The other day, I went out for a night on the town wanting to dance. My companion and I were itching to get jiggy with it but we were in a city where we weren’t sure if there were any good dancing places.
After a delicious dinner, he and I, dressed to the nines (okay, maybe 8-and-a-halfs), took a walk through the main street of the city. It was a lively street with people bustling in and out of restaurants, parking to get to the movies on time, and waiting at stop signs for friends. However, none of the establishments looked like it would make for a good dance floor.
Finally, we heard distant Mexican music playing in the corner of one of the blocks.
After two seasons on the hit FOX series Glee, Jenna Ushkowitz is hitting all the right notes.
ISSUE: FALL 2011
DEPT: Cover Feature
Photographer: Diana King
Wardrobe: Lyndzi Trang
Makeup: Allie Lapidus
Hair: Gaelle Secretin
Photo Assistants: Kevin Burnstein, Kevin Kozicki
Styling Assistant: Jacqueline Nguyen
Location: Park Plaza Hotel
Story: Janice Jann
Two years ago, when I first interviewed Jenna Ushkowitz, she was in the middle of shooting the first season of Glee, an innovative new show with a lot of promise, hype and a heart-stopping cover of “Don’t Stop Believin.’”
Jenna was excitable and chatty, like any other 23-year-old with her first big break would be. I had asked her then if she was prepared for her impending fame.
Jenna replied, “We can just take it step by step. Do we feel that [the show’s] special? Yes. But I don’t think any of us are thinking, ‘Oh, we’re going to be so famous.’”
Flash forward to the present. How things have changed. If Jenna didn’t think she was heading towards fame back then, she has to face that she is indeed famous now. Glee has become a cultural phenomenon, nominated for 19 Emmys and four Golden Globes, its songs topping iTunes every week. Chris Colfer has been named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Important People for his portrayal of gay teenager, Kurt Hummel. And Jenna, along with her on-screen boyfriend played by Harry Shum, Jr., are two of the most recognizable Asians on television.
The now 25-year-old Korean American, raised in New York by her adoptive parents, realized this when the cast headed to the Big Apple to film an episode last season.
“We thought we would go shoot and a couple of fans would be there,” Jenna remembers. “It was insane. Hundreds and hundreds of kids showed up. There were barricades everywhere. It was overwhelming, amazing and kind of wakes you up, going, ‘holy crap, this is my life now!’” For Jenna, life over the past two years has taken her from bartending to singing on Broadway’s Spring Awakening to playing goth-girl Tina
Cohen-Chang on one of the most influential shows on primetime television. And yet Jenna maintains she’s still the same. “Your life doesn’t have to change if you don’t want it to,” she says. I sat down with Jenna at Los Angeles’s exclusive members-only Soho House (one indication of how life has changed — Jenna’s a member),
catching her in between shooting the show’s season 2 finale and the Glee summer concert tour. Just like I would with any girlfriend, we chatted about boys, clothes and Glee.
Audrey Magazine: Life seems to be going very smoothly for you right now. Can you take us back to a time when this wasn’t the case?
Jenna Ushkowitz: In 2007/8, before Spring Awakening, I had just graduated from college and was bartending. I was really unhappy and was like, “I need to be getting a job right now singing and dancing and not slinging drinks,” you know? I was with my friend at lunch in New York one day and he asked, “What do you want to do?” I was like, “I want to be on a TV show and I don’t want to have to give up theatre.” And here I am. It’s weird. I will never forget that.
Because I did it. I don’t understand people who can just sit and be comfortable and not do something about it when they’re unhappy with their lives. I was always, “Get whatever you want, when you want it, and if you’re not happy, change it.” Life’s too short, why not be happy every single day? That’s why I was like, “I have to do this.” Even if it takes years just to get a show.
AM: We’ve heard some of your co-stars’ crazy Glee audition stories. (Lea Michele’s car crash minutes before her Glee audition.) What was yours?
JU: The whole cast [of Spring Awakening] basically went in and read for Glee. AlI I had to do was say “w-w-we’re d-d-d-dooomed” with a little bit of a stutter and Tourette’s. I didn’t realize I had to say another stutter line and they were like, “OK, do the other line.” So I was like, “Uh, yeah ….” I walked out of the audition and was like, “I didn’t get that.”
