The actress' musical stylings have us feeling positively Gleeful.


She’s been lying low for a few years, but now — thanks to a duo of electric musical performances, on the Country Music Awards and GleeGwyneth Paltrow is taking center stage again as she promotes her upcoming movie Country Strong. And in the process, she has become one of today’s most original, surprising entertainers.

Just don’t call it a comeback. The 38-year-old Oscar winner hasn’t had a major starring vehicle since 2005’s Proof; instead, she has focused on other passions. She’s been raising a family (kids Apple, 6, and Moses, 4) with husband Chris Martin, 33, writing an online lifestyle newsletter called GOOP (500,000 subscribers and counting), going on a strange reality TV road trip with celebrity chef Mario Batali, and even tackling the occasional role, like arm-candy aide Pepper Potts in the Iron Man movies. But it’s her ballsy new foray into music — Gwyneth singing country? Or Cee Lo, for that matter? — that’s generating the most buzz.

Her Nov. 16 guest spot on Glee is a perfect example. At first glance, a turn on the quirky TV series seemed like an odd choice for Paltrow, who’s often been pegged as a Hollywood ice princess in the Grace Kelly mold. But playing eager-to-please substitute teacher Holly Holiday, she showed off her rarely seen goofy side with a bubbly rendition of Cee Lo Green‘s ”Forget You” (the clean version of ”F— You”) — not to mention the powerful pipes she first revealed on the hit single ”Cruisin”’ off the soundtrack of her 2000 movie Duets. ”She’s just really phenomenal,” says Glee creator Ryan Murphy, who built the whole episode around his game guest star. ”I didn’t want her to come on and do a little two-scener. I think if you have someone like Gwyneth, they need to be the entire show.”

The Glee gig came on the heels of another major musical moment: Paltrow’s Nov. 10 performance at the CMAs. Decked out in a defiantly anti-country minidress, Paltrow strummed a guitar and nailed every high note in ”Country Strong,” the title track of her movie (out wide Jan. 7). Not bad for someone who learned guitar in a mere four months before shooting. ”[Faking it] is just not my style,” Paltrow, who plays an alcoholic country star, told EW last month. ”If they said you need to speak Mandarin for this role, then I would do my damnedest to learn it.” Despite her composure, Paltrow was still worried about the reception she’d get as a Hollywood guest at such a down-home event. ”She was afraid. She kept saying, ‘What am I doing here?”’ recalls country star Vince Gill, who crooned alongside Paltrow. ”That’s a really gutsy thing to do. And people went nuts for her. I was really proud.”

The performance has even led to speculation that Paltrow could be chasing a side job in country music. But while ”Country Strong” has been popping up on radio stations since its official release in August, there’s no guarantee that audiences will buy the patrician Paltrow as an ordinary, guitar-toting gal. ”The trick for her is going to be, Can Gwyneth Paltrow relate to the everyday country audience? And can they relate to her, more importantly?” says Russ Penuell, program director at Nashville’s 95.5 radio station. According to Country Strong costar (and seven-time CMA winner) Tim McGraw, a country career is there for the Manhattan-bred Paltrow if she wants it. ”Country music is not about where you’re from. It’s about honesty. I think she has that in spades,” he says. ”And if there was any doubt that she could do it live, she pulled it off.”

Next on Paltrow’s to-do list: a part in Contagion, Steven Soderbergh‘s medical thriller, costarring Matt Damon and Kate Winslet. And don’t rule out another spot on Glee. ”I’d love for her to come back, and she’s said she would love to do it,” says Murphy. ”We just have to write her something.” Our advice to him? Get cracking. (Additional reporting by Clark Collis and Tim Stack)

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