Kristin Chenoweth: Hits All the Right Notes

It’s an honor to welcome the illustrious Kristin Chenoweth to our Holiday cover. This charming, charismatic and multi-talented star of both stage and screen brightens every set she performs on. A mere 4’ 11”, her extraordinary four-octave voice makes her a giant in the musical arena. She lends her time and talent to an array of philanthropic causes and she’s an advocate for arts programs, especially in her home state of Oklahoma where she holds a Broadway Bootcamp every year at the Broken Arrow Performing Arts Center in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. She’s a force of nature and Travelgirl is honored and proud to welcome her back to the cover of our magazine.

Travelgirl: You hail from Oklahoma and are a graduate of Oklahoma City University. Will you talk about OCU and your beloved mentor and teacher at OCU — Florence Birdwell?

Kristin Chenoweth: I would love to talk about OCU and Florence Birdwell as my mentor. OCU gave me the opportunity to learn, not just how to sing vocally, but to also sing what you mean, which was part of Florence’s technique. Being with Florence was like being in the Army; she broke me down to build me up and she let me learn how to fly. To this day her voice is in my head whenever I am singing technically, spiritually and vocally. She was the one teacher who has really changed my life!

TG: You are a Tony- and Emmy Award-winning actress and you’re also an inductee into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame, as well as the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame. Your generosity to Oklahoma is legendary. Please talk about your partnership with the Broken Arrow Performing Arts Center (BAPAC) and the Broadway Bootcamp you launched in 2015. Both are extraordinary charitable endeavors.

KC: The Bootcamp has been very, very important to me. I feel like the Broken Arrow Performing Arts Center has done a great job in bringing professional talent and shows to the area and encouraging young people to enjoy the arts. The BAPAC wants to grow the Center into an actual school where children in my home state can also be fed and enriched with an afterschool arts program. I am teaching master classes a couple of times a year at BAPAC; I also concertize there.
I have the Broadway Bootcamp every week around the Tonys so that we can watch the Tonys together. Kids audition from all over the country to become part of the program and 50 are chosen. All of my famous Broadway friends come in and teach and we put on a show at the end of the week. This will be my legacy; I really want to encourage people to check it out online and feel free to donate. The NEA [National Endowment for the Arts] and the arts programs all over, but especially in Oklahoma, are really suffering and I want to do whatever I can in my home state for kids who want to be in the arts. The program isn’t just singing; it includes dancing, acting, graphic design, writing, directing, song writing, book writing — all of it. Thank you for asking me about this; right now it’s the most important thing in my life.

TG: Angels Among Us, your Christmas album, debuts soon. It’s a collaboration with the renowned Mormon Tabernacle Choir. What was the inspiration for this album?

KC: When I was invited to perform with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir to record the Angels Among Us Christmas DVD and CD, I was very honored. It’s kind of a rite of passage for any artist to sing with that incredible orchestra and choir. Although I am not Mormon and we do differ on beliefs, one thing we definitely meet on is music. The conductor and the wonderful choral director is Mack Wilberg, and he works in association with Ron Gunnell, who is an integral part of the church and the choir. He helped me orchestrate what I wanted the concert to be. We added a lot of humor and heart to the recording.
The song Angels Among Us is in it and it talks about angels walking around among us. Not everyone believes the same things in this life but there are still people who want to do good in the world. They are our angels here and when we don’t expect it, they show up. I am very honored for people to watch the DVD and listen to the CD. It’s a little bit country, a little bit classical and a little bit music theatre, and it’s all Christmas related. I’m very proud of it.

TG: I love your album For the Girls. It’s spectacular and the guest appearances by Ariana Grande, Dolly Parton, Jennifer Hudson and Reba McEntire are memorable. The songs are timeless. Will you talk about making this iconic album and the females who influenced you as a singer?

KC: My For the Girls album is doing pretty well. The reason I wanted to do these timeless songs was to really celebrate the females who came before me like Dinah Washington, Linda Ronstadt and Eva Cassidy (an American jazz/blues singer who died at age 33 in 1996). I wanted my young fans to know who these singers are.
    The reason I chose these songs is pretty evident; it’s the lyrics. I worried could I do Barbra (Streisand) with The Way We Were. Do I dare touch these artists, such as Patsy Cline? I was very nervous to do so. I am a big fan of doing things that scare me so I invited some of my favorite singers in the world to join me. Ariana Grande is doing a Lesley Gore tune, You Don’t Own Me, with me because I felt like we could relate to that song together. Jennifer Hudson and Reba are joining me on I’m A Woman; we have three very different voices. My voice harkens back to the original Peggy Lee, but Jennifer and Reba are just singing their faces off.
    Of course Dolly’s song, I Will Always Love You, is probably my favorite song ever written. The fact that Dolly said yes, I almost died; I couldn’t believe it. I am very honored Dolly agreed. I really want to harken back to a time that was more innocent and just about the lyrics. Yes, there is great melody but I want my younger fans to know these songs. There is a song I did by Eva Cassidy on the record, It Doesn’t Matter Anymore [written by Paul Anka]. I want people to know Eva and to listen to her, yet I wanted to put my stamp on these songs. It was very scary but I’m very, very proud of it.

