Kristin Chenoweth goes country with CD and Fox award show


's a lot Broadway ... but now Kristin Chenoweth is a little bit country, too.

The petite, Tony- and Emmy-winning singing and acting dynamo recently released her first country music CD, "Some Lessons Learned." That does much to explain her new hosting gig: She'll join returnee Trace Adkins to preside over the second annual edition of the fan-voted American Country Awards, which Fox will televise from Las Vegas' MGM Grand Garden Arena on Monday, Dec. 5.

"I've gravitated toward it since I was a little girl," Oklahoma native Chenoweth says of country music, "and it's probably why I also love Broadway. (The songs) usually count as an acting moment or a storytelling moment in some way.

"The bottom line is that we're in the business of entertainment, and (the American Country Awards) is a show. People still want to be entertained, and I like to think I'm halfway decent at it. I'm very, very excited to meet some of the people I've looked up to for a long time, and hopefully make them laugh a little and have fun. If Trace and I have a good time, others will, too."

With eight bids each, Jason Aldean and the Zac Brown Band lead the American Country Awards nominees, determined through music sales, touring statistics, and video and radio exposure. Also making strong showings are Thompson Square with seven nominations and Taylor Swift and the Band Perry with six apiece.

Chenoweth's latest album takes its title from the Diane Warren-written song "Lessons Learned," and it also includes Dolly Parton's "Change." Chenoweth reflects, "It feels very much like how I grew up singing. I think it's more of a risk in whether I'll be accepted for it or not, and I can't worry about that. I just have to stay true to where my heart is."

Indeed, Chenoweth recalls that in her youth, country stars were "the biggest musical influences I had. I understand that this is not how I'm known, and that it might look like a big risk to others. To my family and me, though, it doesn't seem like that."

Since Parton and Lady Antebellum's Hillary Scott contributed to "Some Lessons Learned," they logically make Chenoweth's list of favorite country artists. She also cites "definitely Reba (McEntire) and Chely Wright, who's one of my top favorite singers. I love Patsy Cline, but I also love Carrie Underwood. And Little Big Town is a group I'm really into right now.

"A lot of the men are shining now, but there are some incredible women, too. Sara Evans' voice is unbelievable. I just listen to these singers pour their hearts and guts into every note, and I respect it so much. Everybody's sound is different, and everybody is celebrated for what they do. I love that they're all making their marks."

Chenoweth surely continues to do that herself. She recently did a rare two-consecutive-night guest stint on ABC's "Dancing With the Stars" and was much-praised for her recurring role as April Rhodes on Fox's "Glee" -- for which she's currently a People's Choice Awards nominee. She'll return to regular series duty in ABC's "GCB" (previously titled "Good Christian Belles"), debuting Sunday, March 4.

"We're hearing that they love it, which is why they ordered so many episodes (10), I think," Chenoweth says of the saga of Dallas women in which "JAG" alum David James Elliott plays her husband, "so we're just going along. And praying."

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