By Barrett White
Before he won our hearts in Glee, Alex Newell was performing at his hometown musical theater in Beverly, Massachusetts, the gifted teenage son of a strong, single mother.
On March 18, he will perform at downtown’s House of Blues Houston for the glamorous 64th Annual Diana Awards.
With no formal vocal training prior to Glee, Newell amazed viewers and producers alike during his run on the reality-TV series The Glee Project, which led to his role as Unique in Fox’s prime-time musical series. “In fact, it was while working at [my hometown] theater that I found out I was cast in Glee, so it’s always nice to see something like that come full circle,” Newell muses.
Reflecting on his upbringing, Newell thanks his high school choir teacher, among others, and recalls his musical pedigree that includes his musically gifted uncle and aunts, and his father who played the piano and saxophone.
After high school, Newell found himself in Los Angeles and hit the ground running. Since Glee, he’s been touring on the concert beat with fellow Glee alum Adam Lambert. He also appeared last month in New York City as Mary Magdalene (alongside Broadway royalty Shoshana Bean and Morgan James) in a gender-flipped concert performance of Jesus Christ Superstar.
As Newell continues to perfect his craft, he continues to churn out hits such as the single “Need Somebody,” a danceable power thrill that’s available on Spotify (along with the rest of his growing discography).
After the Diana Awards, Newell plans to settle into his new home in New York before getting back to doing what he started off doing—thrilling audiences in the realm of musical theater.
Tanner Williams, president of The Diana Foundation (the oldest continuously active gay organization in the United States), recalls the extravagant Diana Awards shows from previous decades that took place at venues such as the former Tower Theatre on Westheimer and downtown’s Wortham Theater Center. “They would film dress rehearsals and watch the playback to make tweaks,” he says about the campy, sold-out award ceremonies that began in the ’50s as a humorous spoof of the Oscars telecasts.
As the shows grew throughout the 1980s, The Diana Foundation became a nonprofit charity to raise money for AIDS Foundation Houston and Pet Patrol, among other local organizations that began in a time when the national government was turning a blind eye to the AIDS crisis.
“I’m just honored and proud to have been asked to perform [at the Diana Awards],” Newell says, thanking Williams and The Diana Foundation for the work they continue to do for the community.
“The Dianas are special. It’s a special group of friends. It’s part of Houston’s gay identity. I think about the founding members, and why it was special to them. Keeping that alive is an honor,” says Williams.
You can find more Alex Newell on the major music streaming platforms. For bookings and inquiries, contact Linda Lewis at [email protected]
What: The 64th Annual Diana Awards
When: March 18, 6:30–11:30 p.m (show at 9 p.m.).
Where: House of Blues Houston, 1204 Caroline Street
Details: A VIP ticket includes dinner and access to the black-tie pre-reception meet-and-greet before the show. A balcony-level ticket gives you access to the cash bar and show. No dress code. For full event information, see thedianafoundation.org.
Barrett White is a frequent contributor to OutSmart magazine.