Kristin Chenoweth Reveals What Inspired Her To Make ‘For The Girls’ Album: ‘I Wanted To Pay Homage’

'For The Girls' is the very definition of girl power. Kristin Chenoweth is putting her own spin on 12 classic songs that have shaped her. HL spoke with Kristin about why this album is so important to her and more.

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Kristin Chenoweth’s new album, For The Girls, is out now. For The Girls is a tribute to some of the incredible singers that have influenced Kristin over her amazing career. The Emmy and Tony winner has taken 12 classic songs and blessed us with her own interpretations. She includes songs by legendary artists like Barbra Streisand, Eva Cassidy, Judy Garland, and Carole King. In a time where there is so much music to consume, Kristin wants to take a moment to look back at the women who have come before us and remember what makes their songs so timeless.

On the album, Kristin is joined by some iconic guest vocalists such as Dolly Parton, Ariana Grande, Jennifer Hudson, and Reba McEntire. HollywoodLife spoke EXCLUSIVELY with Kristin about For The Girls, which is so near and dear to her heart. She admitted that there were over 100 songs that influenced her and it was “hell” narrowing the album to just 12 songs. Kristin talked about how she got Dolly, Ariana, and more on board and revealed her very first time meeting Reba. Kristin is also set to return to the Broadway stage in a live concert celebrating For The Girls. The limited engagement begins Nov. 8 and will run through Nov. 17.

When did you decide you wanted to create this album and was there a specific moment that inspired you to move forward with this?
Kristin Chenoweth: I released The Art of Elegance I want to say just a little over two years ago, and immediately once you birth a baby, you’re thinking, what’s next? You know, Avery, us girls are having a Renaissance, right? I didn’t start out going, “I’m going to do a girl power record.” I just wrote down songs that I wanted to sing. And, of course, there was like 150 songs. I whittled it down with Steve Tyrell again and I just kept thinking, “Look at all these strong women that I’ve listed here.” Songs by strong women. We were recording them and I said: “It’s just women all over it.” And he said, “Yeah, this is for the girls. This is for them.” And it just stuck. Immediately, we were like, “That’s the name of the record.” So it started a year and a half ago with me recording it, but I didn’t set out to make a female empowerment record. It just was a happy accident, if you will.

You said you had over 100 songs listed. How did you narrow it down? There are so many incredible songs by women. I’m sure whittling that down was tough.
Kristin Chenoweth: It was hell. Because there are so many good songs that I want to sing and I will sing. Hopefully, others will be inspired when they listen to this record to delve into who is Eva Cassidy? What did she offer the world? What kind of artist was that? I want my younger fans who don’t know her to research her and find out. She left this world too early. What was her life like? Why did she sing the music she did? She was just incredible and played her own instruments — guitar, piano, fiddle, all of it, and had a great band. I want people to look up who Lesley Gore was and why “You Don’t Own Me” would fit in 1953 and now. Obviously, I’m not going to do a record and not pay homage to Barbra. I listened to all of her music all the time growing up. In 1974, she had a song “The Way They Were” out, written by my buddy Marvin Hamlisch and Alan Bergman and Marilyn Bergman. Marvin’s passed away now but I know that he’s up there proud, so it’s an homage to him as well. People that know me and know I love Dolly. So when that happened, I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe she said yes. My hair extensions fell out of my head. But really, I couldn’t believe that she lent her song, her most famous song, in my opinion, to us. And she did. She said yes. She listened to me singing it and she said, “Oh, I like this lick you did. I like this part where you go down.” It made me feel good because I thought, “Wow, I bet Dolly’s heard this song and done it over and over and over with people and maybe I did something different.” That made me feel like I can die now. If it ended tomorrow, I’m happy. There are a lot of songs that didn’t make the album that people would think, “Well, that would obviously be on her record.” But the songs that made the record some people don’t even know. One of the songs that a lot of my young fans may not know is called “What a Diff’rence a Day Makes.” It was actually written in 1934 and sung by a great artist named María Grever. But it was recorded in 1959 by Dinah Washington and she was a singer that my grandpa listened to constantly. In a way, again, it’s tipping my hat to him and saying, “Thank you for showing me who Dinah was. Thank you for helping me understand that I love her music.” There’s a reason I pick it every song. There’s a reason that I pick Carole King on my record. “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” is something people wouldn’t automatically say Kristin Chenoweth would do, but my mother wore out Tapestry. We had that album on all the time. It’s not just a nod to Carole, but a nod to my mom for showing me what a kick-ass, awesome singer-songwriter looks like in that time. That’s just a small example of why I pick the music I pick.

It’s important to remember the people and the women who came before us and influenced music in such a way and bring that back. Because sometimes, everything gets lost in the shuffle or there’s just so much music. 
Kristin Chenoweth: Avery, this is it. You just nailed it. I want to pay homage, put my stamp on singers like Lesley Gore, Judy Garland, Eva Cassidy, Barbra, and of course Dinah and Dolly on all of these songs. But really there’s so much to consume. I just want to remind people of these ladies. You just nailed it. That’s exactly why I did it. Exactly.

