Astrid Stawiarz, Getty Images
Any woman who's traveled home for the holidays alone has likely dealt with relatives' nosy questions upon her arrival: Are you dating? Have you met anyone special? Why not? Netflix's newest rom-com Holidate (out today, October 28th) highlights the all-too-common judgement single women often receive from family members, especially during the holiday season. The film stars Kristin Chenoweth as Susan, the 49-year-old, free-spirited, single aunt to Emma Roberts' Sloane—and just as the movie calls out the pressure society places on women to couple up, Chenoweth, who's never been married, reveals that she's experienced similar judgements in her own life.
"It took me a really long time to help my relatives in Oklahoma understand that when I graduated from college, I wasn’t going to get married, have the baby, and teach music," Chenoweth, 52, tells HelloGiggles over an October Zoom call. "That’s all a wonderful plan, but not when you have dreams to move to New York and be on Broadway. I still get the side-eye when I go to Oklahoma like, 'What’s wrong with you?' but I think they’re starting to get it."
The Emmy and Tony-award-winning star, who is currently dating musician Josh Bryant, reveals that although she's never tied the knot, she came close to doing so twice with previous partners. "When Runaway Bride came out, my brother said, ‘Oh, they’ve made a movie about your life!' and I was like, 'Thanks,'" she says, rolling her eyes. "But it was my choice." The 1999 rom-com starring Julia Roberts tells the story of a woman who leaves three men at the altar, which Chenoweth, who has ended two engagements herself, can relate to—hence, dubbing herself a "runaway bride" IRL.
And although some stigma is certainly still present, society's perception of traditional relationship statuses has changed since Runaway Bride's era, and it's becoming more socially acceptable for women to stay single longer—or permanently, as celebs like Oprah Winfrey and Diane Keaton have demonstrated.
"Now, I feel like things are moving in the right direction," Chenoweth says. "Women are starting to understand that we don’t have to rely on a partner—or a man, in my case—for a name or money or status. The key is just finding the person who makes you the greatest you, and you make them the greatest them."
But even though positive changes are being made, single women are still treated differently sometimes. Like happens to Roberts' character in Holidate, Chenoweth tells me that her relationship status has even landed her a seat at kids' tables at family events. "The last family wedding I went to, I was at the children’s table, because I was the only one there [without a partner], and my brother thought it would be really funny," she says. "And you know what? I probably had more fun than the adults. I found a chair that fit me and my feet touched the ground—it was great!"
As for what Chenoweth's family, who hails from a suburb of Tulsa, Oklahoma, will think of the actress playing a proudly single lady who shows up to every holiday with a new man on her arm? She admits that she's "scared" of their reaction, so she gave her relatives a heads up for what to expect from her party-girl character.
"I’ve already warned my poor family in Oklahoma: I’ve said, ‘Look. You need to be prepared. Put on your seatbelt,'" she says, laughing. "I will say, wearing a Playboy bunny outfit [which Susan wears on Easter in Holidate] was perhaps a highlight for me. I’m probably never going to live that one down with my dad.”
Aunt Susan's leotard-bunny-ear-combo is certainly an unconventional Easter brunch getup, and Chenoweth reveals that this year for Halloween, she'll be opting for a memorable costume herself.
"I will be the fly who landed on Vice President Pence's head" Chenoweth reveals, matter-of-factly. "The crew [of the upcoming Apple TV+ musical comedy, which she's currently filming in Vancouver] doesn’t know about it yet, and I can’t wait to show up on set. I’m all about the wings. I’ve also added the extra feature of a big plank of white fuzz, so it’s like I’ve landed on his head."
This isn't the first time this year that a pop culture event has inspired Chenoweth to dress up. Like the rest of America, the star binged Tiger King over quarantine, but unlike the rest of us, she went so far as to create an original musical parody titled Little Pieces (released on YouTube in April) in which she plays Carole Baskin. (Watch it when you need a good laugh.)
However, Tiger King wasn't the only show that Chenoweth embraced during quarantine: Dirty John Season 2 and Jeffery Epstein: Filthy Rich lie high on her list of recent favorite "guilty pleasure" TV shows. But indulging in downtime over quarantine was no easy transition for Chenoweth, who is typically always performing in some capacity. Her 7th album, For the Girls, dropped in September 2019, and in November, the star celebrated the album's release with a two-week concert series on Broadway before kicking off her North American tour for the record. She was only a few months through the schedule when the pandemic hit.
"By February, we knew we were in trouble, and I had to stop touring," Chenoweth recalls. "I'm a girl who goes at 110 miles an hour all the time. At first I thought, ‘Well, [quarantine] won’t last very long. This will be over in a few weeks,' and then it became very real."
As quarantine drew on longer than anyone expected, Chenoweth says she realized that the time off wasn't such a bad thing for someone as fast-paced as her. "I came to understand that the universe was talking to me—and talking to me loudly. If anything good came from it personally, it was to slow down, stop, smell the roses, and listen. Two ears, one mouth, listen harder, speak less; certainly with the BLM movement going on, I think it’s been great, actually."
"But, I'd be a liar if I said I don't miss the live audience. That's like water in a desert for me."
Although she says she can't wait to safely get back onstage with her band, Chenoweth is staying connected to her musical roots in the meantime by taking on the role of a guest professor at her alma mater, Oklahoma City University, where she's been teaching masterclasses and workshops at the school of music since April of this year. "Last week, I was teaching about 300 kids on Zoom," she says. "The gift is really returned to me because I'm so inspired by teaching."
While the star has embraced the digital communication we've all had to adapt to during quarantine, she does say the lack of physical time spent with her loved ones has been tough.
"I’m a touchy-feely person by nature; I want to go up and hug people and play with my family and friends," Chenoweth explains. "But thank goodness for Zoom. We have Zoom and FaceTime family meetings now, and I’m actually listening more and getting more information. I learned stuff about my cousin Tiffany the other night that I never even knew! I’m trying to help myself spin that into ‘this is a good thing’."
"Just because we can’t physically be together, we can still see each others faces and we can still feel each other’s spirit and heart," she adds.
For Christmas this year, Chenoweth says she'll be spending the holiday at a small gathering with only her parents and her boyfriend. And although she hasn't even gotten to proudly wear her Halloween wings yet, she's already been listening to festive music (including Carrie Underwood's new Christmas album, My Gift, released last month) to get into the holiday spirit. "Music is such a big part of my life, so for me, whatever holiday it is, I let the music get me started," she explains.
As for me, I'll be watching Holidate with my fellow single girlfriends to start feeling festive myself.