He was known for his strong belting voice on Glee, always being sassy, dishing out the diva and just being “unique” all at the same time.
Alex Newell, who played transgender student Wade “Unique” Adams on Glee and was runner-up on The Glee Project, sat down with Watermark before he takes over the stage for St. Pete Pride’s annual 27/82 Concert on June 26. He told all us about what playing “Unique” on the show taught him, where his love from music all started and giving us a preview of what to expect from his first debut album coming out toward the end of this year.
Watermark: Talk a little bit about your background in music growing up. What inspired you to pursue a career in music, singing and doing what you do now?
Newell: Growing up in church—and my mother being in the choir and my dad being in the choir—we would go to choir rehearsal all the time. My great aunt made me this choir robe when I was little, and I wanted to wear it everywhere—the supermarket, the park, the school. Just everywhere I could wear the choir robe, I wanted it on my body. So with that, my mother said ‘you’re going to be a singer.’ I think something genetically in me knew i wanted to be a singer from the time that I was a child up until now.
Most people know you from The Glee Project and then later starring as Wade Unique Adams on Glee. What was it like playing a trans-character, especially how within the last couple years trans-visibility an storytelling has become a more prominent thing on television?
It was great. Yes, Unique was trans, but I don’t think of the character as trans. I thought of her more as a person who is going through life. A person that has life struggles, and a person who is trying to educate people at the same time. I feel like that brought the heart of the character to life in a way. And just getting to play such a pivotal role, there’s not too many times you get to play such a role that means so much to so many different people in different walks of life—whether they’re trans, whether they’re not trans, whether they’re gay or whether they’re the stay-at-home mom who’s living her life. It’s just one of those things that some way can relate about not being accepted or being accepted or being different in general or being unique. So having the opportunity to play one of those roles like that is such an amazing experience.
Did it teach you anything that maybe you didn’t now about prior to that about transgender individuals?
The whole episode of ‘The End of Twerk’ with singing ‘If I Were a Boy’ and the bathroom situation, it never crossed my mind ever in life that the trans queer had such a struggle with something as simple as using a bathroom. It never crossed my mind. I thought if you identified as a woman you go to the woman’s bathroom; if you identify as a man, you go to the mens bathroom. It’s one of those things that I didn’t realize it’s something that they would go through.
What part of Unique would you say you embrace the most in your everyday life or can identify with within your own self?
Having that sense of self-awareness, I feel like I brought a lot of myself into the self-awareness part. Like Unique wasn’t stupid; Unique knew what was going on. Unique has her ear to the ground and one finger up at the same time. I brought that savvy, smart and snappy thing. And I’m very savvy and smart—or at least I like to think that [laughs]. But yeah, I love that unknown confidence, like you don’t know where that confidence is coming from at the same time.
You were signed back in late 2013 by both Atlantic Records and Deep Well Records. How has the transition been like going from a Glee, a musical television show, to working on your own musical project?
It was actually really easy because think bout it, I was going into the studio maybe three times a week and recording songs. Even that on Glee really helped me because I can sing through a song what would take a normal recording artist two and a half days, I can do that in like three hours because I’ve learned how to control my voice. I’ve learned how to go into the studio sing a song out and be done with it, and especially on the time crunch that we were always on where I would have 30 minutes to record a full song with our half hour for lunch and go right back to work. Or I had a fitting or a super Glee day, which was one when would have to record two scenes, a musical number, dance rehearsal and a fitting all at the same time we were recording a song. So I know how to go in an execute. It’s fun because not only am I making something that’s important to me, it’s something that’s my own. It’s not a cover of a song; it’s not anybody else’s baby.
What can we expect from your first album? Will you be sharing some of that with us at St. Pete Pride?
I’m not doing anything off of my immediate album, but I’m doing some of the stuff that I’ve done with Clean Bandit and I’m dong some of the stuff I’ve done with The Knox. That’s always fun in itself because those two songs are just dance-driven and it’s just jump up an down, feel-good music. For my album, it’s this new sound… it’s Beyonce meets Donna Summers. It’s so much fun, and it’s very theatrical and fun. It’s very smart, intelligent and thought out music. It’s not just like that happy, bubble gum, oh top 40, yes this is great. I hope it to be something that’s new and inventive, and just bringing something new to music at the same time.
You’ve been doing your rounds recently at different Pride events across the nation. What are some of the different pride events you’ve performed at so far and how has that experience been?
Oh my god, I’ve done so many. I’ve done San Francisco Pride, I’ve done Boston Pride, I’ve done San Diego, Palm Springs, Salt Lake City, Detroit Pride—literally the list goes on and on. I’ve got Chicago Pride, and this summer alone I’m doing Milwaukee to do their Pride and St. Pete, obviously. There’s just so many of them, but they’re all so different and all so unique in a sense. Every crowd is so different yet the same at the same time. I honestly feel like there should be like an ‘American Pride,’ like the Olympics or the Superbowl. We pick one city and we all fly to it [laughs]. It’s such a good feeling to see such a giant community come together and to just be happy in a sense.
Why did you pick to perform at St. Pete Pride, and what are you looking forward to the most about St. Pete Pride?
I’ve chose St. Pete Pride because I honestly love doing Prides. Whenever I get the opportunity to do them, I will jump right there and do it. I also feel like I haven’t been to Florida in such a long time that it would be a good experience to get down there and see the community that is down there. And I think for me, the thing that I’m always most excited for is to get on stage and sing for the community that supports me and everything I do.
What is your favorite or most memorable Pride event moment?
Oh my gosh, I don’t even know. They’re all so different and they’re all so memorable at the same time. I don’t think I have a favorite one, but I do have a most memorable one—it would have to be Palm Springs Pride. I was there with one of my really good friends just me and him. It was one of my first Prides, and we just had fun. We drove down there in the car. I forgot to tell him it was an overnight trip, so he didn’t pack a bag… It was a fun night. It was like a ‘let my hair down’ kind of night. Because normally when I go to Pride, I have a regiment. I have to do this, I have to sing—I have a routine. But for this Pride, the whole routine was thrown out the window.
What can we expect to see from you, in regards to your music, in the next year? Is there a date set yet for your album?
There isn’t a date set yet, but I think that by the fall there should be an album out. It’s just me living life through my music and hopefully doing another television show and maybe a movie. And because I’m so at heart an actor, maybe doing broadway. I love singing, acting and my dancing—I’ve been doing musical theater my entire life, so I have to get back to it. I just want to do everything.