Lea Michele Sarfati (/ˈliːə mᵻˈʃɛl sɑːrˈfɑːti/; born August 29, 1986) is an American actress, singer, and author. She is known for her role as Rachel Berry on the Fox comedy-drama series Glee (2009–2015). Michele's performance received critical praise, earning her a Satellite Award, a Screen Actors Guild Award, and three consecutive People's Choice Awards. Since 2015, she has portrayed Hester Ulrich on Fox's horror-comedy series Scream Queens.
Michele began working professionally as a child actress on Broadway in productions such as Les Misérables, Ragtime, and Fiddler on the Roof. In 2006, she originated the role of Wendla Bergmann in the Broadway rock musical Spring Awakening. Michele made her film debut in 2011, starring in the romantic comedy New Year's Eve. In 2014, she voiced Dorothy Gale in the animated film Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return.
In 2012, Michele signed to Columbia Records, beginning her music career. Her first single, "Cannonball", was released on December 10, 2013. Her debut album, Louder, was released on March 4, 2014, debuting at number 4 on the Billboard 200. Her second album, Places, is set for release in 2017.
Michele released her first book, Brunette Ambition, on May 20, 2014, which debuted on The New York Times Best Seller list. Her follow-up book, You First: Journal Your Way To Your Best Life, was released on September 22, 2015.
Early life and education
Lea Michele Sarfati was born in the Bronx, New York, the only child of Edith Thomasina (née Porcelli), a retired nurse, and Mark David Sarfati, a real estate agent and former delicatessen owner. Her mother is Italian American and Catholic, while her father is a Sephardic Jew with ancestors from Thessaloniki, Greece. Michele was raised Catholic, and has stated that her father "gladly" attended church with her and her mother. Michele spent the first four years of her life living in the Bronx, until she and her parents moved to the more suburban area of Tenafly, New Jersey. The family also rented an apartment in Manhattan, where they would live when Michele was performing on Broadway. Michele was educated at Rockland Country Day School for elementary school in Congers, New York.
Michele adopted her stage name at an early age. When she went on her first audition, for the role of Young Cosette in Les Misérables, she gave her name as Lea Michele, and has used it professionally ever since. Michele stated that she intentionally left off her surname because she was teased about its pronunciation. During the audition, she sang "Angel of Music" from The Phantom of the Opera – the only musical she knew at the time. Michele went along to support a friend, but ended up landing the part herself. In 1997, Michele was homeschooled while living and working in Toronto, where she performed in a production of Ragtime. For her high school education, Michele attended Tenafly High School. During her time there, she was on the volleyball team, the debate team, and participated in choir. In her teens, when she wasn't working on the stage, Michele had a part-time job at a bat mitzvah dress shop. Prior to this, she worked at her father's deli.
Michele refrained from auditioning for Broadway roles during her freshman, sophomore and junior years so she could focus on her education. In the summers from 2000 to 2002, Michele attended Stagedoor Manor in the Catskills, a center for performing arts training. At Stagedoor, she was part of the touring troupe Our Time Cabaret, and performed in productions of Side by Side by Sondheim and The Who's Tommy. In her final summer at the camp, Michele was to perform in a production of Sweet Charity, but instead booked the role of Wendla Bergmann in a workshop of Spring Awakening, forcing her to drop out. She was later accepted to New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, but opted instead to continue working professionally on the stage. When Michele was 19 years old, her mother Edith was diagnosed with uterine cancer. Edith received treatment from the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.
1995–2008: Beginnings and stage roles
Michele made her Broadway debut in 1995, at the age of eight, as a replacement in the role of Young Cosette in Les Misérables. Michele was also the understudy for the role of Gavroche. This was followed by the role of the Little Girl in the 1998 original Broadway cast of Ragtime. Michele had been portraying the part of the Little Girl for a year in the original Toronto cast, before the production was transferred to Broadway. As a child, she voiced a main character, Christina, in the animated film Buster & Chauncey's Silent Night, released on October 13, 1998. In 2004, Michele began portraying Shprintze in the Broadway revival of the musical Fiddler on the Roof, and understudied the role of Chava. She also performed on the cast recording of the show.
Michele next played the role of Wendla Bergmann in Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik's musical version of Spring Awakening, starring in early workshops and Off-Broadway performances, before finally originating the role in the 2006 Broadway production at the age of twenty. In February 2005, she performed as Wendla at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. Around the same time that Spring Awakening was set to go to Broadway, Michele was offered the role of Éponine Thénardier in the Broadway revival of Les Misérables. She elected to remain with Spring Awakening, which premiered on Broadway in December 2006. For her performance, she was nominated for the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actress in a Musical. In January 2008, Michele starred in a concert production of the musical Alive in the World as Phoebe, aiding the Twin Towers Orphan Fund.
