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OCU Professor Talks About Former Students Nominated For Tony Awards

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Florence Birdwell is accustomed to former students making it on Broadway, but to have not one but two up for the same award, that's something that makes her gleam. Florence Birdwell is accustomed to former students making it on Broadway, but to have not one but two up for the same award, that's something that makes her gleam.
OKLAHOMA CITY -

The 2015 Tony awards are this weekend and Oklahomans have not just one but two reasons to watch.

Oklahoma natives Kristin Chenoweth and Kelli O'Hara are competing for Best Actress in a Musical. And the woman who they credit for much of their success sat down with News 9's Justin Dougherty.

Florence Birdwell is accustomed to former students making it on Broadway, but to have not one but two up for the same award, that's something that makes her gleam.

Pride is that glowing light from Oklahoma City University music professor Florence Birdwell. It appears when she talks of her former students, Class of 93's Kelli O'Hara and Class of '91's Kristin Chenoweth.

"Kelli is so beautiful and so nice and so smooth, she has the most gorgeous voice," said OCU music teacher Florence Birdwell. "Chenoweth, oh she's so funny. She's funny all the time."

We know Chenoweth as a Tony and Emmy winner, a seasoned Broadway star with a magical voice that started in Mrs. Birdwell's class.

"She got up and sang, and man, she thought it was the most beautiful thing, and she sang and she sang and she was just so wonderful and I just couldn't do it. And I said that was really very, very fetching, and I said now I can hardly wait until you learn how to sing," Birdwell said.

“You just called her out!? Absolutely. Absolutely. Because you just don't go into anything thinking you know everything," Birdwell continued.

That's just how Mrs. Birdwell was raised. Growing up in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Florence back then, was surrounded by art. She and a friend would perform for any willing audience.

"So I loved acting and I got to be in all the leads in high school performances, oh well that's the way it was,” Birdwell said.

And she kept that love alive into college, earning a voice scholarship to OCU. The stage was her sanctuary until her story reached its plot twist.

"I had an infection and I lost my voice, and I called my teacher in tears, and I said, ‘What am I going to do?' She said, ‘Just a second. You may not be able to sing but by golly you can talk.' So I began to teach," said Birdwell.

Sixty seven years later, Mrs. Birdwell has written the script to success.

Kelli O'Hara once said while in New York she was asked if there is something in the water at OCU because of all the alumni on Broadway.

"She tore me down and built me back and throughout it all, I knew it was the right path I was supposed to be on," said Kelli O'Hara.

What did you teach them? What was your secret? "Everything I know!" everything you know? "I wanted them to know as much as I could tell them. Some of the hard things. But some of the good things," said Birdwell.

Things that maybe didn't make sense then, but do now.

"Throughout my five and a half years at OCU she taught me how to be a better person and a better listen. I knew she was the right teacher for me," Kristin Chenoweth.

“Teaching these students, and laying that path for them to be on Broadway. Is that you're purpose? "Absolutely. Not necessarily for Broadway but so they can get the best of themselves wherever they are, so be the best you can at whatever you do because that's life." Finished Birdwell.

Chenoweth is recognized for her role in “On the 20th Century.” O'Hara, for her role in the “King and I.”

The Tony awards are Sunday night at 7 p.m. only on CBS.

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