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Lea Michele Bio
Lea Michele Sarfati (born August 29, 1986) is an American actress, singer, and author. She is known for her role as Rachel Berry on the Fox comedy-drama series Glee (2009–15). Michele’s performance received critical praise, earning her a Satellite Award, a Screen Actors Guild Award, and three consecutive People’s Choice Awards. In 2015, she portrayed Hester Ulrich on Fox’s horror-comedy Scream Queens.
Michele began working professionally as a child actress on Broadway in productions such as Les Misérables, Ragtime, and Fiddler on the Roof. In 2006, she originated the role of Wendla Bergmann in the Broadway rock musical Spring Awakening. Its soundtrack, on which she was a featured solo artist, won the Grammy Award for Best Musical Show Album in 2008. Michele made her film debut in 2011, starring in the romantic comedy New Year’s Eve. In 2014, she voiced Dorothy Gale in the animated film Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return.
In 2012, Michele signed to Columbia Records, beginning her music career. Her first single, “Cannonball“, was released on December 10, 2013. Her debut album, Louder, was released on March 4, 2014, debuting at number 4 on the Billboard 200. Michele released her first book, Brunette Ambition, on May 20, 2014, which debuted on The New York Times Best Seller list. Her follow-up book, You First: Journal Your Way To Your Best Life, was released on September 22, 2015.
1995–2008: Beginnings and stage roles
Michele made her Broadway debut in 1995, at the age of 8, as a replacement in the role of Young Cosette in Les Misérables. Michele was also the understudy for the role of Gavroche. This was followed by the role of Tateh’s daughter, the Little Girl, in the 1998 original Broadway cast of Ragtime. Michele had been portraying the part of the Little Girl for a year in the original Toronto cast, before the production was transferred to Broadway. During her senior year of high school in 2004, Michele played Shprintze in the Broadway revival of the musical Fiddler on the Roof, and understudied the role of Chava. She then performed on the Broadway revival cast recording of the show. She starred as Shprintze at the 2004 Broadway Easter Bonnet benefit with the cast of Fiddler on the Roof.
Michele played the role of Wendla Bergmann in Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik‘s musical version of Spring Awakening, starring in early workshops and Off-Broadway performances, before finally originating the role in the 2006 Broadway production at the age of 20. In February 2005, she performed as Wendla at the Lincoln Center. Around the same time that Spring Awakening was set to go to Broadway, Michele was offered the role of Éponine in the Broadway revival of Les Misérables. She elected to remain with Spring Awakening, which debuted on Broadway in December 2006. She was nominated for a Drama Desk Award for her performance as Wendla Bergmann in the category of Outstanding Actress in a Musical. In January 2008, she performed at the “Alive in the World” benefit concert as the character Phoebe. The performance was in aid of the Twin Towers Orphan Fund. In 2008, she again took part in the Broadway Easter Bonnet benefit, this time with the cast of Spring Awakening.
In February, April and June 2008, Michele played shows at Feinstein’s. In April 2008, she performed a Flops n’ Cutz concert at Joe’s Pub with her boyfriend at the time, stage actor Landon Beard. On May 18, 2008, Michele left Spring Awakening with her co-star Jonathan Groff, where they were both replaced the next day by Michele’s understudy Alexandra Socha and newcomer Kyle Riabko. She then performed in a reading of Sheik and Sater’s new musical, Nero, in July 2008 at Vassar College. In August 2008, she portrayed Éponine in the Hollywood Bowl‘s Les Misérables concert, which was directed by Richard Jay-Alexander. She starred alongside Brian Stokes Mitchell as Javert and John Lloyd Young as Marius, both of whom would go on to guest star on Glee. While in Los Angeles for the Les Misérables concerts, she sang at the Upright Cabaret at Mark’s Restaurant in Hollywood in August 2008. The next month, she performed at the benefit Broadway Chance Style: Up Close & Personal along with stars such as Laura Bell Bundy, Eden Espinosa and Kristoffer Cusick. In December 2008, she performed again at Joe’s Pub for the Spring Awakening Holiday Benefit Concert.
2009–15: Glee and mainstream success
From 2009 until its ending in 2015, Michele starred on the Fox musical comedy-drama series Glee as Rachel Berry, the show’s female lead and star singer. In casting for Glee, series creator Ryan Murphy sought out actors who could identify with the rush of starring in theatrical roles. Instead of using traditional network casting calls, he spent three months on Broadway, where he found Michele. The role of Rachel was written specifically for Michele. The pilot episode was filmed in late 2008. She took the role because of Rachel’s characterization, and explained: “Not only is she a singer, but she has so much heart – I think it’s what we need on TV. A show that is filled with heart and love that is funny. It sends an amazing message to kids about the arts and being who you are.” Chicago Tribune‘s Maureen Ryan wrote that Michele “not only has an amazing voice but manages to make her character, spoiled diva Rachel Berry, more than a humorless stereotype.” Denise Martin of The Los Angeles Times commented in her review of the episode “The Rhodes Not Taken“: “If there’s any justice in the world, Lea Michele will win a Golden Globe and an Emmy for playing Rachel.”