A month later, Ryan Murphy was in town and they asked me to sing and improvise for them. He asked, “Who do you think Tina is?” I did this whole improv in the stutter about how my mom thought glee club was a really good outlet for me and Ryan said, “I liked how you kept her really positive.” I passed and went to test for the network in L.A. I had to take a red eye and I couldn’t sleep, I was anxious. I had never been to L.A. by myself before. Two hours [after auditioning], they said, “you got it!”
I called my friend and she said that’s amazing [because] her boyfriend had just gotten a [beer bottle cap] and it said “Never flee from glee.” I framed [that]. It’s all about syn- chronicity; it was the right place at the right time. [In] two years I had gone from bartending to Spring Awakening to Glee with no breaks in between. I’m going in the right direction right now, I know that.
AM: I thought one of the breakout moments for Tina in the show was when she made the speech about how there were no Asian sex symbols to look up to, so she wants to become one herself. Did you realize that speech is just as relevant to Jenna Ushkowitz as it is to Tina?
JU: Now that I think about it, yeah! Subconsciously, it’s totally true. When you are a minority, especially in this show, people focus in on that and I’m glad I got that storyline. I never really thought about it, but my idols were Lea Salonga and Sandra Oh and they’re Asian, too! It wasn’t, “they’re Asian so I idolize them.” It’s just that they are amazing and broke barriers and are who I aspire to be. We are the few in Hollywood making a name for ourselves so I do think about young girls who aspire to do what I’m doing now.
We’re acting, but we’re also making a difference and I never thought I would be able to do both at the same time. To make sure that arts in education is pushed and the message that different is beautiful and good. Be who you are and never be ashamed of it. We’re showing the world what most schools are like and what kids in schools are like. Not the Gossip Girls, not the 90210’s, with more of the glamorous lives. I love those shows, but kids are more like, “you were me in school, you’re representing me.” So it’s cool we’re lucky enough to do that.
AM: You seem to get along well with the rest of the cast, always saying, “We did this and we did that.”
JU: We’re a family. We came up creating this thing with Ryan and we did it for ourselves, basically. It’s our baby and now we’re sharing it with the world. We really do love each other. We all hang out, we all go to dinners. We have wonderful relationships outside the show.
AM: Has the dynamic changed now?
JU: We’ve only gotten closer. We now know each other really well. We know how we work, we know what clicks. We’ll have tiffs, we’ll argue, but in the most lovely way. Literally, we are each other’s cores. They’re my family and I’ll be sad when they all go away ‘cause I won’t be able to see them every day like I do now. We’re all lifelong friends.
AM: Who are you closest with?
JU: I have different relationships with everybody. Those girls are my sisters. Kevin [McHale] and I are peas in a pod. We get each other. We finish each other’s sentences. We’re all extremely close. It’s weird, I know people say, “You guys are just faking it, you all hate each other” and the tabloids try to do weird stuff, but it’s just this organic thing and I think that’s why it’s so successful. The chemistry worked, you know?
AM: Speaking of chemistry, let’s talk about Tina’s rela- tionship with Mike Chang.
JU: Mike Chang is amazing. We’re the longest standing couple on Glee now. Not everybody lasts on Glee, as you’ve seen. But I love working with Harry and we have a great time together. I would like to see Tina and Artie get into it. Not necessarily get back together, but we never really resolved [the breakup]. I still feel unresolved about it and I don’t know if they’re doing it on purpose. I’d like to do a triangle, [but] I couldn’t pick which one to be with ‘cause I think they’re both great.
AM: What is it like kissing Harry?
JU: [Laughs] A girl never kisses and tells!
AM: What else is off-topic for you?
JU: Relationships. Off-topic. My family, I won’t talk too much about. You can hit on me all you want, but don’t touch my family. I try not to talk about them too much ‘cause that’s my safety zone. When you go home, nothing changes.
You want to share things with the people who know and appreciate you. I’m a pretty open book. But my personal life is my personal life. The tabloids have plugged me with Kevin and if you don’t give them anything, it just becomes boring to them and they kind of leave you alone. That’s why we Twitter, to let people see a little more into our lives rather than reading a tabloid. We prefer that, saying I had a lovely dinner with my friend rather than the tabloids saying, “walking into a bar drunk.” Once you get to the top, people love to bring you down. I don’t think we should give them a chance to do that.
AM: Do you even have time to date?
