‘America’s Got Talent’ breakout Christina Wells is at home in ‘Chicago’

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Decades before Christina Wells played an overbearing prison matron in the stage musical Chicago, the Houston native put aside her showbiz ambitions and seemingly threw away the key.

It was the mid-1990s, when she was a 19-year-old high school graduate with a flawless voice and a larger frame. But as Wells recalls, the music industry was looking for “skinny, skinny” stars, looking for the next Britney Spears or Christina Aguilera.

“I used to be smaller, but bigger than people wanted me to be,” Wells, 46, says. “So every time [auditioned], people would say, “Yeah, you can sing, but you’re just too heavy.” I just let it become my truth.

So Wells gave up on becoming a recording artist or musical theater performer, continuing her education and spending more than two decades as a nurse while raising her two sons. However, in 2016 after dusting herself off and winning Houston’s Pride Superstar singing competition, the single mother caught the eye of America’s Got Talent scouts. She won the judges over with her rendition of ‘I Know Where I’ve Been’ – Motormouth. Maybelle’s ‘Hairspray’ performed well – and impressively made it to NBC’s 2018 competition. semi-final.

After a few months, Wells quit nursing to finally start singing full-time. Now, when she’s not recording her own productions or working as a motivational speaker, Wells can be seen as Matron “Mother” Morton in the 25th anniversary tour of the Broadway revival of “Chicago,” which comes to the National Theater this week. Playing a sleazy jailer who trades favors for bribes in the women’s ward of the Cook County Jail, Wells confirmed the jazzy Roaring Twenties celebrity crime team of Fred Ebb, John Kander and Bob Fosse.

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“I’m a dramatic woman — I’m famous, I’m too much, and for so many years I thought I was wrong,” says Wells. “I’m just too fat, too dramatic, too loud, and nobody wants to hear me sing Broadway tunes.” Now I’m the right size, dramatic enough, and people want to hear me sing Broadway tunes.

In a phone interview earlier this month during a tour stop in Austin, Wells discussed her experience on America’s Got Talent, the appeal of playing Mom, and her advice for others pursuing incredible dreams.

(This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)

Q: America’s Got Talent has obviously changed your life. How did you legitimize success on this stage?

A: It’s a mixed bag, you know. [Executive producer and judge] Simon Cowell isn’t really known for liking plus size people and I’m not a little fat – I’m a large woman. So a lot of people on the internet were very angry about it at first. It was like, “Why is Simon saying yes to you when he said no to all these people?” A lot of people have really talked about my body online, and it’s been a journey. But I think what really happened was that I was just beginning to understand it [success in show business] is not as far off and magical as everyone thinks. The fact that I’m doing a live national TV show shows that it’s possible.

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Q: What was the most challenging part of moving into a new career in your 40s?

A: The hardest thing is the transition, I always say, from returning as a senior to returning as a freshman. Because I am a trained, educated, certified person with many years of experience in nursing. So when I go to the hospital, I know what I’m doing. Coming into this area, I just feel like a fish out of water sometimes. I just don’t know all the terms, not all the language, and it’s a real eye opener. But I believed that I was talented enough, and I also believed that if I could figure out how to focus on nursing and do America’s Got Talent, I could do it.

Q: How familiar were you with Chicago before joining the show?

A: People have asked me to sing “When You’re Good Mom” ​​because it suits my vocal type, but I’ve never gone into the role or really thought about it. For example, Motormouth Maybelle seems very, very mobile to me, but Chicago was not. It’s a very sexy show and I think it’s a challenge to look sexy on stage. I see myself as motherly, warm, knowledgeable, but I don’t always see myself as sexy on stage. So I found that energy on stage where I’m loving and smart and crafty but also sexy.

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Q: What did you realize about Mom as you researched the character?

A: It was interesting to find out the woman in charge of the prison in the 20th century. 20th century in the last decade, who has the strength to lead all these killers, but is warm enough to love and care for them, and smart enough to make sure she survives. her wallet is thick enough to protect herself. Every week I find new things in it and in the show.

Q: As a motivational speaker, what would you say to other people pursuing incredible goals?

A: I’m not exactly what you’d expect to see, so if you just feel different or feel otherness—like if you’re “other” in a category of very clear choices—live in that otherness, because that uniqueness is what’s made me capable and what makes me relatable to people , who watch me both on TV and on stage. So I just want to encourage all of us who are different – I teach everyone – to be ourselves. Be your real, raw, unique self and let it shine through.

National Theatre, 1321 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. broadwayatthenational.com.

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