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Idina Menzel: 2014 was the year that I couldn't let it go

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Academy Awards Let It Go
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

This spring, Tony winner Idina Menzel returned to the Broadway stage for the first time in nearly 10 years as the star of If/Then, a thoughtful musical about a woman starting over at the age of 40. It was a fitting role, given Menzel’s other marquee performance—a leading role in Disney’s Frozen, which quickly transformed her from beloved theater star to worldwide sensation. Here, Adele—er, Idina—talks her biggest career year yet.

I knew I had this movie coming out, and I was proud to be in it—any time you’re in a Disney movie, you’re stoked. And I was really happy I had this cool song. I knew Elsa was going to surprise people. But I didn’t know it would resonate so deeply and stir up so many young people to take ownership of the song. It’s a nice marriage of social media with a zeitgeist moment. Every day I receive a video from a friend of their daughter singing “Let It Go” in the backyard.

When I first heard it, they sent me a demo—[co-songwriter] Kristin Lopez sang it—and I thought, “Oh, shit, this is going to be hard to sing.” And I changed the key; I made it higher because I thought it would sound younger.

I feel really fulfilled and proud of the things I’ve done, but this crossover thing was a big hurdle for me. The days of Judy Garland or Barbra Streisand, when they could take a song from Funny Girl and it was a hit song on the radio—that’s not our time. But I’ve always tried to do that, and this was the closest thing to that. Demi Lovato’s version, which I love, was produced specifically for radio, and they still play my version, even though it doesn’t have hip hop or drums or anything like that.

In my career, I’ve learned when it’s important to embrace when something magical is happening—but I’m good at knowing, don’t get swept away by the perfectionism of it. To me, the imperfections make it better. I have those moments. It happened when John Travolta screwed up my name; it threw me out of this meditative place I was in, and I had to get back on track. “Stop thinking about that, just sing the song. Sing to your son. Who cares if he messed up your name?” All that happened in about 8 seconds, and then I got back on track and finished.

The year of Rent and Jonathan Larson, that was a big, remarkable year that defines who I was and how I thought about my life. The Wicked year, the same thing. Professionally, this is the biggest one yet because it’s given me the biggest profile. But I’ve had some special gifts with all those projects. The pattern is that they all resonate with young audiences—so this year is especially extraordinary, because I’m not a twentysomething anymore. I’m still able to do things that can connect with young people. Halloween was crazy. Every little Elsa and their mother wanted to take pictures with me, and my son was not having it! I snuck a picture in and he saw it and flipped out. He was the best little bodyguard ever.

Next year, hopefully, there’ll be another album, and a world tour. Frozen helped me sell some tickets in countries I haven’t been to. And past that, I don’t know. When I go on tour next year, I’ll sing it every night. I mean, it’s my song!

Dylan McDermottFor more on 2014’s biggest moments, as well as the year’s Bests and Worsts, pick up this week’s issue of Entertainment Weekly, on stands Friday.

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