The 49th NAACP Image Awards nominees honored at star-studded luncheon
TV One

The annual tradition of the star-studded NAACP Image Awards Nominees’ Luncheon brought the industry’s leading talent to The Beverly Hilton Hotel on Dec. 16. Standout performances across the board were honored and celebrated with some of Hollywood’s top names in attendance.

The NAACP Image Awards recognizes over 40 categories highlighting artists in television, movies, music and literature. “I am proud the NAACP continues this tradition of honoring African-Americans and others in front of the camera and behind the camera,” NAACP President Derrick Johnson told AXS during Saturday’s event. “My hope for the future of the Image Awards is that we continue to grow, that we become the voice of advocacy to increase diversity in the entertainment industry and that talents of all of our communities are on display and celebrated by the community as a whole.”

“It’s lovely to be recognized by people who look like you, to be loved on by your own is a wonderful thing,” Niecy Nash said of her nomination. The former “Reno 911!” star is up for Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series for her role in “Claws.” Nash admits there are so many amazing performances this year it’s hard to predict a winner.

In the same category is Loretta Devine, up for her part in “The Carmichael Show.” Devine tells AXS it’s because of outlets such as Netflix and the success of talented women like Shonda Rhimes, Kerry Washington, Viola Davis and others, that more doors are opening now. Devine is also nominated for Outstanding Character Voice-Over Performance in “Doc McStuffins.” On top of that, she has TV One’s “Behind the Movement” set to premiere in 2018, which means it’s likely the legendary actress will have even more reason to celebrate next year.  

Yvette Nicole Brown is another phenomenal force nominated in the category of Outstanding Character Voice-Over Performance. Along with “Elena of Avalor,” Brown has had numerous extraordinary performances this year in other hits such as ABC’s “The Mayor.” “I’m just overjoyed,” Brown says of her first Image Award nomination. “Look, I’m in a category with David [Oyelowo], Kerry Washington, Loretta Devine and Tiffany Haddish. I’ve got no chance in hell of winning this award but I’m telling you I’m so happy to see my face up there with them and I’m just happy to be here.”

Lil Rel Howery also celebrates his first Image Award nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture in “Get Out.” The actor is thrilled about the buzz “Get Out” has received and praised the work of Jordan Peele. While Howery has a slew of projects on deck (one being a FOX comedy he’s writing with fellow 'Carmichael Show' alum Jerrod Carmichael) his first line of duty was co-hosting the luncheon with Amirah Vann.

Justin Simien is another talent who has seen huge success this year with his show, “Dear White People.” He’s nominated for both Outstanding Writing and Directing in a Comedy Series. As he shared his excitement about his nominations, he also filled AXS in on a few surprise guest stars for Season 2, which will have fans just as thrilled as he is.

In the music department, Angela Jollivette, the former senior project manager with The Recording Academy/GRAMMY Awards who now oversees the music for OWN/Lionsgate TV's “Greenleaf,” is up for Outstanding Gospel/Christian Album (Traditional or Contemporary). Greenleaf Soundtrack Volume 2 hit digital retailers in September and people love the inspiration behind it. Lionsgate and RCA lead in Image Award nominations this year, both of which had a hand in the project. “Music is universal,” Jollivette says. “It’s the language everyone speaks; no matter the genre.”

Also shining a light on inspiration is Marsai Martin. The young actress from ABC’s “black-ish” is no stranger to the NAACP Image Awards. She won in 2016, 2017 and is nominated again in 2018 in the same categories: Outstanding Performance by a Youth (Series, Special, Television Movie or Limited Series) and Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series. Martin shared that her current excitement stems from the anticipation of getting to meet R&B singer/songwriter SZA, who earned an impressive four nominations this year.

Martin says all in all, she feels the future is bright and voiced that she sees herself expanding to work behind the camera one day. “I’m an actress but I want to experience more things in this industry,” she tells AXS. “Directing and writing; doing stuff like that. I don’t know what 18-year-old or 32-year-old Marsai would want, but that’s where I want to be right now.”

The luncheon included a special edition of holiday karaoke, hosted by last year’s Outstanding New Artist nominee, MAJOR. Performances were made by Amirah Vann, as well as one incredible moment featuring Outstanding New Artist nominee Demetria McKinney and Yvette Nicole Brown backing up the lovely Loretta Devine singing a flawless rendition of “Santa Baby.”

Tune in to see who takes home a trophy at the 49th NAACP Image Awards. Anthony Anderson returns to host the two-hour special event on Jan. 15. The show airs live on TV One, at 9 p.m./8c.