Keala Settle has earned high praise for her role as the bearded lady in the 2018 film “The Greatest Showman.”
Keala’s father, David Settle, said he couldn’t be happier or more proud of the success his daughter has achieved.
David, BYU’s associate dean of International Student Services, recalls one standout moment when he knew his daughter’s vocal talent was more than just a hobby.
“That first Broadway production — when I saw her on that stage — seeing her perform and act and sing, I was convinced she was going to amount to something big,” David said.
But Keala did not find her success all at once. She grew up in a highly musical family and was comfortable on the stage from a young age.
“My wife was a singer and she made us all sing, so we were all on the stage performing many, many times,” David said.
David said while he doesn’t have “a musical bone in his body,” Keala had a natural talent for singing, much like her mother.
“We could see from an early age that Keala was sort of a diva. She loved to be front and center, and was always performing,” David said.
Keala was in countless plays and musicals throughout her high school and college years.
Her first Broadway performance was as Shirley in “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert,” a musical about two drag queens and a transgender woman traveling across Australia en route to a drag show.
She then went on to perform in “Les Misérables,” “Waitress,” “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” and “Hands on a Hardbody,” which won her a Tony Award nomination for Best Featured Actress in a Musical.
One reviewer from Theatre Mania commended Keala for her outstanding performance in “Hand on a Hardbody.”
“Settle, as Norma, steals every scene she’s in,” Kimberly Kaye said. “Settle’s touching performance should go on the shortlist for every Best Featured Actress prize in town.”
She also played Tracy Turnblad in “Hairspray,” which her father recognizes as the role where she became a star.
Then, while living in Los Angeles, Keala was asked to audition for the role of Lettie Lutz — the bearded lady — in “The Greatest Showman.”
David said Keala initially turned down the offer but after some convincing, she decided to audition for the part.
She was asked to sing the song “This Is Me” from the movie’s soundtrack.
“She delivered such a performance and sang with such emotion that by the time she finished, there wasn’t a dry eye in the room,” David said.
The producer immediately offered her the role.
Keala’s emotional performance of “This Is Me” won the song a Golden Globe Award and an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song.
When songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul accepted the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song, they made sure to honor Keala and her performance.
“Keala performed this song, and her story inspired this song, and (she) inspires us every day,” Paul said.
Keala’s personal struggle in the entertainment business helped give her an emotional tie to the song, according to David.
“The journey that she’s been along for the last 15 or so years has tremendously prepared her for this role,” David said. “And I think that’s why she relates to it so much and sings with so much passion.”
Keala perform the award-winning song at the Academy Awards on March 4.
As for the next steps in her career, David said Keala grew up wanting to be just like Julie Andrews.
He said despite her struggle in the beginning, she has now reached a point in her career where she can reach the likes of Julie Andrews. He believes “The Greatest Showman” is just the beginning.
“I can’t think of a more beautiful movie or a more beautiful role to play to catapult her career,” David said. “I don’t know what’s down the line for her, but this much I do know: she is using her God-given talents.”
Watch a behind-the-scenes and pre-production video of Keala performing “This Is Me” below.