Pop Shop Podcast: Keala Settle Talks 'Hiding' From the Spotlight Before 'The Greatest Showman' Thrust Her Into It
Welcome to the new episode of the Billboard Pop Shop Podcast, your one-stop-shop for all things pop on Billboard's weekly charts. In addition, you can always count on a lively discussion about the latest pop news, fun chart stats and stories, new music, and guest interviews with music stars and folks from the world of pop.
Casual pop fans and chart junkies can hear Billboard co-director of charts Keith Caulfield and Billboard deputy editor, digital, Katie Atkinson, every week on the Pop Shop Podcast, which can be streamed on Billboard.com or downloaded in iTunes. (Click here to listen to the previous Tuesday’s edition of the show on Billboard.com).
On the latest show, singer-actress Keala Settle joins the podcast to chat about her breakthrough hit “This Is Me” from The Greatest Showman and her journey from being a Shakespeare major in college to hitting the big screen in film. Plus, she talks about her experience of performing the Academy Award-nominated “This Is Me” on the Oscars, her debut EP Chapter One, and much more.
It may seem like Settle’s rise to fame in recent months was an overnight-success story, but in reality, the big-voiced performer has been on the scene for years, making a name for herself on Broadway. Before she got cast as Lettie Lutz (aka The Bearded Lady) in The Greatest Showman, Settle was performing in touring productions of musicals and in Broadway shows going back more nearly 15 years. Among her Broadway credits: Waitress; Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and the 2014 revival of Les Misérables. She also earned a Tony Award nomination for best performance by an actress in a featured role in a musical for Hands on a Hardbody.
But, it’s The Greatest Showman that has likely brought her the most attention, as her rousing rendition of the anthemic “This Is Me” gave Settle her first Billboard chart hit, reaching the Billboard Hot 100, Adult Pop Songs, Digital Song Sales and Dance Club Songs charts, to name a few. It also peaked at No. 3 on the Official U.K. Singles Chart.
So, what is it like for her to now be introduced to the world, even though she's been around for years?
“It’s funny because I’ve always been hiding from it,” Settle tells Billboard. “I’ve been hiding from whatever this is — my entire life. There were pockets of this career — whatever you want to call it — where I said ‘I’ve tapped out, I don't want to do this, I’m gonna go be a stage hand. I don't want to do this. I don't want to talk to people. I’m afraid of people. I’m going to walk away from everything that this was and is.’
“The last time that I tried to do that was with Hugh Jackman (the star of The Greatest Showman)” on the set of the film." Settle says they had filmed her big “This Is Me” sequence in the film, with Jackman and other cast and crew watching, and at the end of the number “everyone was bawling and crying, and I was like ‘is everybody OK?’”
The performance moved Jackman so much, that the next day, he came up to Settle and told her “you have changed the course of what’s about to happen in this film.”
Settle, laughing, says she responded with, “So? What does that have to do with me? Because I’m running away after this film opens.” She says Jackman said, “‘You won’t be able to. I need you to know that if you can make a choice. You can go pull a Greta Garbo and run away and do that if you want, or trust me and know that I will have your back, non-stop, until you're in the ground, six feet under, and that my family will have your back, non-stop, until you're six feet under in the ground. Trust me that you can ride this through.’”
Settle says, “And I said — And I still do to this day, every day, that’s why I blame him every day, it’s his fault — and I said ‘OK I trust you, I trust you.’”
She says that she’s grateful for going all-in on The Greatest Showman experience.
“It’s made me see things that I never really cared to crack in myself, to peel things away that made me discover who I am. God knows what it’s doing for anyone else! I hope it’s doing it for them too.
“I’m actually having my own renaissance of just understanding that one of my biggest loves that I thought I had hated more than anything in the world is music. Creating it and telling stories through it and watching people not only be affected by it but share it with each other and then turn it in to what they need it to be and then give me ideas back so that I can make more of it — which is what has sort of started happening now. It’s one of the biggest gifts ever.”
Also on the show, Settle discusses her debut EP, Chapter One, which features covers of artists ranging from Chris Stapleton to Nikka Costa. (“She’s an incredible live performer, which is also why I wanted to pay homage to her.”) A second EP is on the way, this time featuring mostly original tunes. Settle “absolutely” has the intention of performing her own solo shows in 2018. “In the very near future, within the next six months.”
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