In the last two years, Alex Newell has gone from regular high school student to starring as Wade “Unique” Adams on Fox’s hit musical comedy-drama Glee.
It all started in 2011 when he decided at the last minute to audition for Oxygen’s The Glee Project–a decision that would soon change everything. After months of competing, he came in at second place. His prize: guest starring on an episode of Glee.
Fast forward to 2013, and he shows no signs of stopping after being asked to return for season five of Glee. At 21 years old, you can say he’s just getting started.
We caught up with Newell about Glee, his film, Geography Club and his plans to conquer Broadway.
EBONY: You joined the cast at the end of season three and you’ve returned for season five. That’s got to be exciting! How has the whole experience been for you so far?
AN: It’s crazy because I started all of this my sophomore year of high school…I made a goal for myself and I said, “I would always be on the show.” I always wanted to be on Glee. As soon as the pilot aired, I said I needed to be on the show. And then to work for it and see it closer and closer and closer. The last two years have just been amazing. I got a glimpse of it my initial two episodes [for season three]. When they asked me back for the fourth season, it was even more of an amazing feeling. And now that they’ve asked me back for the fifth season, it’s absolutely one of the most amazing feelings that you could ever get. To think that you’ve made a goal for your life and to think that you’ve finally made that goal, it’s one of those things you never forget.
EBONY.: Were you nervous about joining a show that was already so well loved?
AN: Oh, I mean, it was everything, every apprehension, especially since it’s a well-established show and it has its known fan base. [And sometimes from the fan’s point of view], seeing someone come in, sometimes you don’t want a new talent to come in, so I always had that fear above my head, and how were all the fans out there going to take me and perceive me. And they’ve always been welcoming. It’s more so with just coming into a new place [where] they [all] know each other, they all work with each other every day and it’s just one of those things of always being nervous. It’s like your first day of high school. You’re like, “Am I going to fit in?”
EBONY: Your character “Unique” is a transgender woman, which isn't something we get to see often on TV. Do you think this is a turning point for the LGBT community, particularly for African Americans?
AN: Always. I think it’s a turning point because it’s something that isn’t portrayed on television as much only because I don’t know if people don’t know how to portray it or if they’re scared to portray it. And that’s one thing I appreciate about the creator Ryan Murphy is he can take all the risk in the world and do something and bring it to the limelight because that’s how his mind works. He knows what to do with it all. I do appreciate him for that and he’s one of the only writers that can do it and do it this beautifully…And it’s a turning point because now someone who is transgender has someone they can look up to or they can see in their everyday life [and] say, “Wow, that’s kind of how I am in high school, the person I want to be, or what I’m aiming for my life to look like.”
EBONY: I understand that you’re starring in an independent film called Geography Club, which has already premiered at a few film festivals. Can you tell us a little about that without giving away too much?
AN: It’s kind of like Glee, but we don’t sing. It’s more or less about high school kids finding themselves and just finding a place in school where people accept them for who they are whether they gay, straight, bisexual. I know for my character, it’s a journey. He starts off the movie being 80 percent straight, 20 percent gay. And he’s kind of the comic relief–well, one of the comic reliefs. It’s comedy at the same time. But he starts off 80/20 and that’s his coping mechanism of how he’s going to come out. He starts with percentiles. And he further goes on to 75/30 or 50/50 and by the end of the movie, he’s 100 percent gay and comes out and says, “I’m proud to be 100 percent gay.” […] The movie is trying to push everyone in a positive direction of just coming together and helping each other and [building] that community.
EBONY: What’s next for you?
AN: I hope it’s only up from here. There’s only two ways to go. I’m praying that it’s up. I want to start my own music and stuff like that. I want to go back to–well, not go back to Broadway but start my Broadway career because that’s what I’ve been working for since I was 10 or 11. I want to do a feature film here and there, just something to keep it moving.
EBONY: Speaking of Broadway, what would be your dream role?
AN: Well, it’s going to happen. It’s just going to be a bloodbath. Effie White in Dream Girls. It’s going to be me and Amber Riley fighting to the death just for that one role, but that’s always been in my heart. I’ve always wanted to stand on the stage and sing, “And I am telling you” and just sing out. But I just saw Kinky Boots on Broadway and I absolutely fell in love with Billy Porter again and how he portrays the role of Lola. And those are my one and two roles if I ever had to. But the only thing that’s standing in my way is being that I’m only 21 years old, so I have some years to go.
Princess Gabbara is a senior at Eastern Michigan University, where she will soon earn her bachelor’s degree in journalism. You can read more of her work on her blog: princessgabbara.wordpress.com. Follow her on Twitter: @PrincessGabbara