JU: Not really. In New York it was a lot easier ‘cause I had a lot of friends. Here it’s really hard — I didn’t even have friends. So to meet a guy? It’s just hard. Especially now. You have to be careful when you meet people and be aware of what they want. You never know. I’ve finally met some friends of friends.
AM: What kind of guys do you like?
JU: I said I would never date actors, but that’s a lie. Who else do you meet then? I’m a very honest and open person and I just hope someone will give the same to me. You don’t have to be successful, you just have to know where you’re going.
It’s weird, I thought I would be married by 26 when I was younger. Now it’s like, “Oh my god, no way.” Just a good person. Someone who makes you laugh every single day.
AM: Speaking of people you like, you’ve mentioned how you idolize Sandra Oh.
JU: I watch Grey’s Anatomy for Sandra Oh. She’s my favorite. She can do no wrong in my eyes. I still haven’t met her, but I’m dying to. I’m trying to get her on my show. As crazy aunt Sandra or something. She plays crazy so well.
AM: Are you hoping for a similar career path?
JU: I want to be remembered as an actor who really cared about her craft and her work. I want to do what Sandra has done, which is make herself an actress and not an Asian Amer- ican actress. And doing great work and people seeing past the, “Oh, she’s not blonde and blue-eyed.” I want to be able to break those walls and make it socially wanted — not “acceptable” ‘cause I think it is acceptable — to see an Asian girl on the cover of any popular magazine. That’s where I want to go.
Purchase Jenna Ushkowitz’s Fall issue here.
I have to admit, as much as I love sitcoms and scripted television shows, I cannot really bring myself to spend 3 hours watching an awards show. I’ve done it in the past, don’t get me wrong, but it is definitely not a regular pastime.
However, I do love checking out the red carpet fashions and this year’s ladies seemed extra-impeccably-dressed. Could good taste finally be coming back in for Hollywood? Let’s take a look at some of the fashionable Asians strutting their stuff.
True Blood’s Janina Gavankar added extra flair with a pink fluffed mini and Stephen Webster jewels at the HBO Official Emmy After Party. Continue Reading »
Can’t get enough of Jenna Ushkowitz‘s Fall cover shoot?
Feast your eyes on some more select Jenna outtakes!
How Gleelightful (I will never get sick of puns) does Jenna Ushkowitz look on the new cover of Audrey Magazine? Find inside, some exclusive pics and choice quotes!
“My stylist, Amanda, is the best, but I have no idea what looks good. Even just walking down the street, our cast is very good at that. They clean up real well and I’m like, in sweats and Nikes. I love it, but I think I should start looking nicer.” — Jenna Ushkowitz
We think Jenna looks pretty darned nice already and have compiled a few of our favorite looks from the starlet – including EXCLUSIVE quotes from our Fall ’11 Interview!
The cat’s out of the bag– our Fall cover girl is none other than the gleeful Jenna Ushkowitz!
(Shown here getting all dolled up for the shoot.)
You see her break out in song-and-dance routines as Tina Cohen-Chang on Glee, and now you get the chance to see Jenna Ushkowitz strike a pose for the cover of Audrey’s Fall 2011 issue coming out in September. The Park Plaza Hotel was the perfect setting for the Hollywood glamour photo shoot with the 25-year-old Korean-American.
Check out the behind-the-scenes coverage and interview we got, with the help of Asian American entertainment network MYX TV. You’ll get the inside scoop on Ushkowitz’s make-out sessions with co-star Harry Shum, Jr. and her favorite Glee episodes.
We can’t wait to share the rest of our shots–and the magazine– with you! Audrey Magazine Fall 2011 issue hits stands early September. Purchase your copy here.
So what’d you think of the Oscars? Did your favorite films win? Your supporting actress picks? (Hailee’s still got the next 50 years to win!) What’d you think of the hosts? Who wore the best dress? (Uh, Givenchy Haute Couture, anyone?)
The Oscars may be over, but the hype is not. Just to extend that post-Oscars afterglow a wee bit longer, here are some photos of your fave AA celebs from some of the pre-Oscar and post-Oscar events.
Vanessa Hudgens attended the 19th Annual Elton John AIDS Foundation Academy Awards Viewing Party on February 27, 2011. She looked ravishing in Marchesa and a Katerina Maxine bracelet. What do you think of the silver eyeshadow? A do? A do not? (I’m personally digging the shorter ‘do.)
