Alex Newell, who plays “Wade ‘Unique’ Adams” on FOX’s hit show “Glee” from creator Ryan Murphy, will be lighting up Charlotte audiences on Feb. 23 when he takes the stage at the annual Human Rights Campaign North Carolina Gala at the Charlotte Convention Center. qnotes got the opportunity to speak with Newell before his arrival in the Queen City and chatted about his high school days, his passion for music, his experience on “Glee” and his love for RuPaul and her “Drag Race.”
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qnotes: Thanks for chatting today. We’re all so excited about your upcoming visit to Charlotte. Have you ever been to North Carolina before?
Alex Newell: I’ve been through it. When I was younger, me and my mother would always drive through the east coast to go to Alabama where our family is. We’ve made stops there, but I was too young to remember.
Are you looking forward to coming to Charlotte? Have any plans while you’re in town?
I’m not going to be there that long, but I hope to squeeze in what I can.
How did your appearance at the HRC Gala come about? Are you excited about it?
I’ve gone to a lot of the HRC events. I go and sing at all the ones I get invited to. I’ve been to Chicago and San Diego and now Charlotte. It’s one of those things I hold near and dear to my heart. Whenever I get the opportunity, I never shoot it down. It’s something I always love to go and do.
High school is not that long in the past for you…
I’m 20 now, so just one year ago.
What was your experience like there? Were you out? Were you ever bullied?
I was bullied, in a sense. I was different and the school had never seen anything like me. When people see something different, they tend to shut down and they don’t know what to do about it. I’m just so different and have such a large personality and I’m always loud and if I have a problem, I say it. It was easy for people to pick out things to attack me with. But, in my sophomore year, I stopped letting it get to me. I sang a song at mass — I went to a Catholic high school — and I turned from the gay kid at school who was loud and obnoxious to the singer of our generation.
I’ve heard you played football in high school. Is that true?
That’s not true, but I saw that, too (laughs).
Were you involved in any sports.
No, not at all. I don’t know what sports are. But, I did try out for Pop Warner when I was six, but they rejected me for some reason, even though they aren’t supposed to reject anyone.
Really, so music has always been your real passion?
It always has been.
You were accepted to Berklee, but decided to move to Los Angeles, instead?
Yes, I was accepted to Berklee School of Music. I was packing my bags and getting ready to go and I had made friends there already and then I got the phone call that I had to move out here. It was like a slap in the face, but I was like, “Oh my God!”
Is higher education still on your list of things to do?
Of course. I’ve always wanted to go to college and learn how to be better at what I know how to do already and be the best at it. I might go back and do something different now.
When you first went on “The Glee Project,” did you know what character you might be considered for?
Never. But, I always had a dream of a character I would play and it would be Mercedes’ brother. But, never, there was never anything I had my mind set on or that I knew Ryan would think of.
When was it that you found out you’d be playing Unique?
Oh my goodness. It was sometime in February of last year. I got a call and they didn’t tell me. They just said I’d be getting my script. But I didn’t find out until a couple nights later when I got the script and found out my character and was just beside myself and so excited.
Unique is a transgender character and as an actor you have to do some female impersonation when Unique is able to be herself on the show. Had you done female impersonation prior to joining the show?
Kind of yes and no. I played Motormouth Maybelle in “Hairspray,” but that was after “The Glee Project” and before “Glee.” People think that I have [done drag] and they fight me down to the death saying that I have, but I had literally never done it. I do it sometimes now outside of my job only because I feel like it’s kind of a learning experience. If I do go out and do it outside of my job, I’m practicing for when I do it at my job. I’ll walk around in high heels randomly just so when I go to work, I’m not falling down during a scene.
When you are able to appear as Unique at public events, do you think you’re able to send a positive message to young people who are transgender or who maybe don’t quite fit into the gender stereotypes of society?
I would hope so. I want people to know that it is okay to wear what you want as long as you’re being yourself. I can wear heels and still be Alex. It doesn’t matter what you’re wearing or not wearing, you can still be yourself. That’s all I care about, is someone striving to be themselves.
What’s your favorite song or performance that you’ve been able to do on the show?
There’s so many! I just did one and I absolutely loved it but I can’t talk about it. I want to say that “Locked Out of Heaven” was fun, but my all-time favorite was “Boogie Shoes,” because it was my very first one and I hold it so near and dear to my heart.
Who is your favorite musical artist?
Oh, Beyonce. Hands down!
What did you think about her Super Bowl performance?
You know, there’s lots of controversy about some unflattering photos of Beyonce from the Super Bowl. Do you think reporters should just give it up and take the photos down?
Oh, they’re always looking for something to make somone that perfect look bad. It doesn’t matter. Everyone already knows that she’s amazing and beautiful!
Who is your favorite character on the show?
Other than myself (laughs)?
Yes, other than yourself (laughs).
Oh my goodness. I’d really have to say Marley Rose because she has so much heart. There’s not a person on the show who has that much heart and is that pure and genuine with everything they have to say.
“Glee” has broken many barriers, for example showing a same-sex teenage couple on TV. Will Unique get the opportunity to break through a barrier with a love interest or a crush?
I don’t know. I’m still asking that question myself. It’s going to happen one day. It will be unexpected for everyone and mainly it will be unexpected for me.
How do you think you’ll prepare for the script?
I don’t know. It’s like how I prepare for any script I get. You just have to read it, look at it, take it in and swallow it and say, “Let’s do it.”
You’ll be starring in a new movie coming out soon, “Geography Club,” based on the novel by Brent Hartinger. Can you tell us anything about your character Ike?
It’s this teenage boy who knows he’s gay, but wants everyone else to think he’s straight. It’s funny how he goes through the whole movie where he’ll start out saying he’s straight, but by the end of the movie he’s 100 percent gay and everyone is like, “We already know that,” because he’s so flambouyant and out there.
Are you in a relationship now? How does the so-called show biz affect relationships?
No, not at all. I’m not. I’ve watched everyone else on the show juggle, trying to have a relationship. It’s kind of hard to look if you’re single and it’s even harder to keep a relationship on the show because you’re working so hard and long hours.
Since you’ve moved to L.A., have you met any celebrities who are maybe among your favorites? People you’ve always wanted to meet?
Oh my goodness, there are so many! I met Loretta Devine. I absolutely love her! Sofia Vergara was standing like 10 feet away from me at the SAG Awards and I like almost died. And, Anne Hathaway. And, I met Sarah Highland from “Modern Family.” She’s really sweet. There’s so many, especially at the SAG Awards.
Do you watch “RuPaul’s Drag Race”?
Always! “RuPaul’s Drag Race” is my show. Monday nights, if I’m not working, I’m right in front of the television watching it. I love RuPaul. I went to the all-star premiere for this last season. I feel for them because I know what it is like to work to look pretty and have someone say that you don’t look that pretty or have someone say they don’t like your outfit and I’m like I don’t like it worse and you just put me in it! I feel for them all the time and root for them because I know exactly how it is.
If you ever got the opportunity to be a guest star or make an appearance on “Drag Race,” would you do it?
I would do it in a heartbeat! They couldn’t stop me. I’d be at the studio before they even told me what time I’d have to be there.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
If I’m not still on “Glee,” I want to do Broadway. I want to do another film. Maybe another TV show. In five years, I’ll only be 25. : :
— Interview by Matt Comer. Questions & research by Kode Brown.