Idina Menzel is a lot quieter in person than you’d expect. Offstage, the Broadway vet whose booming voice is responsible for that song your 7-year-old niece will. not. stop. singing speaks like a mere mortal. And when we caught up with Menzel on Wednesday just before she was to be honored at USA Today’s annual Make a Difference luncheon, the singer was on the tail end of a “weird sinus thing,” so that famous high f was replaced with a familiar purr. We had just five minutes with the woman whose name John Travolta (or anyone these days) won’t ever get wrong again.
Who has made a difference in your life?
Well, my mother always believed in me from day one, and she never asked me to have a backup plan for the career that I wanted. I’ve given her hard time through the years, but she gets the first shout-out. And my teacher Tanya Travers — who doesn’t just help me sing the high notes but who’s always wanted me to sound like myself — completely unique and individual.
So the women who want Idina to be Idina?
They always knew how important it was to embrace that thing that made you different as opposed to trying to fit in.
You’ve said before that you’re nervous in front of the young girls who participate in your A BroaderWay summer camps. No one believes Tony winners still get butterflies.
It’s surprising to me sometimes. I think it’s because I recognize I’m a role model. I recognize that I’m asking them to take risks and be brave and courageous. I never want to be a hypocrite, and so I make sure that I leave myself completely open and transparent in front of them. Whether you’re 14 or you’re 43, as soon as you do that it’s a very vulnerable place to be.
What else would surprise people to know about you?
I think that I’m known for having this big powerful voice that hits the rafters, and that is a true and authentic part of who I am. And yet I can be very insecure and ah,….
[Menzel pauses for a moment and then turns to a stage-whispering group of women sitting a few rows behind us in the empty auditorium. “Sorry guys it’s so quiet in here," she says politely, “and it’s very distracting." Then Menzel recognizes one of the interrupters as “Today" co-host Natalie Morales. “Oh, hi!" before turning back to us, “Where was I?"]
Something about your voice hitting the rafters and being insecure?
Yeah, I can be shy and insecure. I have just as hard a time as anybody getting out of bed in the morning on certain days and having to remind myself that I have something really special to offer.
Speaking of that something special. We have to talk about “Let It Go,” which launched your already stellar career into deep space. You know Sen. Pat Roberts’s “Let It Go” ringtone interrupted a Senate hearing, right?
[Laughs] I heard about it.
What’s your “Let it Go” story?
My favorite one is when my son [5-year-old Walker who she had with ex-husband Taye Diggs] was at a Valentine’s Day crafts party. He was like the only boy. And they were playing the “Frozen” soundtrack, and everybody was singing, and then “Let it Go” came on, and he said, “My mommy sings that.” And the girls went, “So do our mommies.”
You’re embarking on a world tour in July. I’m guessing it’s as rigorous as a political campaign. Any advice for the presidential candidates who’ve announced, like Hillary Clinton?
Are you asking me to give advice to Hillary Clinton? [Laughs]
Well it’s different for politicians because they have to watch what they say all of the time. I’m a little freer, and I get to express my feelings through my music. I build up just like if I was a marathon runner.
Are you eyeing anyone for 2016?
[Smirking] I’m a fan of Hillary’s.