How 'Hairspray Live's Kristin Chenoweth Learned To Accept Herself

by Taylor Ferber
NBC/Brian Bowen Smith

It feels like these days social media puts the constant pressure on everyone to look their best at all times. This may be a recent development culturally, but it is nothing new for Broadway star Kristin Chenoweth. The actor, who plays the discriminatory TV station manager and helicopter mom Velma Von Tussle in NBC's Hairspray Live!, can relate to her character. And although many may think Velma is downright awful, Chenoweth tells me why she gets her, at The Paley Center's new exhibit "The Art and Artistry of Hairspray Live!" (open through May 21) in Los Angeles.

The character constantly strives for perfection, reliving her glory days as a pageant queen in the number "(The Legend of) Miss Baltimore Crabs." She even prevents the protagonist Tracy (Maddie Baillio) from appearing on The Corny Collins Show because of her appearance (and to keep her daughter Amber front and center). Not only does Chenoweth say she understands her character, but she admires her. "What I love about her is, we watch shows like Dance Moms, she’s one of them," the 48-year-old says. "If her daughter isn’t gonna make it, by god, she’s gonna make it." Although Chenoweth isn't a mom, she can totally relate and understands the relentlessness it takes to be in show business.

NBC/Brian Bowen Smith

The Oklahoma native has been in the business for over two decades, getting her first break on Broadway in 1993. She understands Velma's constant need to strive towards perfection. "She’s trying to be perfect the whole time," the actor explains. "She’s trying to look like Miss Baltimore Crabs 20 years ago when she captured the crown. Or 30. However many years it’s been."

When I ask Chenoweth if she can relate to experiencing self-imposed pressure to be perfect, the tell-it-like-it-is star doesn't hesitate. "Yes. I’m an actress," she says. And although she, and others, may have been tough on her throughout her journey, it's taken time for Chenoweth to develop a thick skin and come to terms with the fact that she isn't perfect.

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"I’ve also, in my forties, let go a little bit," she tells me. "Of course I wanna look pretty or cute for all y’all," she says, regarding the press and guests, "But I can only do what — I am what I am. I can’t change it." At 48, Chenoweth is more comfortable in her skin than ever. "I think that’s what happens when you get older. Embrace it."

Take that, Velma.