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What does the EGOT even mean, anyway?

What the quest for four major awards tells us about Hollywood, celebrity egos, and ourselves.

Common performs onstage on November 8, 2023, in Inglewood, California, wearing an oversized, bright yellow button-up shirt and holding a microphone.
Hip-hop artist Common could be the next person to EGOT — all he needs is a Tony Award.
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for The Recording Academy
Aja Romano writes about pop culture, media, and ethics. Before joining Vox in 2016, they were a staff reporter at the Daily Dot. A 2019 fellow of the National Critics Institute, they’re considered an authority on fandom, the internet, and the culture wars.

Humans are funny little creatures. We love making lists, participating in oddball competitions, and creating weirdly specific metrics to be proud of — all quirks that join together in the annual EGOT watch, when fans and record keepers alike obsess over who will be the next creator to snag not one, not two, but all four of the entertainment industry’s most prestigious awards: the Emmy, the Grammy, the Oscar, and the Tony.

To EGOT (because this acronym can be both a noun and a verb) is a genuinely rare accomplishment and also a curious one. After all, plenty of folks have the Emmy and the Oscar, but including the Grammy and the Tony makes things truly interesting. It’s the unique entertainer who’s booked and busy, not just on screens big and small, but in the music studio and onstage. In other words, it really is, as 30 Rock put it, “a good goal for a talented crazy person!”

Despite the long odds, no fewer than 19 talented creators have pulled it off — 25 if you count “honorary” awards (though whether those should count is a subject of heated debate). The most recent entry into the clubhouse? Elton John, who snagged the EGOT title in January after garnering an Emmy for his glitzy farewell concert. Talk about going out on top!

EGOT watchers and betting rings are already paying detailed attention to who’s up next in the EGOT lineup. 2024’s best shot probably goes to the songwriting duo Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who could nab a couple of Emmys this fall. The upcoming Grammy awards won’t see any winners crossing the EGOT threshold, but the infamously long list of nominees could push several entertainers one award closer to the coup.

The next real shot anyone has at snagging the EGOT arrives in June, when hip-hop artist Common could win a producer Tony for this season’s revival of The Wiz — though if that happens, it won’t be without ruffling the feathers of those who think producer credits shouldn’t count toward the EGOT.

Why so much drama over an acronym? Can we really attach objective meaning and value to winning four fairly disparate awards? And why is the EGOT field so crowded with musical theater composers?

We’re glad you asked! Read on — we’ve got answers to all this and more.

How do you pronounce “EGOT”?

This isn’t the most pressing concern, but the general consensus is that it’s “E-Got.” That’s also the pronunciation used in the 30 Rock episodes that popularized the whole notion.

However, we’d be remiss not to point out the alternate and far more correct pronunciation, “ego,” with the appropriately pretentious silent “T.” That’s “ego,” as in the thing that expands proportionately with each ticked item on the EGOT checklist. Clearly, this is the truest pronunciation, and we will not be taking questions at this time.

Who came up with the idea of the EGOT?

Miami Vice star Philip Michael Thomas gets credited with the original idea, thanks to his determination to win all four awards, manifested in a gold necklace he wore, engraved with the letters “EGOT.”

But it’s really Tracy Morgan’s 30 Rock character Tracy Jordan, and his hilarious quest to score the EGOT for himself throughout the fourth and fifth seasons of the show, that put the concept on the cultural landscape starting in 2009. Tracy sees Thomas’s necklace one day in a jewelry store, and when he learns what the acronym means, he makes it his mission to pull off the feat. His quest leads him to do everything from juicing up a script for Garfield to starring in a North Korean propaganda movie opposite Kim Jong-Il.

As for Thomas, while he snagged a Golden Globe nomination for Miami Vice, he never achieved any of the four coveted wins. He once told People that the acronym really stood for “energy, growth, opportunity, and talent,” and much later told Vox sister site Thrillist, “There’s things so much more fascinating than this, what you’re talking about,” when questioned about his reaction to the term’s legacy.

And he’s not wrong!

Who are some famous EGOT winners?

