‘I’ve never felt more empowered’: Jann Arden on her TV show, relationships and the future

TORONTO — Jann Arden is having a moment.

It’s about a week before her 57th birthday and her new comedy series “Jann,” which debuts Wednesday on CTV, is already looking like a success. Network executives seem pleased with the first season, and social media response to a preview of its debut episode is solid.

So it’s no wonder the Calgary singer-songwriter is smiling at the prospects.

“I’ve never been busier and I’ve never felt more empowered,” she says while sipping on a morning fruit smoothie at CTV’s Toronto headquarters.

“Every day I wish my parents were here to see this.”

Arden frequently reflects on two of her biggest champions as she ponders her future.

About three months ago, her mother died after long suffering with Alzheimer’s disease. It happened only a few years after she lost her father to dementia. Their absence has left a void, she acknowledges, but it’s also emphasized the importance of making the most of her time left on this Earth.

“My dad used to always say, ‘You are not what you did, you are what you will do.’ And I think that was big for me,” she says.

“I want to die on my feet, throwing a great party somewhere — and I drop dead in the punch bowl.”

But before she starts mailing out invitations to her grand finale, Arden has big plans. Most importantly, she’s launching “Jann.”

The comedy follows the professional failures and personal hurdles of a fictional version of herself — the kind of person who might’ve existed had Arden taken a different fork in the road back in the late 1990s.

Jann is a struggling performer whose career has spiralled into oblivion after “Insensitive” and a few other hit singles. Her manager is clawing at any semblance of a career revival for the singer, while her family life often hangs by a thread.

Her romantic life is in upheaval too, after her long-time girlfriend drops her for a younger woman. At one point, the character reignites a passionate hook-up with her former guitarist while she’s visiting his tour bus on professional matters.

There are also signs her mother is suffering from early dementia, and things get even more complicated.

To say “Jann” is a hilarious, and sometimes bittersweet, trip into the twilight zone isn’t an exaggeration. The concept practically challenges its audience to ponder how many of these stories are pulled from Arden’s real-life experiences.

Several of them were, Arden says, including slivers of her romantic life.

“I’m a fluid person, I always have been,” she explains, pointing to how she’s felt pressured at times to “stand under a word,” whether it’s gay, straight or bisexual.

“If someone shuttled me into a room and said, ‘Go pick one of those words, Jann,’ I’d be like, ‘Can I just have all the words?’”

Arden says her romantic interests are “person specific,” and while she’s never hidden her sexual identity, she’s chosen to keep her relationships private for the sake of her partners.

“I was very mindful of their lives, and sometimes it was well-known people,” she says.

“If it would’ve been my decision like, I don’t care, but when you have a person asking you… I honoured that.”

Arden says she’s been secure in her sexual identity since early adulthood. She remembers crying to her parents on the phone when she was 19 years old, telling them about a breakup with her girlfriend, only a little while after she had dated a guy.

Her father gave his unwavering support.

“He goes, ‘Honey, we would love you if you were pink with purple spots,’” she says. “And it changed the way I manoeuvred through life.”

Arden recognizes not everybody “hit the jackpot” like she did.

“There’s a lot of other kids that weren’t as lucky,” she says. “They’re on the street, they’re marginalized, they’re committing suicide, they’re hurting themselves. It breaks me apart. I’m confident the way I am because I had parents that lifted me up… my happiness was the paramount success.”

Bringing diversity to “Jann” was important, Arden says, and it’ll hopefully stand as “representation for some kid in small-town Rocky Mountain House, in the bloody Yukon, or northern Ontario” as proof their sexual identity doesn’t need to fit under any label.

As for herself, Arden is in a long-term relationship with her new TV series.

She’s been single for the past three years and has no interest in dating.

“It’s been good for me, with my parents dying. I’m just not ready,” she says.

“When I get involved in a relationship, I’m involved. It sucks all my energy and I write all these songs and I get quite dramatic. I think this is good for me to kind of sit on the fence.”

Arden says all that extra time will keep her focused on making “Jann” the launching pad for something bigger.

She hopes to keep the comedy series in production for five or six seasons, and strike a development deal for other TV shows that would open doors for women in production.

“Jann” is already stacked with female creators, including its three executive producers — Leah Gauthier, Jennica Harper and Arden herself — as well as many of the department heads. The crew was also nearly half women, according to CTV.

“I want to show other women that you’re coming into your power,” Arden says.

“I know young women that are (near) 40 who really feel like they’re on this precipice of a downwards spiral and I’m like, ‘Well you’ve got to change how you’re thinking.’

“My whole motto is that if you’re not beside me then get out of my way.”

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