Host Najimy Makes First Trip to Nashville

Calling from her car on the way to the Los Angeles airport this week, actress Kathy Najimy reveals that she’s about to make her first trip to Nashville. And what a trip. The bubbly actress -– seen by millions in Hope Floats, the Sister Act movies and TV’s Veronica’s Closet –- hosts the first-ever CMT Flameworthy Video Music Awards on Wednesday (June 12), 9-11 p.m. ET.

“What’s cool about the awards show is that it’s for the people, by the people,” she says. “I won a People’s Choice award once, and of the awards I’ve won, that was the coolest. Because it’s not the jaded people in your business voting, it’s the people who sit down and watch you on TV who choose you. The [Flameworthy] video of the year is chosen right during those two hours, so no one knows who wins until the last vote comes in. That’s really exciting.”

If the name doesn’t ring a bell, and the face is unfamiliar, country fans may still recognize Najimy’s firm voice from the animated FOX TV series, King of the Hill. She portrays Peggy Hill, the confident wife and mother who also trumpets her numerous accomplishments as a substitute teacher. Though the Hills live in fictional Arlen, Texas, every once in a while, the funny family mingles with country stars, too.

“Peggy is such a huge country fan,” says Najimy. “We’ve had Willie Nelson on the show. We’ve had Brooks & Dunn . We had Randy Travis . In fact, there was a huge storyline where Peggy wrote a country song and Randy heard it and stole the song. The Hill family was at Fan Fair, and he was up there singing it. They are all such good sports to do that. That’s another thing that makes [country music] appealing -– it seems like they have a great sense of humor about themselves and the music, which otherwise would be a downer. Peggy is a huge country music fan, so it seems like a natural connection.”

Of course, Peggy Hill wouldn’t miss a shot at the limelight, and the CMT Flameworthy Awards present a perfect opportunity for her to make an animated appearance.

“Peggy is opening the show. In fact, she thinks she’s hosting the whole show,” Najimy says with a laugh. “She’s really not, because it costs too much to animate! It costs way more to animate than they’re paying me. But she gets a minute at the beginning, and it’s pretty funny.”

Najimy, who is married with one daughter, Samia, just wrapped a Disney production in Toronto, titled Scream Team. This fall, she is slated to shoot a biopic of Mama Cass Elliot, the famous Mamas and the Papas singer whom Najimy calls “an unbelievably inspiring pioneer, a tragic and wonderful character. She was the first woman rock star, before Janis Joplin. The very first.”

Consider her work as an outspoken feminist, and as a visible advocate for gay rights and PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), and it’s no wonder that Najimy, 45, is drawn to personalities with strong, distinct voices. That goes for country music, too.

“I love Dolly Parton , and everything she does is great,” Najimy says. “She has a great sense of strength and humor, so I really love that. I love how successful she’s been, being what she chose to be and not ever changing that. I love Trisha Yearwood. I love her voice and the fact that she looks like a real person. Willie Nelson is great, and Wynonna is good. You know, I guess I lean toward the strong women vocalists. Some of those voices are awesome. Trisha is fantastic.”

Working with a live audience is nothing new -– Najimy first attracted attention performing in a long-running play, The Kathy and Mo Show, in New York City, and last year she stole the show as Mae West in the off-Broadway production Dirty Blonde. But the Big Apple is a long way from Music City, and Najimy knows it.

“I am a little nervous, and I’ll tell you why,” she says. “I’m not afraid about the hosting part because I speak a lot in front of a lot of people, but with this audience, I don’t know if they’re my audience. I’ve never dealt with a country audience before. I don’t feel like I’m the biggest expert on country music, but I think that’s why they wanted me, because they want someone who’s a fan and learning and not quite immersed in every single detail about country music. I’m nervous about that, but I want to do the fans right! Do right by the fans!”