Michele has won a number of awards for her portrayal of Rachel. At the 2009 Satellite Awards, she won the award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Musical or Comedy Television Series. In 2010, Michele won the NewNowNext Awards for Brink of Fame: Actor. In 2009, she was nominated for a Teen Choice Award in the category Choice TV Breakout Star. That same year, Michele was nominated for a Golden Globe Award in the category Best Actress – Television Series Musical or Comedy, and a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series. She received another Teen Choice Award nomination in 2010 for Choice TV Actress: Comedy. Michele was included on Time‘s 2010 list of the 100 Most Influential People In the World. She won the 2012 People’s Choice Award for Favorite TV Comedy Actress. Several songs performed by Michele as Rachel have been released as singles, available for digital download. In December 2010, Michele received Billboard‘s First-Ever Triple Threat Award. Her cover of The All-American Rejects‘ “Gives You Hell” reached the top 40 on the Billboard Hot 100. Michele is featured as lead singer in 14 of the top 20 selling Glee cast songs as of 2010. Michele was nominated for two Grammy Awards in 2011. The first for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals (“Don’t Stop Believin’“), the second for Best Compilation Soundtrack Album for a Motion Picture, Television, or Other Visual Media (Glee: The Music, Volume 1). Michele was nominated again for Best Actress – Television Series Musical or Comedy at the 2011 Golden Globe Awards.
In May 2010, Michele and the cast of Glee embarked on a U.S. music tour, playing 10 shows in Phoenix, Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York City. The final show of 2010 was at Radio City Music Hall. Jonathan Groff, who played Michele’s love interest Jesse St. James on the show, performed with her at the Los Angeles and New York City shows. Glee Live! In Concert! then expanded a year later, to include 22 shows across North America and 9 shows in England and Ireland. The cast acted in character for the concerts. The tour was met with mostly positive reviews. MTV‘s Aimee Curran wrote: “The cast was able to make every song their own while still managing to maintain the original artist’s integrity.” Hahn Nguyen of Zap2it wrote: “Seeing it live is well worth the money and effort. Not only is there an elevated, infectious energy you don’t get from just watching the show at home, but the feeling of togetherness can’t be matched.”
In October 2010, Michele and co-star Matthew Morrison performed as Janet Weiss and Brad Majors, respectively, in the 35th Anniversary Benefit of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The event benefited The Painted Turtle and also starred Jack Nicholson and Danny DeVito. In February 2011, Michele performed at The Grammys‘ MusiCares Person of the Year event in Los Angeles, honoring Barbra Streisand. She sang “My Man” from the Streisand film Funny Girl. Before the Super Bowl XLV on February 6, 2011, Michele performed “America the Beautiful” with the United States Air Force Tops In Blue. Michele next starred in Garry Marshall‘s romantic comedy New Year’s Eve, portraying Elise, a back-up singer and the love interest of Ashton Kutcher‘s character. The film was released worldwide on December 9, 2011. She then voiced the role of Dorothy Gale in the animated musical film Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return. After many delays, the film opened in North American theaters on May 9, 2014.
2012–present: Louder, book deal, and Scream Queens
On September 18, 2012, it was announced that Michele would be working on her first solo album. She began recordings for the album soon after on October 19, 2012. Michele stated that it was a ‘pretty slow process’ and the album would be more ‘pop/rock driven’ rather than Broadway influenced. On November 27, 2013, it was announced that the first single from her debut album Louder would be “Cannonball“, which was released on December 10, 2013. She performed “Cannonball” live for the first time on The Ellen DeGeneres Show on December 12, 2013. On December 18, 2013, “Cannonball” debuted at number 75 on the Billboard Hot 100, making her the first main Glee cast member to chart as a lead soloist. The single sold over 51,000 copies in its first week of sale.
On December 27, 2013, a second track, “Battlefield”, premiered as a promotional single. The song was released to the iTunes Store as an instant download the following day. The music video for “Cannonball” was released onto Michele’s VEVO and YouTube channels on January 9, 2014. Michele and Sia Furler co-wrote and recorded the song “If You Say So” in late July 2013 – the last song to be written for Louder. The song is about Michele’s late boyfriend and co-star Monteith, who died after initial recording for the album was completed. On January 13, 2014, the album’s title song premiered as the second promotional single a day before its iTunes release. The third promotional single, “What Is Love?”, also premiered a day before its iTunes release, on January 28, 2014. The fourth and final promotional single from the album was “You’re Mine”, released on February 11, 2014. Louder debuted on the Billboard 200 at number 4, with the album selling over 62,000 copies its first week. The second single from the album, “On My Way“, was released on May 4, 2014. The music video for the song premiered on May 19, 2014.
In May 2013, it was announced that Michele had signed a deal with Harmony Books and Random House to pen a part memoir, part how-to book titled Brunette Ambition. The book was released on May 20, 2014. Michele had multiple book signings in the U.S., including an interview event hosted by Jonathan Groff. The book debuted at number 9 on the U.S. Nonfiction Best Seller list, a week after it was released. The book made its debut on The New York Times Best Seller list, placing at number 3. Just before Brunette Ambition‘s release, Michele stated that she had signed another deal to publish a follow-up book. Her second book, titled You First: Journal Your Way to Your Best Life, was released on September 22, 2015 by Random House.
In April 2014, it was revealed that Michele had signed on to voice the character of Pinki in an animated film titled Bollywood Superstar Monkey. However, the project was delayed by DreamWorks Animation in early 2015. On July 28, 2014, it was announced that Michele would guest star in the sixth episode of the final season of FX drama series Sons of Anarchy, playing the role of Gertie, a truck stop waitress and single mother, who connects with Katey Sagal‘s character Gemma. The episode, titled “Smoke ’em If You Got ’em“, aired on October 14, 2014. On January 17, 2015, it was announced that Michele has been cast in a leading role in the first season of the horror-comedy anthology series Scream Queens, starring opposite Jamie Lee Curtis and Emma Roberts. The series premiered on Fox on September 22, 2015. In March 2015, it was reported that Michele had signed on to star in the upcoming William H. Macy-directed sex comedy film The Layover, alongside Kate Upton, but she was subsequently replaced by Alexandra Daddario due to scheduling conflicts with Scream Queens.
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