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Alex Newell of 'Glee' Plays with Androgyny as TV's First Transgender Teen

Photos by Ricky Middlesworth Photography

Alex Newell is a perfect example of how to be prepared when opportunity comes knocking. A contestant on The Glee Project—in which 12 hopefuls vied for a seven-episode arc on Glee—Newell came in as a runner-up. But that didn’t stop him. 

The producers were so taken with Alex that they brought him on Glee for two episodes, which turned into two more, which turned into a recurring permanent role on the show. Alex plays Wade “Unique” Adams, a transgender teenager—a first for American television. We spoke to the fashion trendsetter about his love of shopping, the creation of his personal style and his love of André Leon Talley.

How did you get involved with The Glee Project? 
I actually didn’t [initially] know about The Glee Project. I put my submission online to be on Glee. They had an open casting call on Myspace to be on Glee for this new role. They got so many submissions that they had the idea to take the submissions and turn it into a reality show. 

Now you’re on Glee. How has the role changed your life? 
I was a high school student just a few years ago, and now to be on a national television show—it’s a total 360. I was doing theater, singing, dancing and acting since I was 13. It’s my passion. I would have never thought everything I’ve been training for and working for my entire life would finally come true. It’s just an entirely different life.

Did you feel pressure to play TV’s first trans teen character? 
You don’t really have that pressure when it’s kind of an everyday portrayal. I mean, there’s still the struggle at the heart of it, but it was kind of like, this is another student coming in that has this journey they’re going down. You don’t really have pressure when it’s like that.

How has the feedback been from the trans community? 
It’s always positive and grateful, and in a powerful light. I’ve never heard anything negative from the community.

When did you first start to get into fashion? 
Oh my goodness, I love clothes. I love shoes. I love everything. I think my mother did the overkill. I remember when I was in the second grade, and we had to write books about what our life was. I had a whole chapter of how we went shopping and I would be in the mall for hours and hours. We had to draw pictures of our houses, and I drew a detailed map of the mall, where every store was, what the name of it was, even what their logo was. It was absolutely ridiculous. I loved my name brands and feeling the rush of putting on a new pair of jeans. I think that’s where my love of clothes and fashion comes from. I just love trying new and exciting things to see what to do. I love playing with androgyny. It’s fun, and you don’t see too much of it. I’m always trying to think outside the box and do it with a traditional high-fashion sense.

When did you start integrating what would traditionally be considered women’s items into your look? 
I don’t know. One day it just started happening and I was like, OK, let’s go with it.  

Have you had any backlash about it? 
Oh, no, never. Even on my manly days, people still walk up to me in a restaurant and say, “How can I help you, ma’am?” I’m like, Wow, I still look like a woman even if I’m wearing all kinds of male clothes. You can’t let people bother you about stuff like that.

Which fashion icons influence your style? 
André Leon Talley is probably number one right now. And I’m in love with all of Michael Costello’s work. His new gowns are just to die for. And Anthony Williams—the designer for Single Ladies—his way of doing things outside the box is so appealing to the eye and amazing and effortless at the same time.

Click here to see tons more amazing photographs of Alex Newell.  

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