Interview: Kristin Chenoweth On Singing With Asthma, Performing for the Phillies, and the Fate of Pushing Daisies

When you hear the name Kristin Chenoweth, there are a multitude of things that could come to mind: her recognizable petite figure and golden voice; her Emmy-winning turn as Olive Snook in ABC’s Pushing Daisies; her role as Glinda in the mega Broadway musical Wicked, where she sang the ever-rousing “Popular” (a song she says, “I will probably be singing until the day I die”); or, if you’re a real theater dork, her Tony Award-winning performance as Sally in You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown.

What you may not realize is that she’s taken on the unlikely role as spokesperson for Know Your Count, a campaign sponsored by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America and Teva Respiratory. She took on the duty after her recent revelation that she is a sufferer of asthma.

“My journey with asthma started more than a decade ago, but up until recently, I never shared my story,” she told me in an email interview this week. “As a singer and actress, being able to breathe properly is a critical component to my success, so as you can imagine, I was very upset when I received my asthma diagnosis. I worried about how it would impact my career.”

Now Chenoweth is sharing her story — and her voice — to raise awareness for asthma suffers nationwide. In fact, you can catch her in Philly next week, when she performs the National Anthem during Asthma Awareness Night at the Phillies game on Tuesday, May 6th.

Check out the rest of my interview with her below:

G Philly: We are thrilled to have you back in Philly, Kristin. First, tell me how and why you got involved with Know Your Count and Asthma Awareness Night at the Phillies.
Kristin Chenoweth: Thank you, Bryan! I am thrilled to be coming back. … I’m not sure if you know this, but May is actually Asthma Awareness Month, so the timing for this event couldn’t be any more perfect! … It is my hope that by sharing my story I can help educate people about the seriousness of asthma, and the importance of safe asthma management. I specifically want to encourage people with asthma to ensure they are using a rescue inhaler with a dose counter in an effort to help track the remaining doses they have left, so that they aren’t without medication when they need it most, like during an asthma attack.

GP: I suffered from asthma as a child, so I know there’s a stigma around the disease. It’s great that you are putting a face to asthma to battle those misconceptions.
KC: My experience has been a bit different since I was diagnosed with asthma as an adult; however, I would agree with you that there can definitely be a stigma associated with the condition. I truly believe that it is important for people with asthma to know that it is still possible to live healthy and active lives. I mean, I’m living proof that it is possible! And that is why I am sharing my story.

GP: You’re such an energetic performer and singer. Is it hard to maintain that with asthma?
KC: Managing asthma as a professional singer can be extremely tough, especially given my hectic schedule. I’ve learned that I really need to be in tune with what my body is telling me so that I can recognize the onset of my symptoms and use my medication when I need it. I always keep my rescue inhaler with a dose counter nearby because asthma can be extremely unpredictable and you never know when an attack will occur. I’ve also found creative ways to get to my medication even while I’m on-stage performing. It really is all about recognizing the warning signs and being prepared; that’s the best advice I can give to others who are juggling asthma and a busy lifestyle.

GP: Singing the National Anthem is such a challenge and a thrill for so many performers. What does it feel like for you? How do you prepare?
KC: For me, I always do a vocal warmup. I then try and let go and remember what the actual lyrics are about. Since it is our National Anthem, it’s very, very emotional. Every time I sing it I sing it with such great pride because I am an American. [The song is] challenging to sing, and I try not to focus on that. I try to focus on the strength of the words.

GP: What advice would you give a young performer who is thinking about pursuing singing?
KC: Training is the most important gift you can give yourself. It is what separates the men from the boys. It is what solidifies a long, solid career, of which you can be proud. In a time when mediocrity is celebrated, don’t be okay with just being good enough. Be great! Lead with your training. Because of my opera training, I’m able to sing country, Broadway, pop and more. If I didn’t have that training I don’t think I’d be able to try my hand at all those genres. I encourage everyone to give themselves the gift of training.

GP: When I bring up your name, everyone still brings up Pushing Daisies, even though the show is off the air. What about it makes people so fascinated? It’s kind of a modern cult classic!
KC: When I first read the script, I knew it was special. I’d never seen anything like it. Bryan Fuller and Barry Sonnenfeld had such a vision for the show. People have called it whimsical, fantastic and interesting. I call it fantasmicgorocal, which is my own word. It’s everything you can think of: It’s fantasy, but rooted in real relationships. It had a very different and unique look to it. Barry shot it and made it look absolutely stunning. The colors were vibrant, but with that being said if there’s no good story there then it doesn’t matter, so we had both and I truly miss it.

GP: So, is there any truth about Pushing Daisies: The Musical?
KC: I know Bryan Fuller has discussed it. I would really love it. If you remember, as a cast and as an audience we didn’t really have closure. We were on hiatus when we found out we wouldn’t be coming back. What I would love is to have it sewn up in a pretty little bow. Or not. Maybe that’s not how it’s supposed to end, but I would love for these characters to be revisited on stage.

GP: Between all of your performing on stage and screen, and now your role with Know Your Count, how do you keep a balance in your life, because I think that is such an important part of one’s overall well being.
KC: Honestly, finding the balance is my biggest challenge. Sometimes it’s my downfall, but your health is the most important thing. I struggle with it and I know it’s not easy, but I think it’s important to pay attention to our bodies. For me, knowing my count, and having my inhaler on me all the time actually helps me take better care of myself. It’s a very simple message to know your count, but it’s an extremely important one. We need air to breathe and it’s just that simple.

For more information on the Know Your Count campaign, visit Asthma Awareness Night at the Phillies is May 6, 2014: tickets can be purchased via this website. You can follow Kristin on Facebook and Twitter.