TG: On Saturday, December 7 you will star in A Christmas Love Story on the Hallmark Hall of Fame Channel. Please talk about this movie and why you chose to star in it.

KC: This year has been a big year. I’m doing a lot of Christmas. I did A Christmas Love Story movie for Hallmark. I wrote a song for this movie, which I am very proud of. My friend, producer Jennifer Aspen, and I had the idea to make this movie, and we went to them and Hallmark loved the idea. We hired a writer and then Chely Wright, the singer-songwriter, helped me write the title song. This will be a first for me — having a song I co-wrote in a movie. I am very, very honored to be part of the Hallmark family because no one does Christmas like Hallmark. I think people might accidently be moved despite themselves.
    I also did another Christmas movie for Netflix called Holidate that will come out in 2020. I’ve been doing Christmas since February and I’m tired.

TG: How did you have time to star in a television special, record a new album and continue with everything else you do? You amaze me. How do you find balance between your career and your personal life?

KC: Balancing my career and my personal life has been a constant challenge since it first began. I come from the Bible Belt where you get married and have 2.5 kids and you live your life. That didn’t seem to be my focus but as my journey goes on, I am making time for a life. After my Broadway run, For the Girls, at the Nederlander Theatre, which began November 8, I will have a break. I have a couple of concerts here and there but I have to have a break so that I can be a person and that way I can become a better artist. It is a balance that I am still struggling to find, so please pray for me and wish me luck. I am still trying.

TG: You are blessed with an incredible voice; you hold a master’s degree in Opera Performance. You’ve acted in a wealth of television shows, Broadway plays and movies. Which genre is closest to your heart? 

KC: The genre that is closest to my heart is all of it. To me, acting is singing and dance is an extension of all of that. I would be not quite honest if I didn’t say that performing anything with a live audience is my favorite. I love the relationship between the artist and the audience; that is what makes me happiest. That is what makes me feel alive.

TG: What’s on Kristin Chenoweth’s travel bucket list? Is there some place special you haven’t visited that you want to experience?

KC: My bucket list continues to grow. I really, really want to go to Israel and Jerusalem one day. I want to experience where Jesus walked and I want to see that part of the world.
    To completely change the subject, I’ve always wanted to host SNL. I don’t think that will ever happen, but I can still dream, can’t I?

TG: Where is your favorite travel destination? Is there some place you love to visit where you can relax, rewind and recharge?

KC: One of my favorite places to go and a place I love is Cabo San Lucas in Mexico. There is something about the quiet. The ocean really brings me closer to God and makes me feel artistic, and I can have peace and relax. I love Hawaii; I am a sun lover so that makes sense for me since I have quite a bit of Native American heritage.

TG: Please share your sage advice for those young hopefuls who aspire to follow in your famous footsteps.

KC: Young talent inspires me. When I meet someone who wants to do what I am doing I say ‘If you can’t see yourself doing anything else and being happy, then you should go for it.’ Please know this life is hard; it’s a challenge. Don’t put yourself in a box and don’t let others put you in a box. There is no way I should be where I am today, and believe me, I still have dreams. I want to write and be involved in writing my own Broadway show; I do write my own material for concerts. There are lots of dreams I still have and I love to share what I have learned with the next generation.
    I spend my life on a plane. I am sort of a nomad; I live in both LA and New York. I want to thank the women who encouraged me; the list is pretty large. I want to thank my mother, my sisters, my cousins, Carol Burnett, [opera singer] Renee Fleming. I am so lucky. I have a group of women whom I look up to who have been there: Patti LuPone, Christine Ebersole, Julie Andrews, [Christian singer] Sandi Patty and people I haven’t ever met like Sally Field; these are people who inspire me. I really want to continue to be inspired and to inspire.

Renee Werbin

Publisher and Co-Founder

Publisher, Co-Founder and CEO of SRI Travel

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