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Kristin Chenoweth Talks Sacrificing for Success, Southern Christian Women & Going Home Again on Tour
By Allison Kugel, Senior Editor - April 17, 2012

Kristin Chenoweth
Kristin Chenoweth
That sparkling smile, angelic voice and disarming mid-western speech lilt; think you know Kristin Chenoweth? Think again. In my interview with the multi-hyphenate, multi-award winning star of stage and screen, Chenoweth opens up to reveal that the road to success has been paved with a few bumps and many life-transforming events. They have all made Kristin Chenoweth the beautiful being she is today, but she is the first to assert that there is more to her than her idyllic public image suggests. The girl has bad days just like the rest of us.

From show stopping success in Broadway's Wicked, to comic turns in films like RV with Robin Williams and Four Christmases with Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughn, Kristin Chenoweth soon became a hot property on television. Her multiple appearances as would-be actress and recovering alcoholic, April Rhodes, on Fox’s Glee earned her rave reviews from Glee fans as well as her awed castmates. Kristin Chenoweth has now officially claimed her stake in primetime as the lovably scheming Carlene Cockburn on GCB, ABC's humorous deconstruction of well-to-do devout Christian women in the South.

Now, the Tony and Emmy-award winning actress and vocalist will embark on her first world concert tour, beginning with a nineteen-date North American leg that starts May 9 in Seattle, Washington and culminates on June 24 with an inaugural appearance in her hometown of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma.

Kristin Chenoweth describes her live stage show to me as a seamless performance of “Opera, Broadway, Pop and Country.” As she breezily recites that eclectic mix of musical genres, it’s clear that her vocal talents transcend the limits of any one specific style of music. Hers is a rare gift, and as Chenoweth herself puts it, “I guess that’s my niche. I do a lot of things with my voice.”

PR.com (Allison Kugel): Let me just tell you, aside from GCB, I’ve been watching you as Ms. Noodle on Sesame Street for the longest time because I have a three year old son (laughs).

Kristin Chenoweth: (Laughs) Of course! I’m really big with people under five.

PR.com: Your GCB co-star Miriam Shor told me that while you were shooting the show, you commented that the characters are very familiar to you. Where you grew up in Oklahoma, was it very much a bible-belt area?

Kristin Chenoweth: Oklahoma is definitely part of that bible-belt world. I didn’t know that not everybody was like that growing up. I don’t mean that in a negative way. I love the role I’m playing, and if I didn’t love her I wouldn’t play her. There are a lot of great things about Southern Christian women. But we’ve been taught to not really deal with confrontation in a confrontational way. I think that’s why a lot of Southern women who move away from that area have trouble with… well, when I moved to New York, I was like, “Uh, why is everyone screaming and yelling at each other?” What I realized they were doing is just talking. In the south, we just don’t do that (laughs). With that being said, there’s also a very passive-aggressive manner in which things can be done. I grew up in the church and I am a Christian, and I definitely think that [our show] is a very real aspect of that world. We do it, obviously, with humor and fun. We don’t make fun of it; we just have fun with it. There’s a big difference, and I’m proud of the show and what it’s doing.

Miriam Shor, Kristin Chenoweth, & Jennifer Aspen in GCB
Miriam Shor, Kristin Chenoweth, & Jennifer Aspen in GCB

PR.com: I read that you refer to yourself as a “non-judgmental, liberal Christian.” I find that statement so interesting because, if you think about it, that’s actually the true meaning and spirit of Christianity. Why do you think that concept escapes so many Christians?

Kristin Chenoweth: It’s not a very popular thing to say. I find myself using those adjectives before I get to the word “Christian,” and that makes me sad. We as Christians have not really done ourselves any favors. We need to be open and loving, and not judgmental. That is exactly what the true meaning is. Hopefully I can live and be an example that not all Christians think alike and not all Christians are brought up in the same manner. I think that would be true for any religion. There are many different kinds of sects of Muslims, and not all of them fly planes into buildings. I am very conservative in a lot of ways, but I am very liberal in other ways. I’m not a politician, thank God. I would never want that job. But I find myself in a position to be able to say what it is I truly believe, and that is definitely a part of who I am. My faith has been a big deal in my life, and it’s probably the reason I’m still here. Yet I want people to know that not all of us are the same. That’s really my message.

PR.com: How do you approach playing a character like Carlene Cockburn on GCB?

