Even with a packed schedule that includes Broadway performances, an upcoming TV show, and a national tour, Kristin Chenoweth always makes time for humanitarian work.
The Tony and Emmy Award-winning entertainer created her own foundation to support children in the arts a few years ago and regularly lends her time — and extraordinary voice — to other causes she believes in.
Chenoweth’s desire to serve is bringing her to Palm Springs Feb. 8 for the 26th annual Steve Chase Humanitarian Awards, where she’s the headlining performer. Desert AIDS Project will honor the humanitarian work of Hank Plante with the Arts & Activism Award, Garry Kief with the Partners for Life Award, and Ambassador Deborah L Birx will receive the Science & Medicine Award.
Chenoweth’s appearance in Palm Springs continues her decades of work supporting HIV and AIDS organizations across the country.
“I was just old enough to catch the tail end of when so many of our brothers and sisters were dying of AIDS. It was definitely getting under control then — this was the late ‘80s — but it’s still happening,” she says. “So that’s the number one reason I wanted to come. I want to continue in my job as a human on this planet to try to do good in this world, and this is a very special night. I’m honored to have been invited.”
In light of her performance, the 51-year-old singer-actress talked with Palm Springs Life about her work, her life, and what she loves about Palm Springs.
You devote a lot of time to humanitarian causes. What’s capturing your attention these days?
I have the Kristin Chenoweth Arts & Education Fund, which is definitely something I’m building, and it’s evolving. This next June will be our sixth Kristin Chenoweth Broadway Boot Camp, and we’re so proud of the kids that have come through. It’s a very intensive week of singing and acting and dancing. That’s probably the thing I really want people to remember me for. That will be my legacy.
You’ve also created “Places! The Kristin Chenoweth Tour Experience,” where young people shadow you onstage. What’s that like?
I love it. It’s my favorite part of my show a lot of the time. I’ll invite choirs or groups in the towns I’m going to… I really want them to understand that when they rehearse with me, it’s not just about sounding good. I want them to see me like they are. That’s fun, because when I finally see them click and relax and say, “I’m not around Kristin Chenoweth right now. I’m just trying to do the best show that I can.” That’s what makes me happy — to see that flip of the switch of them joining me instead of being so star-struck.
PHOTOGRAPH BY GIAN ANDREA DI STEFANO
"I love the area [Palm Springs] because the minute I drive into town, I feel like I’m at peace. Just at peace."
— Kristin Chenoweth
How was it recording with Dolly Parton, Reba McEntyre, Jennifer Hudson, and Ariana Grande on your latest album, For the Girls?
Surreal, because how many times I listen to them on the radio or I buy their CDs or download their music and I forget we’re friends. So it’s really cool when you can invite people like Jennifer Hudson or Reba, who are actually your friends. And Dolly. She and I have met several times, and we have a sort of special way we look at each other. I look at her with such reverence. And she, I think, looks down at me and is proud. And that’s what I want to be for people like Ariana Grande. It’s me tributing them and their songs, but also showing my younger fans that I also want to be a mentor and a teacher to them.
How did Carol Burnett come to be your mentor?
I met her several years ago when I was really becoming known. She started coming to see my shows. Her husband is also an incredible musician, and I have played with him many times at the Hollywood Bowl with the Pops Orchestra. I would say the relationship started then and it’s just been evolving. We certainly do text a lot. I mean a lot. And I don’t like to go too many months without having dinner with Brian and Carol, because I’m learning so much and I know they love me from a real place.
You recently opened up about living with chronic pain following a 2012 accident on the set of The Good Wife. Why was it important to you to speak out?
A lot of people live with chronic pain, and that can really affect your mood. Sometimes you’re talking — and you know it’s you and you’re saying your opinion — but sometimes that chronic pain is talking, and you’re not yourself. And the people around you who are closest to you know. What I really want to stress in this whole campaign of talking about it is there’s no shame in having chronic pain. A lot of humans have it. A lot of people don’t know how to handle it. The way I handle it is I say to the people around me, “Today’s not going to be a good day. I’m in some pain, but I’m dealing with it.” That gives you permission to have your moments of pain and other people can know what’s going on. It’s also freeing to discuss it, because then you’re not so hard on yourself about it.
PHOTOGRAPH BY GIAN ANDREA DI STEFANO
What are you looking forward to during your upcoming trip to Palm Springs?
I love the area because the minute I drive into town, I feel like I’m at peace. Just at peace. Two of my closest friends, literally brother and sister-type friends, live there, so I’ll get to be with them, be in their home, and just relax. I like to eat at El Mirasol, the wonderful Mexican food place. I like to just hang out and be with my friends and go to these little places to eat and just chill out. It’s so relaxing to be there.
With all your career accomplishments, what other goals do you have in your career?
It sounds very cliché, but to continue to do what I love to do. My goals have changed a lot. I wanted to be an EGOT winner (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony). Of course, who wouldn’t want to be that, right? But I really want to continue to grow and evolve as an actress and singer, because I truly love what I do. If I wouldn’t get to do that, I would be so sad. So my goal is to continue to get roles that challenge me and also that I can have a lot of fun with, as well. Because if it’s not fun, who cares?
Kristen Chenoweth performs at the Steve Chase Humanitarian Awards, Feb. 8 at the Palm Springs Convention Center, 277 N. Avenida Caballeros. Cocktails at 5:30 p.m., dinner at 7 p.m. For tickets, visit desertaidsproject.org/SCHA2020.