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NUNN ON ONE Alex Newell, living outside the box
by Jerry Nunn, Windy City Times
2019-08-07

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Performer Alex Newell refuses to be put in a box. Best known for the playing the character Unique Adams in the Fox series Glee, Newell competed on Oxygen's The Glee Project beforehand to eventually earn a two-episode spot on the hit show.

Afterward, Newell became a series regular on the fifth season of Glee and went on to record several singles finally touring with singer Adam Lambert around the world.

As a representative of the rideshare company Lyft at the 2019 Chicago Pride parade, Newell sat down to discuss music and current projects.

Windy City Times: How was performing at Chicago Pride Fest?

Alex Newell: So good! I love coming to Chicago. Everyone knew my music when I got here and they were singing along. I didn't have to actually sing. They sang it for me!

WCT: You have done Pride Fest a few times in the past.

AN: I did Pride Fest a few years ago, then Market Days. I did Pride Fest as a headliner this last time—and she's back again!

WCT: As part of the parade…

AN: Listen, they said they would put me on a float and I was all for it.

WCT: How did you start working with Lyft?

AN: When I was young, Lyft was the mustache car in West Hollywood and I wondered what it was. As I got older and moved to New York, I started using it more and more.

I was at a dinner for Lyft and they used the hashtag Two is Too Few. The story was a behind it that there should be more than male or female gender options to pick on their profiles. Being a non-gender conforming and non-binary person, my picture would show up for the driver to pick up, but they didn't know how to gender me. I don't want to be male or female. I want to be something other than that. Having that option was something I was inclined to support.

I love that they are going for it and I'm happy to be a part of it.

WCT: Why aren't more companies doing it?

AN: It's a social construct of what gender is and trying to put people in boxes. If someone is male it's easy for some people to understand them. That's terrible because if someone is male or female or non-binary or trans, that doesn't define them as a person.

WCT: What pronouns do you want used?

AN: So at that dinner they asked about pronouns on a form. Mine was not listed, but I checked every box. My pronouns are a paycheck, so here we are!

My gender transcends all of genders because I don't want to be defined by my gender. As an actor, why would I? I might be out in a box because I have the highest singing voice known to man and my face is actually gorgeous. [These] high [cheekbones aren't] here for no reason!

WCT: Lyft is helping people by partnering with the National Center for Transgender Equality to help with the name-change process.

AN: They are paying for it. It is hard out in these streets. People that are transitioning and trying to live authentically don't always have the means to do all of that.

WCT: You are described as an LGBT activist. What does that entail?

AN: I get my inspiration from one of my good friends, Laverne Cox. She's always spreading positivity. I am living my life and showing people it's okay to be unabashedly yourself. You don't have to worry about what other people say because at the end of the day only you pay the bills. We come into the world alone and we go out of this world alone. You have to live your own truth. If you are not happy, what's the point?

WCT: You've come a long way since we talked during The Glee Project.

AN: Honey, I was 18 then. She's damn near 28 now!

WCT: Do you miss Glee or still talk to anyone from the cast?

AN: I was just talking to Amber Riley last night. That's my mother and I came out of her womb. I was always considered a hybrid of Chris Colfer and Amber Riley. I will allow it. One has a Golden Globe!

I miss it sometimes. It was nice to come to work and see so many familiar faces. They were my family. I also loved singing all the time. It was a hardship, but I loved it.

No matter what I do in my life that show is the staple. Everyone knows me from that show. It's nice to know I impacted people with it.

WCT: Why doesn't Ryan Murphy get you on Pose?

AN: We can't do Pose, honey! I went in for Pose as the character Blanca, who Mj Rodriguez is playing. I looked at it and said, "This isn't for me," threw the script down and walked out.

I love the show to this day, but I knew someone would portray it better than me.

WCT: How was touring with Adam Lambert?

AN: I love my sis. He's humble and talented. He's crafts a tour like nobody. We would have one date, then a vocal day off. I love that my first tour around the country was so different than a Broadway run where you are sitting down for so long. We would do a date then leave. It was nice to see America in that way.

WCT: How was performing in Once on This Island?

AN: Darling, it was lovely! I had always wanted to do Broadway. There were two roles that I wanted to play in musicals—Effie in Dreamgirls and Asaka in Once on This Island. I got one down and I have to get the next one.

It was hard work and challenging doing eight shows a week in a sand pit with a 30-pound skirt. I challenged myself. I wanted to do a 100 shows without calling off.

WCT: That's a good goal, like a marathon…

AN: A marathon that never ended. I did 113 without calling off.

WCT: I saw you perform in Saturday Night Fever, at Drury Lane.

AN: I lived at that theater. I was the emergency replacement. I learned the entire show in a day.

WCT: Talk a bit about the song "Hands."

AN: Justin Tranter wrote it and got all of his celebrity friends to sing on it after Pulse happened. It was me, Brittany Spears, Mary J. Blige, Adam Lambert, the list went on and on. I thought none of our voices would be heard on it.

WCT: Have you heard about Melissa McCarthy playing Ursula in live action The Little Mermaid?

AN: If I hear it one more time…

WCT: Your name is brought up all over social media. Would you consider it?

AN: Absolutely. I was always rooting for Ursula instead of Ariel for some reason. That little bitch doesn't need her voice! [Laughs] I love that Ursula was based on Divine.

Of course I want to play the part. I would throw Melissa down a flight of stairs. She will make so much money playing this role, meanwhile I am out in the streets singing this song down! She will be good, but the list went on and on. It was me, Lizzo, Jennifer Hudson, Ginger Minj and Tituss Burgess, all of whom I know and I would tackle them too!

WCT: You aren't competitive, are you?

AN: No, not at all. Not when you are always the winner. [Laughs]

WCT: How was it being on Empire?

AN: My Broadway show had closed and two days later I was flying to Chicago. I am always here. It's like I live here and always in the dead of winter.

Empire reminded me that I want to be back on a TV show. Gabourey Sidibe was the director and it was super-easy. It was just me and a camera.

WCT: I was on Empire as the only white boy at the white party.

AN: Listen, I'm the only Black at most parties! I am now moving to Vancouver to do a TV show called Zoe's Extraordinary Playlist that will be on NBC in the winter. It's about a girl who has a father dying of a rare brain disease. She gets a MRI then is able to hear people's internal songs in their subconscious. She has to figure what is happening.

WCT: So you are singing?

AN: They are singing. I'm just the sassy best friend.

WCT: When is more music coming out?

AN: Soon. I just had a song come out [recently]. It was a cover of "Rescue Me." The CEO of Goldman Sachs is a DJ on the side. He wants to release the song where the proceeds would go to fight addiction.

It's been five years since I've released new songs, so I have recorded 12 songs in two weeks. So look out for them!

WCT: You released "O Come, All Ye Faithful." What about a Christmas album?

AN: No. I like a Christmas song every once in a while, but never a full album. There's only so many songs you can do before recycling them. We are never going to have another "All I Want For Christmas Is You."

WCT: Well, people keep trying.

AN: I'm not going to try and fail, honey!


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