Kristin Chenoweth: She’s an amalgamation of a lot of things. She’s complicated. I’m somewhat of a complicated individual myself in that I like to do a lot of different things. I’m not married, I don’t have children. I’ve chosen a path that has kept me incredibly busy and incredibly blessed, but I haven’t made that commitment to settle down yet. Carlene definitely has done that. I know lots of women that I grew up with where what you did was: you went to college and then you got married and started a family. But there’s a lot to relate to with [Carlene]. She’s a Christian who has been hurt, who is not always choosing what we would say is the right path. That’s humanity and that’s the fun in playing her. I keep reminding myself that she’s not a villain. I know a lot of people I grew up with who are like that, and a lot of people that I work with today. It’s not a bible-belt thing, it’s a human thing. Even though she’s a pretty out there character I want to make sure I keep playing her with the truest of intentions which is that the big things really matter to her. She’s one hundred percent in or one hundred percent out, and that’s what makes her really fun.

PR.com: In everything I have ever seen you in, you always make me laugh. I don’t know if you’re always intentionally playing to the comedy, but it appears that you inject humor into everything you do. How would you describe your sense of humor?

Kristin Chenoweth: I think there is humor around us in life all the time and we can’t find it, we can’t see it. We’ve got our minds and our hearts in so many different directions. I can walk down the streets in New York and I can laugh at all kinds of things. Even in tragedy we have to be able to find the humor or we’ll jump off a cliff. It’s so important to remember to laugh. I love comedians and I love actors. I love to make people laugh and I love to make people forget about their own troubles. When I read Olive in Pushing Daisies (Kristin won an Emmy for her role as Olive), I thought this is kind of a sad individual. She’s alone and she’s in love with a man she can’t have, but there’s humor in that. We’ve all been there, I don’t care who you are. And of course, Carlene is a fun character with these great one-liners, but there’s a real pain in there. I think comedy is tragedy fast-forwarded.

PR.com: Hmm. That’s a good way of putting it.

Kristin Chenoweth
Kristin Chenoweth

Kristin Chenoweth: That’s what I see in life a lot of times. Yesterday I was walking across the street in New York and a homeless guy was singing “Home,” from The Wiz. I thought, “This is so ironic.” He was singing about home, and of course he doesn’t have one. I went up to him and [gave him] five bucks because it was funny and smart, and he loved it. He just thought it was so great that I sort of got it. I don’t mean that I laugh at homeless people, I just try to find the humor in life, because there is enough of the negative. Here’s a homeless guy singing “Home.” It’s just funny to me.

PR.com: I feed homeless people when I see them. The hunger aspect really gnaws at me.

Kristin Chenoweth: I have to do it too. I don’t care if they go get beer. Whatever makes them happy. And I don’t want them to be starving. I figure if they are going to use drugs or alcohol that’s not my worry. My worry is to help them now. I’m the same way. And it’s not to make myself look good, because I do a lot of things that are wrong, but if someone is in need, I don’t like to see it. It makes me sad.

PR.com: The title of your latest album is Some Lessons Learned, and there’s a track called “Lessons Learned.” Why did you want to explore the theme of lessons learned with this album?

Kristin Chenoweth: I have a lot of young people asking me how I got to be where I am today. It’s probably the biggest question I get asked. What I want to leave them with and what I want to leave the audience with is that I’m still learning. I’ve learned a lot, but I have a lot to go. I don’t think we ever stop learning. It’s called life. I want to be heard in a different way from how I’ve been heard in the past. These songs were all chosen because of experiences in my life. Some of them are really fun and breezy, but some of them are really hard and heartbreaking. I wanted to make sure that was all represented. Everything good that comes to you in life, you’ve got to work for and you have to be thankful for. Sometimes that’s not always easy to remember when you’re going through the hard crap; nobody wants to do that. So it was sort of my answer to the question that I get asked a lot.

PR.com: To be specific about it, what’s been your biggest lesson in life, so far? That pivotal lesson that defines who you are…

Kristin Chenoweth: I can’t say that there’s been one instance. I will tell you that as I get older, I realize that all of the things that I used to worry and fret about, it matters less to me. Advice I was given [when I was] growing up, by my father, was, “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” I used to roll my eyes at that and think, “Well he just doesn’t get it.” But it was me who didn’t get it. Now I get it. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Life’s so short. If you believe, like I do, that we’re only here a brief time so we might as well enjoy it and learn, and do the best we can. So don’t sweat the small stuff, because a lot of times we can’t change it anyway.

PR.com: You’re talking about going through hard times and lessons learned. It’s interesting, because if people were to sum you up, they would likely say, “God, Kristin Chenoweth, she’s so bubbly, and full of energy and happy all the time.” Are you happy most of the time or is that just your default setting when you’re in the public eye?

