The Trump administration attempted to recruit Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez and Jon Bon Jovi to star in a $300 million series of "hopeful" adverts about the government's handling of the coronavirus pandemic, set to appear just before the election, it has emerged.
The video clips were designed to "defeat despair", organisers hoped.
They envisaged celebrities discussing the pandemic with health experts and politicians - but part of the problem was that so many would only do it on condition of speaking to Dr Anthony Fauci, scheduling collapsed.
Furthermore, only three actually signed up - actor Dennis Quaid, who has spoken positively about Donald Trump's handling of the pandemic; Hasidic singer Shulem Lemmer; and Grammy-winning gospel singer CeCe Winans.
The Health and Human Services Department (HHS) defended the campaign, which was detailed by Politico, and denied that it was a pro-Trump election advert, paid for with funds siphoned off from the Centers for Disease Control.
"There is an urgent and ongoing need for public education about Covid-19 prevention and treatment," said HHS spokesman Mark Weber.
"The timeline for developing messages and materials had everything to do with following the required steps for procuring contractor services. It had nothing to do with the election."
But Politico reported that, inside the health department, there were grave concerns about the ad campaign.
"This is a boondoggle," an HHS official told Politico. "We're in the middle of a pandemic - we could use that quarter of a billion dollars on buying PPE, not promoting PSAs with C-list celebrities."
Jim Clyburn, Democrat congressman for South Carolina who is chairing the House Oversight Committee's select committee on the coronavirus, told Politico he was "alarmed" by reports that the administration "is using taxpayer funds for what appears to be nothing more than a public relations campaign in the weeks before a presidential election."
Quaid insisted that his participation in the campaign was being misconstrued, and said he had not been paid or requested payment.
Instead he interviewed Dr Fauci for his own podcast, and was asked some questions for the PSA at the end.
"The interview and the PSA were about raising awareness of Covid-19 and what we can still do to prevent lives being lost to this terrible, terrible virus," Quaid said in a video on his Instagram.
"It was about the importance of wearing a mask and social distancing and it was in no way political."
Quaid's representatives this week told the administration that the actor wanted to drop out of the PSA campaign, a request that HHS granted, Politico said.
Winans also recorded a video late on Friday night where she said her participation in the campaign was focused on public health.
"This interview stresses how important it is for everyone to wear a mask, and it also gives us other instructions on how to get on the other side of this pandemic," Winans said in the video.
"It was not political at all."