You mentioned working with Dolly, but you also feature Ariana, Jennifer, and Reba on the album as well. What was that like bringing them in and allowing them to create with you?
Kristin Chenoweth: Well first of all, I can’t believe they all said yes. When you’re friends with somebody, you want to make sure they’d never feel that they have to say yes. You want it to feel organic and if it works, it works. I specifically chose “You Don’t Own Me for Ariana because I think I just felt like those lyrics belonged to her and I’ve watched her grow up and I’m extremely proud of her and I expect even greater things from the biggest star on the planet. I just know that she’s going to continue to soar. And I want to be there to inspire and I want to be there for her in life. I am there for her in life. We fully orchestrated it, but I have an electric guitar in there. So it’s old school and new school if you will. From Lesley to me to her. I just was like, “Will she have time?” She is a very busy, young lady. Her life is very big and she made time. It meant a lot to me, too. Reba is somebody who, not only is she a native to Oklahoma, but she’s somebody that I admire from my days in Oklahoma working at Opryland when I was 19. They said, “Reba’s going to be at this event, do you want to work it?” I was singing and dancing all day at the Opryland theme park, which doesn’t exist anymore, but it was the only theme park of its time that had live musicians. To get in was very, very difficult. I said, “Are you serious that Reba’s going to be down the street at the Opryland Hotel doing a signing? Yes, I want to go and I’ll hand out flyers or whatever.” They gave me candy to handout. I’ll never forget it. They wanted me to hand out candy. This man that asked me to do it who was somehow connected said, “Hey, do you want to meet her?” I say, “Oh no, no, no, no. No, I don’t want to take up her time. I’m not even worth the air she breathes.” He brought me right up to her and I had all this candy. The guy said, “Reba, this is a big fan of yours. She works as a singer and dancer over at Opryland.” She said, “Well, hi there.” All I could think to do is shove candy in her face. When I finally got to re-meet her many, many years later, I said, “You’ll never remember, but I was this candy girl that shoved candy in your face when you tried to speak to me.” She said, “I think I might actually remember.” I think that’s the only time I’ve ever been mute in my life. When I was thinking about “I’m a Woman,” I thought it’d be so cool to do that with three very different voices. I thought it would be so great if JHud would do it because that’s what one of the best voices on the planet and we’re all three very different. Just like what Dolly did with Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt all those years ago. They said yes. They loved the idea and it worked. I’m so happy. It’s just, again, a woman in front of me and a woman behind me. I love that aspect.

Kristin Chenoweth
The album cover for Kristin Chenoweth’s ‘For The Girls.’

What was that process like putting your own flair on the songs? Was it something that really came instantly when you were working on them or were some more difficult than others?
Kristin Chenoweth:
It’s hard because I don’t want to imitate, but yet I want to tip my hat to them. You know, I start off the record with “The Way We Were” and that’s Barbra. That’s dangerous territory for any singer because you want people to go, “Ah, that’s Barbra’s song.” But then you want them to go, “Oh, I never thought of it that way.” So I put in some of my own licks, some of my own phrasing, but a few of hers too because it’s important for her to know that I know that she’s a genius. I know why she took a breath there and a comma there and held this word out. I get it. I was nervous about that. I hope she loves it. I’ve heard she does, but I’m nervous by that. I was very scared. I’m going to get the ones I was scared of out of the way. I was scared to do “Crazy” because I can do a dead-on impression of Patsy Cline. I was afraid that I would do that. So, unfortunately, I had to stop listening to Patsy. Because I would just do Patsy. I put my own stamp on it. Do I miss Patsy there? Yeah, I miss her in it. But I definitely put my own stamp on it. Probably the most fun one for me to recreate was Judy Garland’s “The Man That Got Away.” It’s an Ira Gershwin one, so it’s definitely in my wheelhouse. I definitely paid homage to her, but I feel like I definitely got my stamp on there. So I’m really proud of it. A little known song that not a lot of people remember is “I Wanna Be Around” that Eydie Gorme did. It’s not a revenge song but there isn’t a person alive that doesn’t want to go, “Hey, I kind of want to be there to see when the chips fall for someone who hurt me.” It’s a little bit of a human moment and it’s also a big belt. I just released the hounds on that. So I hope that people just listen and understand that when I step into that kind of territory. When I step into Linda Ronstadt’s version of “Desperado” I had a full orchestra and switch up the phrasing and do my version of it, but a few things that Linda did, I want them to know why I did that. Because I know that that’s Linda’s song. It’s actually Don Henley’s song but it wasn’t until I heard Linda sing it that I knew that women could be desperado too. I learned that when I was a little kid. I was like, “Hmm, why does that ring true for me? I don’t get it. Why does that ring true for a woman?” Thankfully, Linda recorded it, which gave me permission to feel that I could.