Alex Eugene Newell (born August 20, 1992) is an American actor and singer. He is known for his roles as Unique Adams on the Fox musical series Glee, and Mo on Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist. He also starred as Asaka in the Broadway revival of Once on This Island at the Circle in the Square Theater in 2018. As a singer, Newell has released tracks with Clean Bandit, Blonde and The Knocks.
Newell was born on August 20, 1992, in Lynn, Massachusetts. His father, a deacon, died of cancer when he was six years old, at which point his mother raised him as a single parent.
After four complete years of education in the first class of KIPP Lynn Academy, he moved on to and graduated from Bishop Fenwick High School in 2012, where he was involved in his school's choir, improv club, and costume club; he was also a member of his church choir. He never had any formal voice lessons before landing the part on Glee. He has cited Donna Summer, Sylvester, Diana Ross, Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan, and Beyoncé as his influences.
Newell was among 34,000 to submit an audition video in 2011 for the first season of Oxygen's The Glee Project. Newell's self-taped audition earned him over one million MySpace views as well as a spot among the 12 participants who competed for a seven-episode arc on Glee. During the arc, he asserted himself as an out gay man. Eventually, he became the series’ first runner-up. Nevertheless, the producers were so impressed that they decided to bring him on Glee for two episodes. Newell first appeared on Glee in the third season episode "Saturday Night Glee-ver". He was cast in the role of Wade "Unique" Adams, a male-to-female transgender teenager. The shy, outcast Wade expressed her female identity through music as the bold, brave alter ego, Unique. Wade broke ground by being one of the most visible transgender characters on television and one of the first on a network prime time show. Newell's performance was described as "bold", with "remarkable restraint and powerful vocals."
On his nightly show, Bill O'Reilly expressed concern that children watching the show unsupervised might be encouraged to experiment with what he termed "alternative lifestyles," which he said the show glorified. Newell commented, "My mother said, 'If Bill O'Reilly said something about you, you are doing something right.' He just showed the public and conservative viewers me. There are more people seeing me now... There are people like Wade and Unique, and [they're] being themselves. If kids want to go and do that, that is them expressing who they are." He later appeared in two more episodes and completed his story arc that season.
Newell was accepted into the Berklee College of Music for fall 2012, but he decided instead to move to Los Angeles to be on Glee when he was asked to rejoin the cast for the show's fourth season. Unique returned as a Glee recurring cast member in the fourth season premiere, "The New Rachel". Newell, along with the rest of the cast, received a nomination for a Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series in 2012, but lost to Modern Family. For the fifth season, Newell was promoted to main cast because of the character's popularity. In the sixth and final season, he was not a part of the regular cast, but he did appear as a recurring guest star. A highlight of the sixth season was Newell singing "I Know Where I've Been" from Hairspray with the Transpersons Choir of 200 performers.
2014–16: Music career and POWER EP
Over the years, Newell sang at numerous events, such as the Coachella Festival, but also at many LGBT events and pride festivals. He also performed at the Governors Ball Music Festival and BBC Radio 1's Big Weekend.
Newell announced in October 2013 that he had been signed by Big Beat Records and that he was going to release Newell's debut album. It was also revealed that it was going to be produced by Adam Anders. His debut single, a cover of Sigma's "Nobody to Love", was released on June 3, 2014.
In 2015, Newell embarked on a series of cover songs and collaborations. In March, he provided feature vocals for the re-issued version of "Stronger", a song by Clean Bandit. Later in the same month, he produced a disco-house stylization of Robin S.'s single "Show Me Love" together with Russian DJ Matvey Emerson. Over the summer, he worked with the British electro duo Blonde by featuring vocals in their single "All Cried Out". He then began to collaborate with the US electroduo The Knocks on the song "Collect My Love", "a soaring disco standout" where he reached "staggering heights." The song, from the EP So Classic, will be included in The Knocks' debut album 55, scheduled to be released in March 2016. Finally, for Christmas, Newell released a cover of the song "O Come All Ye Faithful".
His original song "This Ain't Over", released in January 2016, was warmly welcomed by the media. Out commented: "The vibrant dance-pop track flawlessly revives disco if only for a few short minutes. Without the gimmicks of manufactured radio pop, Newell manages to serve This Ain’t Over with pure talent." Spin said: "Newell's unassailable voice is in full force on 'This Ain't Over,' shining out like a triumphant beacon over a thumping, glamorous dance-pop soundscape." Vulture concluded: "This is just diva vocal acrobatics flexed with the swag of a queen."
"This Ain't Over" was announced as the first track off his debut extended play called POWER, featuring production from the pop artists Diane Warren, Nile Rodgers, MNEK and DJ Cassidy. The EP will be released on February 19 via Big Beat.
