This year’s Emmy Awards will be all about the Fox super hit Glee, with 12 nominations, including several for individual episodes, as well as nods to stars Jane Lynch and Chris Colfer. Lynch will also host the show and promises to be a smart and entertaining choice.

In case you’ve been hiding in a soundproof bomb shelter for the past two years, Glee is about a high school show choir of talented misfits. But while the majority of its cast comprises young adults, this year the show is being recognized for the work of three more mature — if equally talented and, well, quirky — performances.

Competing against one another for the Best Guest Actress in a Comedy Emmy Award are Kristin Chenoweth (43), Dot-Marie Jones (47) and Gwyneth Paltrow (39). None of these actors is your typical TV star.

Chenoweth at last year's Emmy afterparty,

Chenoweth, who was nominated in this category last year but lost to Betty White, is best known as a Broadway musical powerhouse. She won the Tony Award as Sally in You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown in 1999 and was nominated again for Glinda in 2004’s Wicked, a role she originated. She’s petite, standing just 4 foot 11, but extremely curvy. And, she’s very tough to pigeonhole. She’s a self-described “non-judgmental, liberal Christian,” who has promoted her religious recordings on the 700 Club. Yet, she’s also a very vocal supporter of gay rights, for which she was banned from a Women of Faith conference.

On Glee, Chenoweth has a recurring guest role as April Rhodes, former show choir diva turned frowsy alcoholic. Like many other characters on the show, April is outrageously politically incorrect — returning to McKinley High to try to get her life on track (and relive her glee club glory days), she teaches the kids to shoplift and smuggle booze into school while she gets it on with most of the football team in the locker room. Yet April has a heart, which Chenoweth reveals in poignant musical numbers, such as “Home” from The Wiz, “Maybe This Time” from Cabaret and Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams.” Her floozy foibles are fun to watch and her voice is simply incredible. You get the sense that you’re in the presence of a rare and oh-so-legitimate talent. Not your average sitcom fare by anyone’s measure.

At the other end of the spectrum, at least according to height, Dot Marie Jones was a welcome addition when she was introduced as a new character to Glee this season, Coach Bieste. Jones is not your typical television actress either. At 6 foot 4, she towers over all her cast mates — both male and female. Her road to Hollywood was unexpected to say the least. Jones was a professional athlete (weight lifting, shot put and arm wrestling), before a turn on American Gladiators launched an unlikely career in acting.

Jones (left), Lynch (center), with Matthew Morison. (Photo: VANITY FAIR)

On the show, Coach Bieste was brought in to whip McKinley’s floundering football team into shape. Her role quickly evolved from an intimidating character to an endearing one. Hurt when she discovers that the boys picture her in lingerie to put a damper on their amorous urges, Bieste confesses that she’s never been kissed. (Not to worry, Glee’s perpetual good guy Mr. Schuester took care of that in a quick but poignant scene.) In later episodes, Jones impersonated Santa Claus for a cheerleader every bit as ditzy as Cindy Lou Who, encouraged the football players to get their gleek on in a halftime production of “Thriller,” and even showed off her own singing and dancing in a rousing rendition of “One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer.”

At 39, Gwyneth Paltrow is the youngest of the three nominees. Although a familiar face, Paltrow is also not your usual TV sitcom star. The daughter of Blythe Danner (and goddaughter of Stephen Spielberg), Paltrow is considered Hollywood royalty, a golden girl who earned an Oscar for Shakespeare in Love while she was still in her 20s. (At left, see Paltrow at the launch of one of her signature fragrance lines.) It is an indication of just how unique Glee is (or at least, just how persuasive its creator Ryan Murphy is) that an actress with big screen chops such as Paltrow has appeared in multiple episodes.

Paltrow plays Holly Holliday, a flamboyant role created especially for her. When we first meet her, a threatened Mrs. Schuester snidely quips, “Are you a porn star or a drag queen?” In reality, Holly is an underpaid substitute teacher with a rather startling penchant for infusing sexuality into all of her classes. Building on her recent role as a singer in the movie Country Strong, Paltrow performed several solo and group numbers throughout the season. She came on strong in Joan Jett’s “Do You Wanna Touch Me?” and in a cleaned-up version of Cee Lo Green’s “F**k You,” but a soulful rendition of Adele’s “Turning Tables” provided her most memorable moments.

Glee has been lauded for its non-traditional casting. Its young troupe includes the most diverse team of adolescent colors, creeds and sexual orientation to be found anywhere on television. Clearly this equal-opportunity approach isn’t limited to the series’ regulars. By showcasing the powerful performances of these older actresses, the Glee creative team is underscoring one of the show’s main messages. Size and shape matter less than drive, commitment and pure talent. 

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