One interesting thing about the EGOT sweep is that while the acronym appears skewed toward actors over musicians, more EGOTs have gone to musical theater composers than to anyone else. A look at the lists of names among the EGOT and “EGOT-minus-one” winners offers one a broad swath of musical theater history, from Rodgers and Hammerstein to Pasek and Paul.

That’s undoubtedly because musical composers so often get tapped to do scores for other mediums. Musical composers also gain Grammy wins more easily than, say, actors — usually for Best Musical Theater Album, an award that’s changed names several times but which has been a Grammy mainstay since 1959.

In fact, Richard Rodgers, composer of Oklahoma!, The Sound of Music, and many other beloved musicals, was the first person to achieve all four EGOT awards. And of all EGOT winners, only Rodgers and another musical composer, Marvin Hamlisch, have won the coveted Pulitzer “PEGOT” extension. Rodgers won for South Pacific; Hamlisch for A Chorus Line.

The list of other EGOT winners includes acting legends like Audrey Hepburn, Rita Moreno, and Viola Davis, who exclaimed, “I just E-GOT!” upon winning the Grammy in 2023. Mel Brooks is the only EGOT winner thus far who won at least one of his awards for writing.

The number of people who are just one award away from an EGOT makes for an equally interesting list. Stephen Sondheim sadly missed out on the EGOT by an Oscar (though he also won a Pulitzer); Kate Winslet’s son wants her to win an EGOT, but she’ll have to come to Broadway to get it. Other one-aways like Ron Howard and Martin Scorsese aren’t likely to make it to Broadway to get that final trophy, but producing could give them a way in — though some people, who take the EGOT game very seriously indeed, argue that taking such “shortcuts” taints the whole game.

And people take the EGOT game very seriously, indeed.

People take very seriously the question of what does and doesn’t count in an EGOT

Although the EGOT gained pop culture cred as a running sitcom joke, people were truly intrigued by the idea — enough so that they fight over what “counts” as an EGOT win, what shouldn’t count, and what does count but shouldn’t.

For example, many people have observed that the quickest way to an EGOT is for a Hollywood type otherwise uninvolved with theater to sign on as last-minute producer of a Broadway musical with big Tony prospects — not unlike the aforementioned Common with The Wiz. Many EGOT watchers consider this move “cheating.” TheatreMania’s Zachary Stewart opined last year over “brazen EGOT-hunters” who’ve crowded the Broadway producer field in the hope of scoring an award; after all, if anyone can win a Tony for producing, does the Tony itself mean as much as it used to?

“If your talent is the ability to write a large check, it shouldn’t really be considered in the same league,” Stewart lamented, as a win by someone whose cultural contributions are arguably much larger, like many of the musical theater composers who’ve EGOT’d over the years. Still, if EGOT chasers help get more shows to the Great White Way in a beleaguered theater landscape, I say: Here’s your carrot, go chase it, live your dream.

It also bears noting that cultural impact varies wildly; one person’s Richard Rodgers may well be another person’s Common. Not only that, but sometimes cheating your way to an EGOT might be considered a perfectly valid move depending on who’s doing the cheating. Prime case in point: Barbra Streisand, who despite being inarguably the greatest musical theater diva of the 20th century, has never actually won a performance Tony. (She was nominated twice but lost both times; her 1964 nomination for Funny Girl, a role for which she later won the Oscar, lost out to Carol Channing in Hello, Dolly!.)

Streisand was eventually given a special Tony Award in 1970 for Star of the Decade, which immediately sealed her EGOT, since by that point she’d already won an Oscar, an Emmy, and multiple Grammy awards. Yet she’s not generally included as an “official” EGOT winner, but rather as a side note “non-competitive EGOT winner,” along with six other performers and producers who won special awards.

As Billboard’s Paul Grein puts it, that’s because “the whole point is to have won the awards in competition.” Is that the point, though? Who’s gonna tell Babs she didn’t really earn an EGOT? Who’s out there gatekeeping living legend Quincy Jones, another “honorary” EGOT winner, just because his 29 Grammy wins don’t stack up to one missing competitive Oscar?

All of this nitpicking really underscores how arbitrary much of this is, how much the EGOT is biased toward stage and screen performers, and how much of it seems to be about gatekeeping what is and isn’t a “valid” award.

