The CultureMap Interview
Kristin Chenoweth reveals all: Life as a runaway bride, her hidden Woodlands tieand being a Christian who won't judge
It may seem that drama follows Kristin Chenoweth. On the day CultureMap spoke to the sassy blonde on the phone from Los Angeles, big commotion, sirens and chaos bellowed from her end of the cellphone line as she was passing by some sort of emergency scene.
But it's all fiction for the Broadway queen-cum-country star-cum-opera diva. Theatrical on stage, cool and collected in real life, the petite gal on-the-go — literally as she's in the midst of a 19-city concert tour — is a big deal across many genres within the entertainment industry.
Recently she has chosen to return to her Oklahoma roots with her album, Some Lessons Learned. She's going country. Growing up singing at church and rodeos, country is in her DNA. Chenoweth's upcoming concert, set for 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Jones Hall, is a mélange of styles with plenty of surprises. Some you'll recognize, some are new.
The 43-year-old is cute on the phone, darling and cheeky. But above all, real and personable. And she has plenty to say.
CultureMap: This concert is a homecoming for you, isn't it? Though we all loved you in New York Philharmonic's Candide with conductor Marin Alsop, Glee and Glinda the Good Witch in Wicked, this album and song collection goes back to your early days.
Kristin Chenoweth: I am excited. Houston feels like coming back home for me as my folks lived in The Woodlands for 12 years. I know the area very well, and it resembles the landscape of my native Oklahoma.
Of course this tour represents my last album, Some Lessons Learned, but I am also singing things that people want to hear and tunes that if I didn't sing, I'd be murdered (laughs).
But I am also stepping forward in my life and presenting some material I have always wanted to do that I haven't done yet. The tour is a mixture of opera — I had operatic training — country, Broadway and disco. It's one of the hardest things I've had to do. Vocally it's all over the map.
But I can do it, so I should do it.
CM: As versatile singer, what challenges do you face when mastering and getting ready to perform such a medley?
KC: What I do: I don't speak during the day at all. At 4 p.m., I start with a slow warm-up with the help of my vocal coach. We'll do legit warm-ups and work through all styles of singing. The trick is not to over do it.
You know the show is not just me standing on stage singing — it has many surprises, even some famous people appear, and reviewers have been great about not letting that secret out.
Sure, I have family in Houston, but I want people to come out so I am not just singing to my family, you know?
CM: What do you consider to be the crown accomplishment of your career so far? Was it working with Jamie Lee Curtis? Singing on Broadway? Appearing alongside Robin Williams, Nicole Kidman, Steve Martin, Idina Menzel, Danny DeVito? Shall I go on?
KC: Oh. That's a tough question because I have been so blessed to work with many people whom I admire. For me, it's getting to have a stronger voice through my charity.
When you are a semi-celebrity, there's often a fork in the road: You can do good or you can do nothing and stare into a corner. That's not me. I started a nonprofit that helps animals get adopted.
In the concert I talk a lot about leaving your mark in the world. That's really what it is all about. The Tonys, Emmys, getting to perform at Carnegie Hall and all over the world — that's great. But being able to give back has been my favorite accomplishment.
CM: What's up with ABC? We are going to miss your Carlene Cochran in GCB, though I understand there was a strong push from the Christian right to get that show canceled. Many of the show's fans thought it was premature.
This wouldn't be the first time you've had discord with a conservative Christian world — I recall friction with the 700 Club. And you identify yourself as a Christian in a time when doing that isn't so popular. And you are supportive of equal rights.
In what ways are you a traditional Christian and in what ways are you a forward thinking renegade?
KC: I grew up in the bible belt. I am a Christian, but have never been into the judgmental thing that went along with that. I am not saying everyone judges, but it does exist.
Later in life, I met my best friend who's gay. I struggled to understand why that person would go to hell.
I made a decision that I was going to create a list asking the question, what would Jesus do? I know, it gets plenty of chuckles and is very Pollyanna. But think about it: Would Jesus condemn every gay person to go to hell? No, he wouldn't.
That doesn't mean we are not sinners, but I don't believe God makes mistakes.
He made me straight. If straight were considered a sin, what would I do? Would I try to be gay? If it were a sin to be 4-foot-11-inches, would I wear taller heels? God makes us how we are.
I am not talking about promiscuity. I am talking about how we are born. And I can't find anywhere in the Bible where you wouldn't enter the Kingdom of Heaven because you are who you are.
CM: One of my friends described you as having a "glow from the inside." How do you keep yourself fabulous? What are your wellness secrets?
KC: Oh, Joel. I do struggle with my health, too. While I love to sing, perform and do a lot of recordings, movies and television — though not anymore apparently — my biggest challenge has been getting fit.
It's about getting enough sleep for me. I do have a great support system who gives me unconditional love. If I couldn't do show biz, that would be so sad. But if I didn't have my friends and family, who keep me real and ground me — I just can't imagine that. The glow is from that blessing.
Like if in the middle of a show, something (GCB) gets canceled, I keep it all relative. I am sad, but move forward. It was a great experience, but now we move forward.
CM: Let's talk boys. You are surrounded by hotness, especially in GCB.
KC: Uh hm . . .
KC: It's funny. I've been a runaway bride twice in my life. I do feel ready for that person, but I am not ready to settle for the wrong one.
I recently did put myself out there — I dated a bit. It's hard to do so when I am on the road. But when I am done, I will resume dating.
I was born to do one thing: That's to entertain. I need someone who understands that because to take that away from me would be a sin. I feel complete, though I want a man to share that with. I am OK if it does happen, I am OK if it doesn't.
CM: Is there anything you'd love to do that you haven't had the opportunity to, yet?
KC: I need to do a live album. Perhaps I'll do one of this tour because it's so diverse and fun. I get to do all sorts of things with my voice. Barbra (Streisand) has a live album, Bernadette (Peters) has one, don't you think I need one?