Kristin Chenoweth, Jennifer Aspen & Miriam Shor in GCB
Kristin Chenoweth, Jennifer Aspen & Miriam Shor in GCB

Kristin Chenoweth: There’s definitely been times where I’ve had to put on a happy face even when I didn’t feel like it, surely I have. There is a conception about me that I’m happy all the time, I wake up smiling, go to bed smiling, and life is great for me and I have no problems. That’s obviously not true because I’m human. I’m also in a very tough business. I have battled depression in my past, and I’ve been very open about the fact that everything is not perfect, and that nobody’s life is. What I have also learned is that people don’t want to hear that I would have a problem or a bad day. They think, “Oh, she’s got this great life.” And yes I do and I’ve been blessed, and I’m thankful. But that doesn’t mean that it has been easy and that there have not been times when I wanted to just quit. I’ve sacrificed to be where I am. I’m sure it is going to come in the years to come, but right now my life is not perfect. The problems and situations that I have will be shared with my closest family members and friends because they are the ones who truly love me, have known me the longest and love me for me. Yes, I am a happy person, I am. I do try to find the happiness and the humor in life, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have bad times. That would make me a robot.

PR.com: By sacrifices, are you referring to being single and not having children yet? And do you feel compelled to adopt a child at some point in your life, because of your own life situation (Chenoweth was, herself, adopted)?

Kristin Chenoweth: If I were to have a child, I could see myself adopting a child. I’ve always kind of not wanted to do it alone. I’d love to have a partner that I could be a parent with. But I look at Sandy Bullock and I think that’s a great example. At almost age fifty she’s a mama and she has a baby. I can see that in time I could say, “I’m going to do that.” I’m to the point now where I do want to share my life with that special person, but I’m also to the point where I don’t want to waste time with someone that’s not going to work out. I would rather be with my friends, or alone (laughs), than be with the wrong person. If that person doesn’t come into my life, that’s ok too. I continue to be so happy with my friends and my family, and I’m an aunt and a godmother. My life is full.

PR.com: Tell me about your experience recording this album, Some Lessons Learned, in Nashville. And how have you been received by the country music community?

Kristin Chenoweth: I don’t think that country radio has accepted me and that’s ok too; that’s really ok. My love for country music will not go away. That’s how I began in this business and started singing. I’m glad I recorded in Nashville because I wanted to be in their world. I wanted to be back home, which is what it felt like, and what it feels like when I go there; anywhere in the south, really. I also wanted to work with some of the greatest musicians of the genre, in the world. There is no better place for that than in Nashville. I worked at Opryland when I was nineteen and I’ve always had such an affinity for the town and the people. I could definitely see myself retiring there one day. As far as going on tour, this album is definitely going to be big- time represented, but so is the music that I am known for. It’s been a true gift to get to go back to my roots, if you will, from Oklahoma, and to sing the way I got started. Whether it’s accepted or not accepted doesn’t matter to me because I am so proud of it. I look back at my career and my first three albums and every one of [my] albums are so different, and I love that. There’s a lot of different sides to me, and I’ve been lucky enough to have a label who got that. When I signed with Sony, I said, “All I care is that you let me do a country record at some point.” I’m lucky that I even got to do it.

Kristin Chenoweth
Kristin Chenoweth

PR.com: And now you’re about to head out on a North American tour, with a stop in your hometown of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. What’s the feeling about “going home again” as they say, and performing for your hometown?

Kristin Chenoweth: Oh, I’m so excited, Allison. I can’t wait! My parents moved when I was eighteen. It’s been a long time since I’ve been to Broken Arrow. I know that a lot of my classmates are planning on coming, and that will be really great because I haven’t been to any of my reunions. I’m nervous. Obviously, I want to do great in all the cities, but Broken Arrow is the last stop for a reason. I think I’ll probably be pretty emotional. They’ve never had a performing arts center in my town until, like, two years ago. It’s a state-of- the-art facility and they’re naming the auditorium after me. I’m kind of like, “Wait a minute, don’t do that yet, I’m not ready for that yet.” (Laughs) But the other part of me thinks no, accept it. You’ve worked hard and you’re proud of where you’re from.

PR.com: And you want to do good!

Kristin Chenoweth: And I want to do good!

Kristin Chenoweth’s 19 date, North American leg of her debut world tour runs May 9 through June 24. Tickets are on sale now. Visit Kristin-Chenoweth.com for tour dates, cities and ticket information.

Follow Kristin Chenoweth on Twitter @KChenoweth.

Kristin Chenoweth Talks Sacrificing for Success, Southern Christian Women & Going Home Again on Tour


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