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    Who Really Votes for the Oscars? (Hint: Both Beyoncé and Meat Loaf)

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    Beyonce Knowles, Meat Loaf
    Beyonce Knowles, Meat Loaf Beyonceonline.com; Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

    What are the actual criteria to become a voting member of the Academy? Can Erik Estrada and Lorenzo Lamas actually be in there?!?
    —Prank Monkey, via the inbox

    Don't stop there. I would pile on that Meat Loaf, Beyoncé and "Little Miss Sunshine" Abigail Breslin—who is 15 years old—also vote for Oscars, or, at least, they are qualified to do so.

    Oh, and there's a nun who can vote too. How and why? Here's all you need to know before tuning in to the big show Sunday:

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    Each voting member of the Academy got that way via invitation only. Somebody can be invited because they got nominated for an Oscar. Somebody can be invited because the Academy staff floats their name. Or somebody can be sponsored for membership by two other Academy types.

    In other words, the Academy is less like a democracy and more like a country club. A country club that also has Jesse Eisenberg in it.

    The Academy was reluctant to hand me a full list of its current members—maybe because the list is a well-guarded secret. But the reticence also may be because of a recent story that came out in The Los Angeles Times.

    The paper reveals that the Academy is overwhelmingly white and male, as in nearly 94 percent Caucasian and 77 percent male—much, much less diverse than the moviegoing public.

    Yes, Sidney Poitier is a member, but so are Harrison Ford, James McAvoy, Colin Firth, Cristoph Waltz, Cameron Crowe and Jake Gyllenhaal. (Among the ladies, at least a few of which are not white, we have confirmed members Laura Linney, Alfre Woodard, Mo'nique and Julianne Moore.)

    Rooney Mara reportedly has been invited to join as well.

    OSCARS LIVESTREAM: Watch ours on Sunday!

    Want still more members? Sure you do! How about Peter Dinklage, Jennifer Hudson, Wes Studi, Michelle Williams, Julia Roberts, Madonna, Haley Joel Osment, George Clooney, Steve Guttenberg, Cheech Marin, Judge Reinhold, Paul "Pee-wee Herman" Reubens, Neve Campbell, Vin Diesel, Jet Li and Leonardo DiCaprio? You're welcome.

    As for that nun, here's the deal: Her name is Dolores Hart and she once got to kiss Elvis before walking away from acting in 1963. Now she is a nun. But once you're in the Academy, you're in, whether you leave the biz or not. Membership is for life.

    One more tidbit of note: Several very big names have been invited to join the Academy...and turned them down. Who? Find out in my podcast:

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