Good Christian belle

Gay ally Kristin Chenoweth talks about her new country music CD (she adores Dolly!), queers … and the right way to be a Christian

THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO KRISTIN | The performer has conquered stage, recording, TV … and uniting gay rights with her faith.

Kristin Chenoweth doesn’t get miffed very easily. But when she does, watch out. Last year, after Newsweek published a commentary on the inability of gay actors to play straight roles, she wrote an extensive letter to the magazine, calling the article “horrendously homophobic.”

But Chenoweth’s allegiance to the gay community goes back to growing up in Oklahoma — a place she returned to for her latest album, Some Lessons Learned, the first of four where the opera-trainer singer fully embraces her country roots.

We had lots to talk about when we caught up with Chenoweth, on a dinner break from shooting her upcoming series, Good Christian Belles. She discussed her history of dating gay men, her opinion on Michele Bachmann’s support of gay conversion clinics … and being a little bit wicked.

— Chris Azzopardi

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Dallas Voice: Your character’s name on Good Christian Belles is Cockburn — Carlene Cockburn. Chenoweth: I can’t wait for my family to hear that one. Are you kidding? I was like, “Wait a minute…!” But I just think the most important thing for me as an actress, because of the lines that come out of my mouth, is to just have to speak them and keep going, because they’re so funny and her name is so funny and the whole thing is just so great. I love it.

Does your character have anything in common with April Rhodes, who you play on Glee? Probably not on paper, but they’re both pretty outlandish people. Carlene, though, is the antithesis of April.

You grew up in Oklahoma, so country music is your roots. How is your new album a reflection of that? It’s so funny, because I get asked, “Why a country album now?” But that’s how it all began for me. Of course, why would anyone know that? It’s not something I’ve been talking about a lot, but it’s the music I grew up listening to. One of my biggest influences is Dolly Parton, and when you look at the history of songs in musical theater and in country, they’re both usually great storytellers.

I know just how lucky I am to do this kind of music. Getting to go to Nashville and sing this music that feels like home to me was a real gift, and one that I don’t take lightly.

The song “What Would Dolly Do?” reminds me a lot of Dolly herself. I co-wrote that. [Producer] Bob Ezrin asked, “Who’s had the biggest influence on you country music-wise?” I said, “Dolly, without question.” And he said, “How would she approach it? Let’s think: What would Dolly do?” I said, “Bob, why aren’t we writing that song?”

There’s something about her that I feel very attuned to. There’s only one Dolly. I’m not comparing myself, but I’m just saying her spirit and the way she looks at life is pretty similar to me. And the cover I did of hers [“Change”] is actually a very emotional thing and it reminded me — of course, how could I ever forget? — what an amazing songwriter she is. You know, I didn’t do a lot of covers. I did two covers, one of Carrie [Underwood] and one of Dolly’s, and I just love both of them. I love their music, I love their spirit — everything they stand for.

It makes total sense, because, to me, both you and Dolly epitomize happiness. Oh my god, thank you. That’s the biggest compliment you could give me.

So, being so happy… what pisses you off? Oh, gosh! I don’t really get mad that often. But I’m not going to lie: When I do, there’s a quiet that comes over me that is a little like whoa, and that happens when I don’t feel other people are prepared or doing their job or pulling their weight. I come from a family where my dad came from nothing and worked hard to get where he is, and he said, “Work hard, play hard, Kris,” and I guess that’s kind of been my motto in life. So when I see people squandering opportunities or having a sense of entitlement, that really makes me crazy. Because I don’t understand it. It’s not a world I get.

One thing that does make you upset is homophobic people. I don’t like that, you’re right.

Your letter in response to that Newsweek column said it all. Why was it important to address your feelings on that issue? To be honest, I wasn’t prepared for what was going to happen. I was on Broadway doing Promises, Promises, and I read the article and I actually thought it was pretty irresponsible. I’m not even talking about whether a person agrees with being gay or not, I’m talking about artistry and gay

actors trying to play straight. It just made me mad, because I thought, “Well, I’ve played a prostitute, does that mean I am one? No.” I just thought it was a little bit of a bullying thing, and I honestly prayed about it — no kidding, I prayed about it.

And by the way, I’m a big fan of the magazine, which is why I was so bummed. But I think that they felt bad and hopefully there’s been some discussion about it and some learning, because that’s what we’re here to do on this Earth, to learn our purpose. Well, one of my purposes in this life — since I’m a believer and a Christian — is to help people realize that not every Christian thinks that being gay is a sin.

To reinforce your point, you made out with your Promises, Promises co-star Sean Hayes at the Tonys last year. It might’ve been a little jibe. It might’ve been a little one! Ha!

What was it like to make out with a gay man? Was that your first time? Well, let’s face it, my high school boyfriend is gay, so I don’t think it’s my first time making out with gay men! I bet a lot of women don’t even know they’ve done it! And Sean Hayes is just a darn good kisser, what can I say?

Wait, so you dated a gay man in high school? Yeah, and I’m like, “Well, that’s why we were such a great couple!” He didn’t pleasure me in any way but he helped me pick out my prom dress!

