Oklahoma native Kristin Chenoweth may only be 4’11" in height, but she touts a tall list of accomplishments.
In just over ten years, Chenoweth has performed in six Broadway shows, starred in 20 films, recorded three albums and enjoyed featured roles on 19 television shows, including Sesame Street, The West Wing, Pushing Daisies, Ugly Betty and Glee.
Widely recognized for her unique voice, petite stature and trademark blonde hair, the Broken Arrow native’s vocal talents were obvious from a young age. She began recording her singing voice on a portable tape recorder when she was only seven years old. Growing up, she performed gospel songs for local churches, leading to a solo appearance at the Southern Baptist Convention national conference at the age of 12.
Chenoweth graduated from Broken Arrow High School and went on to study voice and Musical Theater on full scholarship at Oklahoma City University. In college, Chenoweth studied under voice instructor Florence Birdwell—an instructor renowned for her tutelage of Miss America contestants and Tony award nominees—before going on to earn her master’s degree in opera performance. A classically trained coloratura soprano, Chenoweth has near-perfect pitch and an incredible vocal range, capable of reaching the F6 note—one of the highest notes commonly called for in opera. While in college, she also won the title of Miss Oklahoma City University and was a runner-up in the 1991 Miss Oklahoma pageant.
Chenoweth made her Broadway debut in the Kander and Ebb musical Steel Pier in 1997, but her breakthrough role came in playing Sally Brown in the 1998 revision of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. For her performance in this role, she won a Tony award in 1999 for Best Featured Actress in a Musical, as well as a Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Award.
Despite that success, Chenoweth is perhaps best known as the originator of the role of “Glinda” in the hit musical Wicked. The role, written especially for her, earned the actress much recognition and a Tony Award nomination in 2004. Most recently, she performed alongside actor Sean Hayes in the Broadway revival of Promises, Promises in 2010.
In addition, the multi-talented performer has lent her recognizable voice to animated features, including Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue and Space Chimps. In 2009, Chenoweth published her autobiography, A Little Bit Wicked: Life, Love and Faith in Stages. Most recently, she was inducted into the 2010 Oklahoma Hall of Fame and was nominated for a 2010 Emmy Award for her performances on Glee.
An avid fan of all things Oklahoma, Chenoweth recently shared with MetroFamily how the performing arts have influenced her life, what it is like to be famous, why we should expose our kids to the arts and what she misses most about the Sooner State.
MFM: When did you first realize that you wanted a career in the performing arts?
KC:: When I was in the Nutcracker at Tulsa Ballet Theater, I was probably around 10 or 11.
MFM: You clearly take pride in the fact that you are from Oklahoma; what does it mean to you to call Oklahoma home?
KC: It is where all of my family is. It is where my parents were raised. When I go back, I feel like time has never passed. Like an old friend, it is always there.
MFM: What were some of the most important stepping stones in your life that have led to the successful career you enjoy today?
KC: Becoming a Christian was a huge stepping stone in my life. I am always continuing [to realize] what my faith means to me, and I personally would not be anywhere without it. I was 8 years old when I made that decision. Easiest and best decision I ever made.
MFM: What is the most rewarding thing about a career in theater? Television? Music? Do you prefer one over the others?
KC: I love getting to play different characters. It might seem like my life is very exciting—well it is, because of the roles I play. When I am not working I am just a pretty regular girl who loves to eat and watch movies. I go to fast food places. The exciting part comes in bringing to life a role that is different [than] yours. I love all different venues, but a live audience is my drug.
MFM: Who has been the biggest influence in your life, in terms of helping you excel in the arts?
KC:: Florence Birdwell, She was my professor at OCU.
MFM: What has been the highlight of your career thus far? What has been the most difficult obstacle to overcome?
KC: It’s funny when you look at different highlights of your career you see different milestones, I am lucky that it is hard to pick one. If I had to say, I would conclude my Broadway debut in a musical called Steel Pier. This was my dream come true. The biggest obstacle in our business and one that I struggle with is realizing that rejection is a part of the job. You can be an Academy Award winner and still have to go through not getting a job. It is just part of it and you must learn to deal and not take it personally.
MFM: If you could perform your favorite song in your favorite venue, what would it be?
KC: “Glitter and Be Gay” from Candide at Carnegie Hall, which I have had the privilege of doing twice.
MFM: If Hollywood were to make a movie about your life, who would you like to see play the lead role?
MFM: What do you see as the importance of exposing children to the arts? How do you think the performing arts can benefit children of all ages?
KC:The importance of the arts in our schools is as important as the focus we put on sports. Thank goodness I had a teacher in intermediate school who encouraged me musically. We have seen through studies that the most well-rounded [people have] had major musical influences. In my opinion, music and the arts should be a requirement in all schools. It challenges a certain part of the brain and stimulates creativity.
MFM: What advice would you offer for kids who are interested in pursuing a career in the performing arts?
KC: Do anything you can in your local area that involves the arts. Join a community theater group, a church choir or pick up an instrument.
MFM: Oklahoma seems to have an amazing number of arts entertainers who have excelled on the national scene. As one of them, what do you attribute that to?
KC: My parents encouraged me in the talents God gave me, I attribute my success to them giving up their own desires so that I could have piano lessons, so that I could go to ballet, the countless hours spent at play practice. Through encouragement, they helped me believe in myself.
MFM: When you think of Oklahoma and our rich arts heritage, what comes to mind first? Who has inspired you?
KC: The tribute to the Oklahoma City bombing. That was a beautiful example of art and a tribute to Oklahomans passed.
MFM: When you come home to Oklahoma, what do you most look forward to? (Aside from your loved ones, of course!)
KC: Sonic, Chick-Fil-A and Krispy Kreme.
For more information about Kristin and her current projects, visit kristin-chenoweth.com.
Brooke Barnett is MetroFamily’s assistant editor and shares Ms. Chenoweth’s love of all things Sonic, Chick-Fil-A, Krispy Kreme, and