from the Los Angeles Lakers in 2016, he gave his first post-retirement interview to DeGeneres on her show. The two friends played a hidden-camera prank on that episode, but they also sat down together for a cozy chat. Topics discussed included Bryant’s illustrious career and his family life with his daughters.
Bryant and DeGeneres also talked and joked about celebrities always going to see Bryant’s basketball games. Bryant told the host, “It just adds to the excitement and adds to the focus. I was on the bench, and I heard your voice come up on the Jumbotron. ‘Hey, they got Ellen up there too!’”
They then talked about Bryant’s daughters, who had been at his last game. Bryant said, “I was like, ya know, ‘Honey, I used to be pretty good back in the day…’ They thought it was pretty awesome. I think the coolest thing for them is me walking out just now and not embarrassing them completely by not dancing pathetically.”
Regarding his retirement, Bryant told DeGeneres, “I just don’t wanna play anymore. It’s not like my body forced me out. I don’t wanna do it anymore. I’m ready to move on.” But he would still play in his leisure time, he said. The Bryant family have their own basketball court, after all, and the children shoot hoops too.
DeGeneres then asked Bryant if he would be happy to see his children go into basketball and competitive sports. He replied, “If they wanted to.” And of course, tragically it was while en route to a basketball game of Gianna’s that the helicopter in which the Bryants had been traveling crashed. You see, she had been a young rising star in the sport.
Before Bryant’s passing, though, he made a couple more appearances on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. In 2018, for instance, the on-court legend came on the show to surprise another young basketball star, Notre Dame junior guard Arike Ogunbowale. He even gave her two signed shirts – one for her and one for her dog – and then they played ball with DeGeneres and Ice Cube.
The sports star popped up on the show again later that year to plug his new book, Mamba Mentality. He and the host also played a basketball Connect 4 game, and at first it looked like DeGeneres was going to win. Bryant joked, “See, this is why I’m not coming out of retirement.”
So DeGeneres had some great times with Bryant, and his death appeared to shatter her. In fact, on January 27 – just one day after Bryant and Gianna had passed away – DeGeneres was filming her TV show for the following day. And as part of the taping, the host made a speech about her deceased friend, specifically touching upon the lessons his life and death had taught her.
DeGeneres told the audience, “Thank you for being here. I appreciate it today more than ever, more than I did yesterday, and tomorrow I will appreciate it more… because life is short.” She went on, “Today is Monday, and yesterday was Sunday. It happened to be my birthday and the Grammy Awards. I was nominated, I didn’t win, not the point.”
Visibly emotional, DeGeneres continued, “Yesterday was supposed to be a celebratory day, and then we got tragic news about Kobe Bryant and everything changed in a second. And that’s what I want to talk about. Life is short, and it’s fragile, and we don’t know how many birthdays we have.”
DeGeneres explained, “We don’t need a birthday to celebrate. Just celebrate life. And if you haven’t told someone you love them, do it now. Do it, tell people you love them. Call your friends, text your friends. Hug ’em, kiss ’em. Be nice to the people at the D.M.V. [Department of Motor Vehicles]. They’re people, be nice to them.”
Following her own advice, DeGeneres told the audience, “And I love each and every one of you. I know that you wait for tickets and you get here and you pick out your TV outfits and you do your TV hair, and I appreciate it very much.” She added, “And I know that I am lucky to have a wife who loves me so much even though I don’t have a Grammy.”
DeGeneres then introduced her co-star tWitch with the emotional words, “I get to come to work every single day with people who make me laugh. I love everybody I work with. And I can’t believe I get to introduce this amazing guy every single day. I love him so much.” And tWitch had plenty to say to DeGeneres as well.
tWitch told DeGeneres, “First off, happy birthday, and I love you.” He went on, to the audience and then to DeGeneres, “I’m sure you can all agree that, like, this is the perfect place to be right now. When you need this kind of inspiration and a little boost of love like this, there’s no better place to be than with you to kind of get this right now.”
Reaching for a tissue, DeGeneres said, “I was backstage before the show started, that’s why it took me a minute to get out here because I was seeing to tWitch, because we’ve both been sad today. And I said, ‘We’re going to go out there and we’re just gonna fill the room with love.’ Because that’s what everyone needs, and then I come out here and fall apart.”
DeGeneres also used another segment of her show to pay tribute to Bryant, his career and his appearances alongside her. She said, “As you all know, it was a very tough weekend here in Los Angeles. There was a helicopter accident that took the lives of nine people aboard, including Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna.”
The host went on, “Kobe was a legend who will always be remembered for what he accomplished on the basketball court, but also remembered for his kindness and the times that he helped us give back to deserving people on our show.” DeGeneres then showed a video montage of all those moments.
And after the montage of Bryant clips, DeGeneres said, “Our hearts go out to Kobe’s family and all the families who lost loved ones on Sunday.” Then she signed off the episode with her catchphrase, which had a bit of extra resonance after her emotional opening speech: “Be kind to one another.”
When the clip was posted online, too, many people immediately offered their condolences. One person wrote, “Kobe’s death probably brought more people together than ever. His death reminding everyone to love and enjoy life at the fullest. Who knows if we get to see tomorrow but do live your life today and we will see what tomorrow has in stock for us.”
The shockwaves from Bryant’s death continued for a long time after that, too. On January 30, for instance, Bryant’s widow, Vanessa, gave her first public statement about the deaths of her husband and daughter. Writing on Instagram, she began by saying, “Thank you for all the prayers. We definitely need them.”
The grieving mother went on, “There aren’t enough words to describe our pain right now. I take comfort in knowing that Kobe and Gigi both knew that they were so deeply loved. We were so incredibly blessed to have them in our lives. I wish they were here with us forever. They were our beautiful blessings taken from us too soon.”
A later Instagram post revealed the depths of the pain Vanessa was going through. She wrote in February, “My brain refuses to accept that both Kobe and Gigi are gone. I can’t process both at the same time. It’s like I’m trying to process Kobe being gone, but my body refuses to accept my Gigi will never come back to me… Praying for all of the victims of this horrible tragedy. Please continue to pray for all.”
So Kobe Bryant and his daughter meant a lot to a great many people. That includes not just their families, but the wider world as well. The other victims likewise left grieving loved ones behind. And DeGeneres’ emotional statement about her friend is a timely reminder that all of us should use our time on Earth wisely.