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BWW Interviews: Kristin Chenoweth on OVER THE RAINBOW, ALW and Embracing 'Different'

Kristin Chenoweth is a Tony and Emmy Award Winning Actress and a superstar on Broadway - less than five feet of sheer vocal power and an inspiring force to be reckoned with. This week she returned to Toronto to mentor the nine girls currently vying for the coveted role of Dorothy on Over the Rainbow, a CBC show to cast the lead role in the upcoming production of Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber's Wizard of Oz.

Kristin spent time with each girl individually in order to coach them on their vocal solos for this week's episode (they will also sing a group number from the hit musical Wicked). After coaching the would-be Dorothys, Kristin sat down with BWW to discuss her recent accident and how its changed her, the advice she wants to give to young girls everywhere and how she would love Lord Lloyd Webber to create a role just for her!

You’re in Toronto to coach the girls vying for Dorothy on CBC’s Over the Rainbow! What’s it been like so far?

Let me just say I’m glad I’m not a judge! What a tough job they have, these girls are all incredible.  And they aren’t cookie cutter in any way – they are each unique and different which makes them incredible.

I would imagine a lot of these girls grew up with you as a role model, what was their reaction like when they met you?

I was told it was going to be a surprise and that they didn’t know I was coming.  Apparently they had their phones taken away last night and didn’t have access to TV or media at all.  When I arrived they were all singing from Wicked and they couldn’t see me, so I just exclaimed ‘I know that song!” and they all screamed and came running toward me.  Let me tell you, the love I felt from those girls was healing. 

I would imagine most of these girls are at the perfect age for coaching because they’re still impressionable and open to feedback.  Did you feel that?

Absolutely. It’s an amazing age.  They want to hear from you.  A lot of them are from little towns and they are having the experience of a lifetime and they just want to succeed.  It’s incredible. 

What has been your biggest piece of advice for them?

It’s interesting because for the role of Dorothy I wanted to make sure that they realized that a lot of people out there can sing it, but you also have to be able to act it.  Otherwise this show would just be a vocal competition like Canadian Idol or The Voice. You have to act and be able to move an audience.  I needed to feel that coming from them, and I’m proud to say I was moved by every one of the girls.  Even when they chose a song that I was surprised by, they made it their own and had that emotional connection.

The second thing I wanted to tell them was to embrace the thing that makes you different.  I have a very unique voice and I’m petite and that has been what has made me different.  I want them to learn to embrace whatever their ‘different’ is – even if it doesn’t make them Dorothy.

When you were in high school did you ever find it difficult to be different? As we get older it becomes easier to appreciate but often as a teenager it can be very difficult.  Even more if you are a ‘theatre geek’.

I found all of it hard.  People often don’t believe this about me but I was a bit of a geek.  A lot of people say ‘oh but you were a cheerleader!’ and I was…but I was the cheerleader who was in drama and choir.  I was the designated driver. The Type A personality who always wanted to do good.  But that’s ok, and that’s what I wanted to tell these girls.  With Over the Rainbow eight girls will be told no, but that doesn’t mean they won't be told yes somewhere else. 

In fact, when I was young I was in a pageant and I was the runner-up.  Which basically means second place.  I was devastated.  I wanted to win.  I wanted to be Miss Oklahoma.  I didn’t know at the time that I would get other opportunities that would lead me down the path I was meant to go down.  I want to make sure they don’t forget that.

How do you go about learning to embrace being different? Especially in high school? How do you handle those girls who pick on you because you aren’t exactly like them?

Honestly, I’ve had girls come and see me on Broadway and I’m shocked because I remember that they didn’t like me in high school.  I bet everyone remembers those girls who were a little bit mean to them.  The thing is, you have to handle those situations with grace.  That person had their journey too, whatever it might have been.  You don’t know what they’re going through.  We live in our own narcissistic world most of the time and the truth is, most of these things aren’t really about us at all.  So I would say handle everything with grace and recognize amazing opportunities when they come to you. 

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Kelly Cameron Kelly Cameron's love affair with the theatre began when she was just five years old, on an outing to see the Original Canadian Cast of Les Miserables at the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto. She instantly fell in love, and is honoured to be representing the Toronto contingent of BroadwayWorld as Senior Editor overseeing the GTA region.

Her writing career started almost by accident, though it has always been in her blood as her Mom was an English teacher who firmly believed in the importance of being able to turn a phrase. She also loved sharing her love of theatre with her students (and her children), and was a staunch supporter of the arts in Toronto.

When not at the theatre, you can usually find Kelly with a Starbucks in one hand and her BlackBerry in the other, tweeting, reading or doing something quirky and clumsy for the sake of getting that next big story.

She's incredibly grateful to the amazing Toronto theatre community who have embraced her with open arms, giving her the greatest gift a little redheaded theatre geek could ever ask for - getting to be a part of this vibrant arts and culture scene. She may have never had the skills to be on the stage, but is thankful every day she gets to write about the inspiring people who do.

Headshot photo by Racheal McCaig