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Meeting Kristin Chenoweth: A Memoir

Sometimes you just have to sigh. On Saturday, I met one of my all-time idols, Kristin Chenoweth. With her chipmunk voice, springy body and Barbie blonde locks, she was everything I’ve always thought her to be. I also learned that I am a Shrek-ish ogre, or at least that was my impression standing there with my arm wrapped around her bird shoulder. “I could crush her,” I thought. “I could crush her into gold dust, her and her big enormous voice.”

Actually, I really wasn’t having many conscious thoughts. Walking up to her after her remarkable 40-minute set of classic Broadway tunes — accompanied only by a pianist on a 10×10 portable stage — was like approaching something dangerous and spiky. But besides her glittery gold Louboutins, there was nothing spiky about her. She was all smiles and goodness and light, not far from the good witch Galena she made famous in the iconic “Wicked.” While I did not see her in “Wicked,” I did see her back before she was KRISTIN CHENOWETH when she was playing Sally in “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.” I had just turned 18 years old. My grandparents had given me a giant aquamarine ring set in white gold in diamonds right before our youth group boarded a plane bound for a 10-day tour of Israel. Our layover was New York City, and the show we saw (before spending 11 hours stuck on the frozen runway at JFK) — was “Charlie Brown.” Sometimes you just have to sigh.

Gordon and I were attending the Baron Funds investment conference this weekend at Lincoln Center. This sounds about as magical as toe cheese, but one of the perks of the conference is the parade of “surprise entertainment.” Attendees could choose to eat lunch in one of three atriums where entertainers from Broadway, Jazz, or Rock would perform. The catch is that no one knows who the performers are. You’ve got to hand it to those nerdy market analysts for having a flair for the dramatic. Left to his own devices, Gordon most certainly would have attended the Rock lunch, but when he saw my delight that Kelli O’Hara was the lounge singer (if she is the lounge singer, who could they POSSIBLY have at the Broadway lunch?), he felt it in his best interest to indulge me.

Kristin sang “Bill,” “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again,” “Taylor The Latte Boy,” “Ice Cream,” “Popular” and a few from her new album. It was her first performance since July when a piece of scaffolding fell and struck her on the head while she was on the set of “The Good Wife.” She seemed emotional to be performing again. I discovered later that the Jazz artist was Harry Connick, Jr. and the Rock artist was Joss Stone — all amazing in their own rite, but nothing compared to Kristin. As a final exclamation point of awesomeness, Baron Funds sponsored a large-group performer in the main theater when we had reconvened from lunch. Celine Dion. Yep. But even with the Blue Diamond draped around her neck, Celine is still no match for Kristin.

I was quite possibly the youngest female in the whole room. Most everyone there was over 50 and seemed strangely unimpressed. She made a few jokes and tried a few laughs, and I felt like the only one trying not to vomit from comprehensive delight. I felt indignant, especially at those on the front row who were minding their baked Lays with more attention than they were giving her. I was not sitting at one of the round tables. I was standing in the back, devouring a BBQ chicken sandwich and vowing never to sing another note as long as Kristin was alive to sing it herself. I think she could sense my inner hysteria. It’s strange what hunger mixed with unabashed idolatry will do to me.

When I approached Kristin at the end of the set (we are now on a first-name basis), she told me that she noticed me in the back. Gordon likes to correct me and say she said, “us,” as in, “I noticed y’all in the back,” but she really meant me. I was wearing a bright green sweater and a big orange bubble necklace that is visible from space. I was also sort of crying and mouthing all the words and allowing bits of food to escape my lips from a sudden onset of mouth numbness. Kristin definitely noticed me, and me alone, and that was fine because I knew that I was the only one giving her the love she deserved in that performance. I was being the person I crave in an audience — that encouraging mother laughing strenuously on the front row. And I was being that for Kristin. Or Kris. That’s what her friends call her.

Not that she needed my reassurance. She has her fame, her Tony, her Emmy, and her royalties. But maybe for a moment, my encouraging, if strange, demeanor helped ease her back into performing after so long in recovery. Maybe an entertainer never gets over the fear that they are a flash in the pan and not likely to rise again to a former greatness. Maybe everyone is vulnerable in that way, even people who are seasoned, successful fill-in-the-blanks. Especially when it comes to singing, which is like an athletic occupation, after being physically hurt maybe your voice is all up in the air after a trauma like that. Maybe Kristin needed a lot of encouragement after all. Maybe for one hour, for one chance in a lifetime, I was Popular with her.

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