In April 2008, she performed a Flops n' Cutz concert at Joe's Pub with her boyfriend at the time, stage actor Landon Beard. In May 2008, Michele left the Broadway cast of Spring Awakening with her co-star Jonathan Groff. She then performed as Claudia Octavia in a reading of Sheik and Sater's new musical, Nero, in July 2008 at Vassar College. In August 2008, she portrayed Éponine in the Hollywood Bowl's Les Misérables concert, which was directed by Richard Jay-Alexander. She starred alongside Brian Stokes Mitchell as Javert and John Lloyd Young as Marius Pontmercy, both of whom would go on to guest star on Glee. While in Los Angeles for the Les Misérables concerts, she sang at the Upright Cabaret at Mark's Restaurant in Hollywood in August 2008. The next month, she performed at the benefit Broadway Chance Style: Up Close & Personal along with stars such as Laura Bell Bundy, Eden Espinosa and Kristoffer Cusick.
2009–2012: Glee and mainstream success
From 2009 until its ending in 2015, Michele starred on the Fox musical comedy-drama series Glee as Rachel Berry, the show's female lead and star singer. The role was written specifically for Michele by co-creator Ryan Murphy. Maureen Ryan of the Chicago Tribune wrote that Michele "not only has an amazing voice but manages to make her character, spoiled diva Rachel Berry, more than a humorless stereotype." Denise Martin of the Los Angeles Times commented, "If there's any justice in the world, Lea Michele will win a Golden Globe and an Emmy for playing Rachel."
Michele has won a number of awards for her portrayal of Rachel. At the 2009 Satellite Awards, she won Best Performance by an Actress in a Musical or Comedy Television Series. That same year, she was nominated for the Teen Choice Award for Choice TV Breakout Star, the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Television Series Musical or Comedy, and the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series. In 2010, she received another Teen Choice Award nomination for Choice TV Actress: Comedy, and won the NewNowNext Award for Brink of Fame: Actor. Michele was included on Time's 2010 list of the 100 Most Influential People In the World. In December 2010, Michele received Billboard's first-ever Triple Threat Award. Several songs performed by Michele as Rachel have been released as singles, available for digital download. Her cover of The All-American Rejects' "Gives You Hell" reached the top 40 on the Billboard Hot 100. Michele is featured as lead singer in 14 of the top 20 selling Glee cast songs as of 2010. Michele was nominated for two Grammy Awards in 2011: Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals ("Don't Stop Believin'") and Best Compilation Soundtrack Album for a Motion Picture, Television, or Other Visual Media (Glee: The Music, Volume 1). She was nominated again for Best Actress – Television Series Musical or Comedy at the 2011 Golden Globe Awards, and in 2012, won the People's Choice Award for Favorite TV Comedy Actress.
In May 2010, Michele and the cast of Glee embarked on a music tour of the United States, playing 10 shows in Phoenix, Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York City. The final show of 2010 was at Radio City Music Hall. Jonathan Groff, who played Michele's love interest Jesse St. James on the show, performed with her at the Los Angeles and New York City shows. Glee Live! In Concert! then expanded a year later to include 22 shows across North America and 9 shows in England and Ireland. The cast acted in character for the concerts, which were met with positive reviews.
In October 2010, Michele and co-star Matthew Morrison performed as Janet Weiss and Brad Majors, respectively, in the 35th anniversary benefit concert of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The event benefited The Painted Turtle and also starred Jack Nicholson and Danny DeVito. In February 2011, Michele performed at The Grammys' MusiCares Person of the Year event in Los Angeles, honoring Barbra Streisand. She sang "My Man" from the Streisand film Funny Girl. Before the Super Bowl XLV on February 6, 2011, Michele performed "America the Beautiful" with the United States Air Force Tops In Blue. She then starred in Garry Marshall's romantic comedy film New Year's Eve, portraying Elise, a back-up singer and the love interest of Ashton Kutcher's character. The film was released worldwide on December 9, 2011.
