Next weekend, Glee star Alex Newell will roll into Philly to be honored at the Attic Youth Center‘s (AYC) 20th Anniversary Gala. The 21-year-old Boston native made his world debut on the The Glee Project, where he competed to earn a spot on Glee. Though he got runner-up, producers took notice of his talents and cast him in a recurring role as transgender student Wade “Unique” Adams. If you haven’t seen him perform, get one thing straight: This kid can SANG. (Just check out his performance of “And I Am Telling You.”) He’s had some fab moments on Glee, taking on all kinds of homo-tastic tunes, like “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” and “Material Girl.” (See that medley here.)
He's also starting to make waves outside the show. This year, he was featured in Out's Hot List; he stars in soon-to-be-released gay film Geography Club, which you may have sneak-peeked at this year's QFest; and he just signed a recording deal with Atlantic Records. In anticipation of his appearance at AYC's 20th Anniversary Gala, he called me from L.A. to chat about playing a trans teen on television, what it was like for him getting back to work after the death of Cory Monteith and what he has planned post-Glee.
How did you come to play a trans character on Glee?
After seeing me on The Glee Project, [Glee creator] Ryan Murphy was inspired by my story and became interested in having me on the show. I didn't know the character was going to be trans until I got the first script.
What is your favorite thing about playing Wade "Unique?" Adams?
The fun that I get to have. No matter what, she always brings this light of fun to the choir room on the show. At the end of the day, she has a lot of heart even though it's hard to be a trans student in high school.
What kind of research did you do to prepare for playing a trans character?
I'm a life researcher. I asked questions to those who are trans. I read a lot online and I read a lot of books. [Trans singer] Tyler from The Glee Project Season 2 was also a really big help.
What have been some of your favorite moments on Glee?
Singing "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" was really fun.My favorite moment is coming up, though, and I can't tell you what it is.
Can you talk about what it was like getting back to the Glee set after the death of Cory Monteith?
It was hard. It's one of those things we have to go through every day. We're doing the best we can and we hope that everything we do will make him happy. The tribute episode we did was a really good send off for his character.
It was announced that Glee will end after next season. What are your future plans?
It's a whole year away. The show's not ending till 2015, so it's hard to say. I would love to do Broadway. That's what I've been working toward my entire life, until the TV show showed up.
Have any Broadway dream roles?
I'd love to play Effie in Dreamgirls, or Lola in Kinky Boots.
You have an incredible voice. Who influenced you as a singer?
My giant inspirations are Whitney, Patti LaBelle, Diana Ross, Michael Jackson ... the greats. But right now, my biggest inspiration is Beyoncé. I love her work ethic and all she brings to the table.
You know Patti is from Philly, right?
I do. One of my really good friends is friends with her. I told him the next time he sees her he has to tell her I say "Hi."
Being all the way in L.A., I bet you were surprised to hear you'd won this Attic Youth Center Award in Philadelphia.
I was really surprised. It is such an honor. I'm really excited to come and spend time and understand what's going on there.
What does the award mean to you.
It means everything in the world, but I'm speechless. When you're so excited you lose words. I think that's the best kind of excitement.
The Attic Youth Center’s 20th Anniversary Gala takes place at the Crystal Tea Room on Sat., Nov. 16 at 6 p.m. (VIP reception) or 7 p.m. (regular admission). The event is currently sold out. Stay tuned to G Philly next week for a play-by-play and photos.
UPDATE [11/14/2013]: Alex Newell cancels his appearance at the Attic Youth Center Gala. Details here.