Alex Newell is anything but ordinary.
The 20-year-old singer and actor, who will be a headlining performer at the Utah Pride Festival, is best known for playing Unique Adams, a transgender teenager, on the hit television series Glee. He launched his career while competing on Oxygen Network’s reality series, The Glee Project, in which he placed second.
After appearing on two episodes of Glee in the third season, conservative pundit Bill O’Reilly and others voiced outrage that a transgender character would be portrayed in a positive light. He said Newell’s character might encourage children to “go out and experiment with this stuff.”
“Having Bill O’Reilly speak out wasn’t really a surprise. When people first encounter something new a lot of times they’re scared of it or even hate it. But with understanding and seeing things in a new light, the hatred and fear leave and make way for love and acceptance,” Newell said. “Most of the reaction has been very positive, though.”
While Newell said he does not identify as transgender, he has done research and worked with other transgender people to try and add authenticity to his character.
“I think we are all a little gender nonconforming in some ways. For example, the last role I ever want to play is Effie from Dream Girls,” Newell said. “If I could pass along one message about what I’ve learned, it would be to just be yourself. No matter what anyone else says, stay true to who you are and don’t let other people define who you are.”
After being signed for another season of Glee, Newell said he was excited for the chance to continue working on the show, even though it’s exhausting. A single episode can include a fitting, pre-recording, dance rehearsal and filming. Each episode presents its own challenges, but participating has been an experience of a lifetime, he said.
“It’s one thing to sit at home and watch all the actors play characters. It’s another thing entirely to get to interact with them and learn more about each of them as people,” Newell said. “It really has been amazing.”
Newell’s portrayal of Unique requires some serious acting chops, but his belting vocal prowess is perhaps his greatest strength. He’s had lead vocals in “Blow Me (One Last Kiss)” and participates in several other numbers.
His show at the Utah Pride Festival will feature some of his favorite songs and will be a perfect match for Pride, Newell said. He will be on the main stage on Saturday, June 1, 4 p.m.
“I’ve never been to Salt Lake City, but I’m very excited to visit. I hope to meet as many people as possible,” he said. “My shows are always intimate. No matter how many people are in the crowd, I always try and keep it very personal. I try to make eye contact with everyone at least once.”
For more information, go to utahpridefestival.org.