2013–2016: Louder and Scream Queens
On September 18, 2012, it was announced that Michele would be working on her first solo album. She began recordings for the album soon after on October 19, 2012. Michele stated that it was a "pretty slow process" and the album would be more "pop/rock driven" rather than Broadway influenced. On November 27, 2013, it was announced that the first single from her debut album Louder would be "Cannonball", which was released on December 10, 2013. "Cannonball" debuted at number 75 on the Billboard Hot 100, making her the first main Glee cast member to chart as a lead soloist. The single sold over 51,000 copies in its first week of sale. The music video was released on January 9, 2014. Michele subsequently released four promotional singles in the lead-up to the album: "Battlefield", "Louder", "What Is Love?", and "You're Mine". Louder debuted on the Billboard 200 at number four, selling over 62,000 copies in its first week. The second single from the album, "On My Way", was released on May 4, 2014, with the music video premiering on May 19, 2014.
Michele next voiced the role of Dorothy Gale in the animated musical film Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return, which opened in North American theaters on May 9, 2014. In May 2013, it was announced that Michele had signed a deal with Harmony Books and Random House to pen a part memoir, part how-to book titled Brunette Ambition. The book was released on May 20, 2014. Michele had multiple book signings in the United States, including a signing and Q&A event hosted by Jonathan Groff. The book debuted at number nine on the U.S. Nonfiction Best Seller list a week after it was released, and made its debut on The New York Times Best Seller list at number three. Michele released a second book, You First: Journal Your Way to Your Best Life, on September 22, 2015, which was also published by Random House.
In July 2014, it was announced that Michele would guest star in the final season of FX's drama series Sons of Anarchy, playing the role of Gertie, a truck stop waitress who connects with Gemma Teller Morrow (Katey Sagal). Michele's episode, "Smoke 'em If You Got 'em", aired on October 14, 2014. In 2015, Michele began starring in the Fox horror-comedy series Scream Queens, opposite Jamie Lee Curtis and Emma Roberts, portraying the role of Hester Ulrich. She was nominated for the People's Choice Award for Favorite Actress in a New TV Series, and for two Teen Choice Awards (for Choice TV Actress: Comedy and Choice TV: Villain) for her performance in the role. On March 15, 2016, the charity single "This Is for My Girls", on which Michele was one of eight featured singers, was released as a charity single. The song, written by Diane Warren, benefited the White House's #62MillionGirls campaign and the Obama administration's Let Girls Learn initiative, set up by the First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama.
Michele began recording for her second studio album in April 2015. She stated that the album will be less pop-influenced than her debut, and will "[go] back to [her] roots" with a more theatrical sound. In January 2017, Michele played three shows in Los Angeles, New York and Santa Monica to support her upcoming second album. An Intimate Evening with Lea Michele began on January 23, and ended on January 30. On January 26, 2017, when Michele was in the middle of her mini tour, it was announced that her sophomore album would be titled Places. Also in 2017, Michele will appear alongside Robert Buckley and Joel McHale in the first episode of the Hulu anthology series Dimension 404.
Michele supported Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, performing in December 2007 at the Lucille Lortel Theatre for Unsung: 'Tis The Season To Be Naughty. She has also participated in Broadway Barks, Broadway Bares, the Easter Bonnet Competition, and the Flea Market and Grand Auction. Michele has been active in campaigning for animal rights; in 2008, she appeared in the PETA advertising campaign "Buck Cruelty! Say No to Horse-Drawn Carriage Rides". In 2008, Michele performed in benefit concert production of Alive in the World, to aid the Twin Towers Orphan Fund. In support of gay rights, she performed at the Human Rights Campaign dinner in November 2009. In the same month, Michele and Jonathan Groff performed for True Colors Cabaret, a fundraiser in support of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender equality. In April 2010, Michele appeared in a public service announcement for PETA, speaking out against fur clothing. In September 2010, Michele was honored by PETA for her work with animals.
In October 2010, Michele performed at a benefit concert for The Painted Turtle. The concert celebrated the 35th anniversary of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, with Michele playing the lead role of Janet Weiss. In February 2011, she performed for the Grammy Award's MusiCares benefit in Los Angeles. In April 2012, Michele performed for the Jonsson Cancer Center Foundation's 17th annual signature fundraiser, Taste for a Cure, at UCLA with her Glee co-star Darren Criss. In October 2012, she and Criss performed together at the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Los Angeles 2012 Stars Gala. In July 2012, Michele hosted the launch of the Valspar Hands for Habitat charity auction, donating a signed hand print to be auctioned off. Money raised from the auction benefited Habitat for Humanity's disaster response programs. Michele has been an ambassador for L'Oréal's Women of Worth program since December 2012, celebrating women who have positively impacted their communities. In June 2013, she co-hosted the launch of Feed America for Target stores. Proceeds from the lifestyle collection benefited Feeding America.
