Kristin Chenoweth knows singing in Utah can be hard — she once needed a tank of oxygen to get through a performance at the Deer Valley Music Festival in Park City. For the soprano, high altitude is no joke.

But on Saturday morning, roughly 12 hours after flying into Salt Lake City from Atlanta, where she just wrapped filming on a movie with Lindsay Lohan, Chenoweth made a grand entrance at the RootsTech conference, belting out a powerful rendition of “Over the Rainbow.”

And apparently that was just a warm-up.

A few minutes later, she performed Julie Andrews’ rendition of “I Could Have Danced All Night” from “My Fair Lady” and, with some encouragement from her audience, ended the song by holding out a high C note for several seconds.

It wasn’t her final song, but it was impressive enough to earn Chenoweth a standing ovation midway through her appearance at RootsTech, where she was a keynote speaker on the final day of the conference at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City.

“I mean, this crowd can appreciate a high C at 11:15,” Chenoweth said with a big smile before adding that she could “hardly breathe.”

But the Broadway star didn’t fly into Salt Lake City just to sing. Attracted to RootsTech’s dedication to genealogy and the power of connection, Chenoweth wanted to share her own family story.

It’s one with several layers, but she wouldn’t have it any other way. All of it, Chenoweth said, has helped her to become the person she is today.

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Chenoweth said she doesn’t talk about this a lot, but she really has three moms: Her birth mother, the woman who almost adopted her and the mother who did adopt her.

A week before Chenoweth was born, the woman who was supposed to adopt her found out she was pregnant and decided to withdraw from the adoption process because she wanted someone else to have the opportunity to have a child, Chenoweth said.

That brought Junie and Jerry Chenoweth into the singer’s life when she was just five days old. And, as the 55-year-old Chenoweth told her audience at RootsTech, it was exactly where she was supposed to go.

Although she was raised by chemical engineers who didn’t necessarily understand the arts — “they should never sing, ever ever,” Chenoweth said adamantly — she always felt supported and loved in a home rooted in community, faith, family and encouragement.

“The best thing they gave me was self-esteem, not to be confused with arrogance,” she said. “Self-esteem is the best gift you could give a child, and they gave that to me. They encouraged me in music and art. … I just knew, and my mom and dad just supported it. Thank goodness I got them as my parents. Thank goodness.”

Kristin Chenoweth waves to the crowd during day three of RootsTech at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, March 2, 2024.
Kristin Chenoweth waves to the crowd during day three of RootsTech at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, March 2, 2024. | Brian Nicholson

Chenoweth said she knew before she could even speak that she wanted to be a singer. Her passion for music took root in her Southern Baptist church in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, a suburb of Tulsa, where as a child she auditioned for what was supposed to be an adult solo. She got the part with a performance of Evie’s “Four Feet Eleven” (“I’m only 4 feet 11, but I’m going to heaven, and that makes me feel 10 feet tall”).

Early on in her life, Chenoweth said, she came to realize that music was a calling of sorts.

“I felt God say to me, a handprint on my heart, ‘You’re going to be a missionary,’” she said, noting that she initially thought that meant she would travel around the world proselytizing. “I just didn’t know that I was going to be in the entertainment industry, and doing it that way.”

Navigating the entertainment industry

Being a Christian in the entertainment industry can be a tricky balancing act, Chenoweth said.

“I have not made the decisions every Christian would make in this business, I have not,” she said during her RootsTech speech. “I have done the very best I can and I will continue to do the very best I can with acceptance and love for all people. And that’s one of the reasons I know I’m in this particular business. I want people to see God through me.

“I just feel like I’m where I’m supposed to be, and until I feel that I’m not doing what I’m supposed to be doing then I’ll do something else,” she continued. “But right now I’m still doing it.”

Kristin Chenoweth interviews with members of the media during day three of RootsTech at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, March 2, 2024.
Kristin Chenoweth interviews with members of the media during day three of RootsTech at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, March 2, 2024. | Brian Nicholson

In a brief chat with reporters following her RootsTech address, Chenoweth said she’s received judgment over the years because she’s a Christian who engages in LGBTQ activism — but she doesn’t understand the criticism. Loving one another, she said, is what Christians are “supposed to do.”

“Love people wherever they are in their life. That’s it,” she said. “We’re not supposed to judge them; we can guide them. Just love people where they are in their lives. … That’s what we’re commanded to do. … So I’m just trying to do that. That’s all.”

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Meeting her biological mother

Chenoweth speaks with conviction. She’s sure of herself, and of her beliefs.

But over a decade ago, when she was recovering from a severe injury she got while on the set of “The Good Wife,” Chenoweth had a lot of questions. She wanted to learn more about her roots and where her musical talents came from.

“I need to know who sounds like a chipmunk, I need to know why I’m so short, I need to know who has Meniere’s disease,” Chenoweth recalled thinking as TV star Troy Dunn, who helps people connect with long-lost loved ones, worked to put Chenoweth in touch with her birth mother.

Kristin Chenoweth performs during day three of RootsTech at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, March 2, 2024.
Kristin Chenoweth performs during day three of RootsTech at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, March 2, 2024. | Brian Nicholson

Chenoweth was eventually able to meet her biological mom on Dec. 12, 2012. For the singer, meeting her mother, who died last year, was the final piece of the puzzle falling into place.

“We hugged and she said, ‘Can you ever forgive me?’ And I said, ‘I only wanted to meet you to thank you, Lynn … for giving me life, giving me a chance to live. … And my parents gave me a life. It couldn’t have gone better.’”