Was he one of the first gay people you knew in Oklahoma? Yeah. I want to tell you something I know about myself: When I was in the second or third grade, I first heard the word “dyke,” and it was in reference to a girl in our school who was very, very tomboyish. I didn’t really understand what the word was, but I knew I didn’t like the way it was said. And for some reason I’ve always been drawn to the person that was alone, and I don’t mean to make me sound like I’m Mother Teresa, because I’m not. But I’ve always been drawn to people who felt left out or different, and maybe it’s because, I too, felt different and unique. People would not think this of me, because there’s this perception of me that, “Oh, life’s been perfect and things have come so easily.”

But let’s face it: My speaking voice is very interesting. Yes, I was a cheerleader but I also wanted to do all the plays, I was in renaissance choir, and, I too, felt a little bit like an outsider. I was always drawn to people who felt that way, too. And sure, some of them were gay and I never did understand — I guess the word is fear.

God made us all equal. He made me short, he made someone gay, he made someone tall — whatever it is, it’s not a sin; it’s how we’re made. And that’s the way I feel about it. It flies in the face of a lot of what Christians believe, but as I’m finding out there’s a lot of Christian people who think the same as me. So that’s my deal, and I think we should not be careful of the unknown but rather accepting and loving of it.

As someone who’s Christian and supports the gay community, how do you feel about the pray-away-the-gay program that Michele Bachmann supports? [Long pause] You know what, you can have your opinion. One of the great things about being in this country is we get to freely say what we believe. I just don’t happen to agree with that. Though I like the “pray” part!

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 16, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Johnny Weir shocks the world and comes out

Johnny Weir

In the most shocking coming out since Sean Hayes confirmed he was gay a year ago, U.S. figure skating champion Johnny Weir came out this week. Weir had never denied being gay. He had just never confirmed it.

Weir has not avoided the LGBT community at all. In October, he was presented with the Human Rights Campaign’s Visibility Award and had also been given a similar award by Equality California.

He has raised money for the Trevor Project and appeared on Kathy Griffin’s My Life on the D-List.

Last year, Weir was on the U.S. Olympic figure skating team for the second time. He and Michelle Kwan are the only two skaters to ever be named Skater of the Year more than once. In 2001, he earned the title World Junior Champion. He was U.S. National Figure Skating Champion three times from 2004 through 2006.

Weir has a new book coming out Jan. 11 called Welcome to My World.

—  David Taffet

Queer interest with the Grammy nominations

Gay pop icon Adam Lambert is a Grammy nominee for “Whataya Want from Me.”

Nominations for the Grammy Awards were announced last night, and among the predicted big-name contenders are some of special interest to the gay community:

• Lady Gaga received six nominations, including best female pop vocal for “Bad Romance” and best album for The Fame Monster.

• Margaret Cho’s Cho Dependent is up for best comedy album against Kathy Griffin Does the Bible Belt.

• Two Sondheim albums are competing for musical show album: The revival of A Little Night Music and Sondheim on Sondheim. They contend against the revival of Promises, Promises with Sean Hayes and Kristen Chenoweth.

• Best compilation soundtrack album pits Glee: The Music, Vol. 1 against True Blood: Vol. 2.

• Michael Jackson received a nomination for pop male vocal for This Is It. Creepy. He’s competing against Adam Lambert for Whataya Want from Me.

• Best pop group vocal includes the cast of Glee for Don’t Stop Believin’ against Train for a live version of Hey, Soul Sister … which Glee just did better than Train.

• Elton John and Leon Russell, who were just in town, go up again Gaga and Beyonce and Katy Perry and Snoop Dogg for best vocal collboration.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Tony Awards recap

Sean Hayes both hosted the Tony Awards Sunday night and was a nominee for his performance in “Promises, Promises,” but he also was a sassy lightning rod for politics. Hayes made the least news ever last March when, just before his Broadway debut opened, he officially came out as gay. (In other news, the sun set last night.)

Hayes was then the target of a weird thinkpiece in Newsweek (by a gay author, no less!) who claimed that when gay actors come out, they ruin the illusion that they could be straight for audiences; Hayes was singled out as not convincingly playing a hetero man in the musical. His co-star, Kristin Chenoweth — who also has appeared on “Glee,” another target of the article — was vocal in her disdain for the piece.

Without addressing the article directly, Hayes began his hosting duties with a Tipper-and-Al-style prolonged lip-lock with Chenoweth that seemed to establish, for home audiences, that kisses look real when the actors are good. Despite my criticism of the cast recording, these actors are good.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Tony nominations have some gay

The Tony Award nominees were announced this morning. Not in the list was Cheyenne Jackson for his role in the revival of Finian’s Rainbow, but there were some other gay-notable inclusions. Among them:

Fela!, the dance musical conceived by choreographer Bill T. Jones, led the pack with 11 nominations.

• The revival of La Cage aux Folles also got 11 nods. Out actor Robin DeJesus, who co-starred in the North Texas-shot indie Fat Girls and was nominated two years ago for In the Heights, was cited as best featured actor. The production also got nods for stars Kelsey Grammer and Douglas Hodge, as best revival and seven other awards.

• Sean Hayes — Jack from Will & Grace — got nominated as best actor in a leading role in a musical for his Broadway debut in the revival of Promises, Promises.

• Levi Kreis, the gay musician making his Broadway debut playing Jerry lee Lewis in Million Dollar Quartet, was nominated as best featured actor in a musical.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones