News Column

Kristin Chenoweth Get Back to Her Country Roots

Sept. 9, 2011

Elysa Gardner

Kristin Chenoweth

How does a Southern girl who has become a Broadway and TV star get back to her roots? If she's Oklahoma native Kristin Chenoweth, she gets a little support from a big pop songwriter.

"Diane Warren is the one who really encouraged me to do this," says Chenoweth, whose distinctly country-flavored new album, "Some Lessons Learned," arrives Tuesday. "She had heard me sing a country song on Glee, and she said: 'You can do this. This is you. I believe in you.'"

Warren contributed several songs to Some Lessons Learned, including the bouncy first single, "I Want Somebody (Bitch About)." Other noted pop and country tunesmiths, from Desmond Child to Dolly Parton, are represented on the album, which finds the singer/actress channeling her distinct blend of sweetness and sass into tender, wistful ballads and rootsy, rousing fare.

"I've wanted to do this since I was a little kid," says Chenoweth, 43. "I was a singer and dancer in Opryland when I was 19."

Now she's set to perform at the Grand Ole Opry on Sept. 17 -- "which is huge. In my family, it's like, 'Oh, you're singing at Carnegie Hall? That's great.' But if you're singing at the Opry, it's, 'What?!' That's opera, where I'm from."

Chenoweth, who was also a presenter at the 2011 CMT Music Awards, is keen that she not be viewed as an interloper.

"I know that there are a lot of country singers who have put in a lot of time, and I don't want it to feel like I'm just coming in and saying, 'Move over.' But so far, I've just felt really welcomed and loved."

Lessons is not the only project on the multitasking performer's plate this fall. Chenoweth has a new television series on tap, "Good Christian Belles," due on ABC. (No airdate has been scheduled.) Based on Kim Gatlin's book "Good Christian Bitches," it follows a woman's return to the Dallas community where she grew up.

"She was this mean girl who moved away, and now she's back," Chenoweth says. "I play another character. She was a big nerd in high school but has totally overhauled herself, and now she feels threatened.

"I love this show because it shows the humanity of Christian people, and that's a world I know very well. The people aren't perfect -- at all. There's this conception that Christians are judgmental and not accepting. But it really should be the other way around."

The Tony Award winner also hopes to get back on stage in the not-too-distant future. She's planning to appear in a Broadway revival of the 1978 musical "On the Twentieth Century," in a role introduced by the late comic actress Madeline Kahn. Chenoweth and Hugh Jackman completed a reading of the show earlier this year.

After that, she'll tackle another Southern icon: "I'm working on a piece about Tammy Faye Bakker, with (director/choreographer) Bobby Longbottom and ('Dreamgirls' composer) Henry Krieger." Chenoweth also would love to "do a 20-city tour" behind her new album -- whenever she can squeeze one in.

"I'm just most fulfilled when I'm working," she says. "You know, I don't have any children -- if the right guy came along, I'd welcome it, but that hasn't been in the cards yet.

"So I keep the creative side of me going. I'm always looking for new things to do."



Source: Copyright USA TODAY 2011


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