Fox’s new high school musical dramedy has had the blogosphere buzzing all summer in anticipation. Glee star Jenna Ushkowitz prepares to join the in-crowd.
ISSUE: Fall 2009
DEPT: Girl Talk
STORY: Janice Jann
A dash of High School Musical, a pinch of Election, a slice of saucy adolescent drama topped with pop medleys both nostalgic and trendy, and you almost have the irresistible concoction of Fox’s most anticipated series of the fall, Glee. I say “almost” because Nip Tuck creator Ryan Murphy’s new musical dramedy creation is unlike anything else seen on television recently.
Glee centers around an ambitious young teacher, Will Schuester (played by Matthew Morrison), hoping to lead the high school glee club’s ragtag team of misfits to the national show choir competition. Facing the oppressive caste system that is high school hierarchy, with its stereotypes, teen angst and over-the-top drama, Will realizes that it’s going to be a rough ride to nationals.
What Will does have going for him, though, is a hodgepodge of diamond-in-the-rough outcasts who can carry one heck of a tune. And while the show doesn’t officially start until September 9, the glee club has already set off a fan frenzy with their rendition of Journey’s 1981 hit “Don’t Stop Believin’,” featured in the pilot, which aired in a sneak peek preview last May. The cover immediately shot to the number one downloaded song on iTunes and the Youtube versions have had more than half a million hits each. The show already has garnered three Teen Choice nominations and critical praise all around.
One glee club member is Jenna Ushkowitz. She plays Tina Cohen-Chang, a shy punk-goth chick who can belt out a rendition of I Kissed a Girl that would fluster Katy Perry herself. The Seoul, Korea-born Ushkowitz, adopted from Korea at the age of 3 months by a Polish-Italian father and Irish-English mother, is no stranger to the stage. Ushkowitz’s parents started taking their daughter to auditions and casting calls when she was 3.
“When I started, people would always tell my parents, ‘Jenna is a funny little girl,’” says Ushkowitz. “I would just go up to people in restaurants and say hi. I was very outgoing.”
Ushkowitz is similarly bright and chipper during our early morning phone interview. And why shouldn’t she be? With a primetime spot after juggernaut American Idol, all indicators point to Glee becoming one successful incoming freshman.
“It has been the most amazing experience and the most exhausting,” says Ushkowitz. “I don’t think anybody has ever done anything like this before, so a lot of hard work and experimenting and creating as we go along, but it’s been so rewarding.”
No stranger to hard work, Ushkowitz’s résumé is peppered with appearances on Sesame Street and As the World Turns, as well as roles in Broadway’s The King and I and Spring Awakening. Despite having appeared in The King and I at the age of 9, Ushkowitz didn’t discover her love for song and dance until high school. “I went to a Catholic performing arts school, so along with taking regular and religion classes, there was also theatre, dancing and choir,” she says. “I loved high school.”
Stop the record. That’s something you would never hear Ushkowitz’s alter ego, Tina, utter.
“Tina’s a little quieter, a little less involved,” Ushkowitz admits. “I did everything I could possibly do. I was in student council and high school musical. But I was also a total theatre geek. People would make fun of us.”
While Ushkowitz says it’s refreshing to play a character so unlike herself in real life, staying in character may not be the hardest part about her new job. “In theatre, you have six weeks and then you do your show,” she says. “In TV it’s different every time. They’re two different beasts, but I would say TV is a lot harder, a lot more time consuming because you’re rehearsing for a new show every week as well as shooting a TV show. So you’re rehearsing all the time.”
With never-ending rehearsals, rigorous shooting schedules, not to mention all the promotional appearances, Ushkowitz has hardly had any time to think about the skyrocketing stardom looming in the horizon. When asked about her impending fame, Ushkowitz laughs. “That’s a good way to put it,” she says. “Everyone says to us, ‘It’s going to be a hit, it’s going to be a hit,’ and all you can do is work hard and just cross your fingers. I don’t think any of us is thinking, ‘Oh, we’re going to be famous.’”
For now, Ushkowitz is content with being a “gleek,” the term Fox is using to promote the show. She toured the country with her castmates this summer as a part of “The Gleek Tour,” stopping by malls from New York to Denver to Los Angeles. “I would definitely consider myself a gleek,” says Ushkowitz. And it looks like, come fall, so will everyone else.
Glee airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT, starting September 9.