Take the Emmys. Another path widely derided as a “shortcut” was the short-lived Emmy honor for Outstanding Musical Performance in a Daytime Program, a slot that allowed a slew of Broadway performers to pick up nominations and awards just for stopping by a talk show and singing a song or two.

The list of people who could soon EGOT just from this trick alone includes musical stars Ben Platt, Cynthia Erivo, and Katrina Lenk, who, as Grein pointed out, all got their Emmys just for promoting their hit musicals. Should that count? The Emmys ultimately decided the answer was no; the award lasted just three years before it was eliminated in 2019. (Noting that Platt et al. get to keep their awards, Grein added, “It’s not their fault that the Daytime Emmys made it too easy for them.” Too easy! You try performing a Broadway show eight times a week and then serving a side performance so good it gets Emmy attention, sir!)

Then again, many people believe that the Daytime Emmys themselves shouldn’t “count” toward an EGOT. This was also an idea 30 Rock floated, in a famous episode where Tracy Jordan tells Whoopi Goldberg her EGOT isn’t legitimate because she only won her Emmy — twice — for her work in daytime television.

Of course, when 30 Rock did it, it was a joke. The more serious attention given to the question seems to be based on the feeling that the Daytime Emmys are less prestigious or even less demanding of the creatives and journalists who do daytime TV work.

Perhaps there is a kernel of truth to that; after all, Eminem, who only has one letter to go, the “T,” won his Daytime Emmy for a Chrysler commercial. Still, that sort of win would seem to indict the awards system, rather than the pursuit of an EGOT itself.

That brings us to the fuzziest EGOT-related question of all: What else can we stack onto it?

What’s a PEGOT?

A “PEGOT” is an EGOT with either a Pulitzer or a Peabody award tacked on to it.

What? Nobody is sure which it is?

The people who believe the “P” stands for “Peabody” include Rita Moreno fans, who note she became the first Latina EGOT-plus-Peabody winner in 2017, and the Peabody Awards themselves, which congratulated Moreno on her PEGOT win and at one time declared the sweep “the ultimate showbiz coup.”

Identifying Peabody winners as “PEGOT” contenders seems to have caught on in recent years, perhaps in part because the Peabody Awards are given to a broad variety of media and creative works. Still, it ain’t exactly easy to pull off a PEGOT via the Peabody: If South Park’s Trey Parker and Matt Stone ever win an Oscar, they’ll be just the fourth and fifth people to have done it.

That said, most people seem to lean toward the idea that the “P” stands for the much more prestigious Pulitzer Prize. Winning a Pulitzer alongside the EGOT is a far rarer distinction because the Pulitzer rewards literary and journalistic merit — hence why so far only two musical theater composers have PEGOT’d in this direction. Once Lin-Manuel Miranda finally wins an Oscar, he’ll become the third Pulitzer PEGOT winner.

Miranda, despite not having actually EGOT’d yet, also has the distinction of having another EGOT hybrid coined around him: the “MacPEGOT,” which includes winning a renowned MacArthur Genius Grant. Miranda even has some fans going for the “MacPEGOTO” — the MacArthur fellowship, the Pulitzer, the Emmy, the Grammy, the Oscar, the Tony, and London’s Olivier Award, which Miranda has also won. Twice.

One needn’t let the absence of a Peabody or a Pulitzer stop their acronymic ascendence, either. Mel Brooks declared himself an “EGOTAK” winner after he won recognition from both the American Film Institute and the Kennedy Center Honors. Some EGOT-lytes have proposed tacking on the Golden Globes to create the “EGGOT.”

Plus, there are always other prestigious meta-awards you can track. There’s the Acting Triple Crown, or books and authors that have won both the Hugo and the Nebula, or my personal favorite, the decennial Sight and Sound Top 10 list, which polls critics for their top 10 films, then compiles and ranks the votes. Sure, it may be less action-packed than the yearly EGOT watch, but nothing says commitment like waiting decades for any other movie to unseat Citizen Kane. (That finally happened in 2012, first with Vertigo, and then again in 2022 with Jeanne Dielman.)

See? Everyone needs a gratuitous list of totally arbitrary criteria to feel passionately about. The EGOTs may have only ascended in the pop culture landscape 15 years ago, but spiritually, they’ve always been with us.

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