Newell supported fellow Glee alum Adam Lambert on tour from February 23 until the April 2 finale at Los Angeles’ Orpheum Theatre, in 2016. After the tour, he released a new single in collaboration with POWER producers DJ Cassidy and Nile Rodgers, entitled "Kill the Lights", released on April 8, 2016, through Atlantic Records. It is expected to be one of a few tracks that Newell is making as part of the HBO TV series Vinyl. It was later revealed that the song was recorded a year ago when Newell was working with Clean Bandit, Blonde and The Knocks and inspired the producers to work with him on his debut extended play. Later that same month, the song was released again, featuring vocals from Jess Glynne.
2016–present: Newell's debut album, Once on This Island, and Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist
After the success and the release of his debut extended play POWER and his tour with Adam Lambert, Newell headed back in the studio. On June 3, 2016, he released his first single outside of his recent project, entitled "Need Somebody". It was exclusively released onto iTunes and Apple Music on June 3 and released onto other platforms several days later. Also, the earnings from its first week of sales were to be donated to The Trevor Project. It was later confirmed the song is the lead single from Newell's debut album, to be released later in 2016.
In July 2016, Newell has provided backing vocals in his biggest collaboration yet in charitable single "Hands". The song itself was written by Justin Tranter, Julia Michaels and BloodPop and produced by Tranter himself and BloodPop, as well as Mark Ronson. It features the likes of Britney Spears, Gwen Stefani, Meghan Trainor, Troye Sivan, Selena Gomez, Kacey Musgraves, Mary J. Blige, Jason Derulo, Imagine Dragons, Jennifer Lopez, Adam Lambert, Tyler Glenn, P!NK, MNEK, RuPaul, Mary Lambert and Nate Ruess.
In 2017, Newell made his Broadway debut playing the role of Asaka in the revival of Once on This Island. In preparation, he began training with NYC voice teacher Mike Ruckles. In terms of music, he has also marked his return as a featured artist on the song "Other Side of Love" by house musician Kokiri.
He currently appears on NBC's musical dramedy Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist in the role of Mo, a genderfluid DJ and the protagonist's next-door neighbor.
Other work and awards
Newell played the title role in NBC's comedy pilot Imaginary Friend, which was expected to air in 2016. It was passed on and no other network wanted to make it into a series. He contributed with music to the HBO TV series Vinyl on a track also featuring DJ Cassidy and Jess Glynne.
He is committed to helping other LGBT youth and regularly performs at benefit concerts, most notably for The Trevor Project, the Human Rights Campaign, Jack Antonoff's Ally Coalition and other fundraisers.
Newell was given a special recognition award at the 2015 GLAAD Media Awards.
Newell identifies as a gender nonconforming gay man, and in May 2020 said he relates to his character Mo in Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist, who is nonbinary.
|Title||Album details||Peak chart positions|
As lead artist
|Title||Year||Peak chart positions||Album|
|"Nobody to Love"||2014||—||—||Power|
|"Show Me Love"
(with Matvey Emerson)
|"O Come, All Ye Faithful"||—||—||Tyler Oakley's Holiday Jams|
|"This Ain't Over"||2016||—||—||Power|
|"Basically Over You (B.O.Y.)"||—||—|
|"Kill the Lights"
(with DJ Cassidy and Jess Glynne featuring Nile Rogers)
|15||1||Vinyl: The Essentials (Best of Season 1)|
|"Need Somebody"||—||—||Non-album single|
|"Keep It Moving"||—||—|
|"O Come All Ye Faithful" (Volac Remix)||—||—|
|"As I Am"
(with Bryan Adams featuring Matt Kelly)
|"Boy, You Can Keep It"||2020||—||41||TBA|
|"Mama Told Me"||—||—|
|Title||Year||Peak chart positions||Certifications||Album|
(Clean Bandit featuring Alex Newell and Sean Bass)
|"All Cried Out"
(Blonde featuring Alex Newell)
|"Collect My Love"
(The Knocks featuring Alex Newell)
(with various artists)
(DJ D-Sol featuring Alex Newell)
- Glee: The Music, The Christmas Album Volume 2 (2011)
- Glee: The Music, The Complete Season 3 (2012)
- Britney 2.0 (2012)
- Glee: The Music Presents Glease (2012)
- Glee: The Music, The Complete Season 4 (2013)
- Glee Sings the Beatles (2013)
- A Katy or a Gaga (Music from the Episode) (2013)
- Glee: The Music, The Christmas Album Volume 4 (2013)
- Glee: The Music, City of Angels (2013)
- Glee: The Music, Transitioning (2014)
- Polkadots: The Cool Kids Musical (World Premiere Cast Recording) (2016)
- Once On This Island (New Broadway Cast Recording) (2018)
- Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist: Season 1, Episode 4 (Music From the Original TV Series) (2020)
- Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist: Season 1, Episode 7 (Music From the Original TV Series) (2020)
- Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist: Season 1, Episode 11 (Music From the Original TV Series) (2020)
Awards and nominations
|2019||Grammy Award||Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album||Once on This Island||Nominated|