In August 2013, Michele once again donated a hand print to the Valspar Hands for Habitat charity auction. She was then the host of the fundraiser "Lea Michele's Night of Shopping and Cocktails" on December 14, 2013, presented by SodaStream, which benefited Chrysalis, a non-profit organization helping homeless people find work. In April 2014, Michele and Darren Criss once again performed together at the 19th annual Taste for a Cure event for the Jonsson Cancer Center Foundation. In October 2014, she teamed up with Evian to encourage women to perform their own breast exams in an attempt to raise awareness of early cancer detection. In February 2016, it was announced that Michele would collaborate with Burt's Bees in a campaign to act on the declining population of bees.
In June 2016, the Human Rights Campaign released a video in tribute to the victims of the 2016 Orlando gay nightclub shooting, in which Michele and other celebrities told the stories of the people killed there.
One of the most significant influential figures in Michele's life is Barbra Streisand whom she cites as her "role model". Her mother Edith would play her films when she was a child. Michele dedicated a chapter in her book Brunette Ambition to Streisand, noting that it is important for people to have someone to look up to. Michele wrote, "I really love her, she's always been such a role model to me. She's someone who has built her career on focusing on what makes her unique and what makes her special." An actress who influenced Michele was Natalie Wood. Michele said that she would watch West Side Story as a child and want to play the role of Maria.
Actress and singer Audra McDonald has also been an influence on Michele. She told The Fresno Bee, "Audra is probably the best singer in the world – up there with Barbra. I don't think she has any idea what an influence she had on me. I would say 80% of my singing knowledge came from Audra... How to warm up. How to breathe. How to take care of my voice. All of my beliefs are because Audra instilled them in me." Recording artist Alanis Morissette has been an inspiration throughout Michele's career. Morissette's album Jagged Little Pill was the first album Michele purchased, and in a 2014 interview has said she still owns. She said, "I love Alanis Morissette... All of her songs are lyrically so beautiful and vocally she's so strong." Celine Dion has also influenced her as a singer. In addition, Michele has praised music artist Lorde, stating, "She writes all her own songs and they're like poetry." Of songwriter Sia Furler with whom she co-wrote a song on Louder, she said, "Sia is an incredible singer but also a fierce songwriter. Her songs are so powerful, raw, and truthful."
Michele has the vocal range of a soprano. As of 2013, her voice reportedly spans 2.7 octaves and one semitone. She has been repeatedly praised for her vocal ability, however, she has been critiqued by Christopher Weingarten of Rolling Stone, who stated that Michele's voice is "a little too perfect" for the pop charts. The Boston Globe stated that her voice is a "mighty soprano" and that Michele's vocals are most comfortable when she "straddles the line between Katy Perry and Celine Dion." The Daily Mail called her live vocals during a performance of "Cannonball" on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon a "powerhouse performance". Hahn Ngyen wrote of Michele's voice on the Glee Live! In Concert! tour, "One can truly hear the quality of the live vocals, which in the case of Lea Michele is the real deal. She sounds even better than on the show... Her "Don't Rain On My Parade" live is an amazing and thrilling treat."
In 2007, along with her Spring Awakening co-stars, Michele was featured in a Gap Inc. marketing campaign. The campaign included magazine advertisement spreads and billboards in Times Square. In 2010, Michele became a spokesmodel for beauty company Dove, performing the song "My Favorite Things" from The Sound of Music in television commercials for the brand. The following year, she appeared in a Super Bowl commercial for Chevrolet, along with most of her Glee co-stars. She performed the song "See the USA in Your Chevrolet" as Rachel Berry. Also in 2011, Michele became a spokesperson for a Nike workout application. In September 2011, she appeared in commercials for the HP TouchPad.
In January 2012, Candie's announced that Michele would be the spokesmodel for their brand, taking over from Vanessa Hudgens who was the face of the brand for the previous year. In September 2012, it was revealed that Michele had signed an estimated $1 million deal to be a spokesperson for L'Oréal Paris. She has appeared in magazine spreads and television commercials promoting their products. In September 2015, Pixelberry Studios announced their collaboration with Michele, launching High School Story with Lea Michele, a celebrity takeover update of their popular app.
Michele resides in a four-bedroom home in Brentwood, Los Angeles, which she purchased for $2.9 million in July 2015. She previously rented an apartment in New York City's West Village after graduating from high school. She was in a relationship with her Glee co-star Cory Monteith from November 2011 until his death in July 2013. The song "If You Say So" from her debut album was written about him.
- Louder (2014)
- Places (2017)
- Glee Live! In Concert! (2010–2011)
- An Intimate Evening with Lea Michele (2017)