Lea Michele

Lea Michele

Michele at San Diego Comic-Con in July 2015
Born Lea Michele Sarfati
(1986-08-29) August 29, 1986[1]
The Bronx, New York, U.S.
Residence Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Education Tenafly High School
  • Actress
  • singer
  • author
Years active 1995–present

Musical career

Instruments Vocals
Years active 1996–present
Labels Columbia
Website leamichele.com

Lea Michele Sarfati (/ˈlə mˈʃɛl sɑːrˈfɑːti/;[note 1] born August 29, 1986)[1] is an American actress, singer, and author. She is known for her role as Rachel Berry on the Fox comedy-drama series Glee (2009–15). Michele's performance received critical praise, earning her a Primetime Emmy Award nomination and two Golden Globe Award nominations, as well as 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,[2] debuting at number 4 on the Billboard 200. 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,[1] the only child of Edith Thomasina (née Porcelli), a retired nurse, and Mark David Sarfati, a real estate agent and former delicatessen owner.[3] Her mother is Italian American and Catholic, while her father is a Sephardic Jew with ancestors from Thessaloniki, Greece.[note 2][4] Michele was raised Catholic, and has stated that her father "gladly" attended church with her and her mother.[5] 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.[3] The family also rented an apartment in Manhattan, where they would live when Michele was performing on Broadway.[6] Michele was educated at Rockland Country Day School for elementary school in Congers, New York.[7]

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.[8] During the audition, she sang "Angel of Music" from The Phantom of the Opera – the only musical she knew at the time.[9] Michele went along to support a friend, but ended up landing the part herself.[10] In 1997, Michele was homeschooled while living and working in Toronto, where she performed in a production of Ragtime.[11] For her high school education, Michele attended Tenafly High School.[12] During her time there, she was on the volleyball team, the debate team, and participated in choir.[13] In her teens, when she wasn't working on the stage, Michele had a part-time job at a bat mitzvah dress shop.[14] Prior to this, she worked at her father's deli.[15]

Michele refrained from auditioning for Broadway roles during her freshman, sophomore and junior years so she could focus on her education.[6] In the summers from 2000 to 2002, Michele attended Stagedoor Manor in the Catskills, a center for performing arts training.[16] 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.[17] 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.[17] She was later accepted to New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, but opted instead to continue working professionally on the stage.[18] When Michele was 19 years old, her mother Edith was diagnosed with uterine cancer.[3] Edith received treatment from the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.[19]


1995–2008: Beginnings and stage roles

Michele at the premiere of Glee, May 11, 2009.

Michele made her Broadway debut in 1995, at the age of 8, as a replacement in the role of Young Cosette in Les Misérables.[20] Michele was also the understudy for the role of Gavroche. This was followed by the role of Tateh's daughter, 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.[21] As a child, she voiced a main character in the animated film Buster & Chauncey's Silent Night, released on October 13, 1998. During her senior year of high school in 2004, Michele played Shprintze in the Broadway revival of the musical Fiddler on the Roof, and understudied the role of Chava.[22] She then performed on the Broadway revival cast recording of the show.[23] She starred as Shprintze at the 2004 Broadway Easter Bonnet benefit with the cast of Fiddler on the Roof.[24]

Michele 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 20. In February 2005, she performed as Wendla at Lincoln Center.[25] Around the same time that Spring Awakening was set to go to Broadway, Michele was offered the role of Éponine in the Broadway revival of Les Misérables.[26] She elected to remain with Spring Awakening, which debuted on Broadway in December 2006. She was nominated for a Drama Desk Award for her performance as Wendla Bergmann in the category of Outstanding Actress in a Musical. In January 2008, she performed at the "Alive in the World" benefit concert as the character Phoebe. The performance was in aid of the Twin Towers Orphan Fund.[27] In 2008, she again took part in the Broadway Easter Bonnet benefit, this time with the cast of Spring Awakening.[28]

In February, April and June 2008, Michele played shows at Feinstein's.[29] In April 2008, she performed a Flops n' Cutz concert at Joe's Pub with her boyfriend at the time, stage actor Landon Beard.[30] On May 18, 2008, Michele left Spring Awakening with her co-star Jonathan Groff, where they were both replaced the next day by Michele's understudy Alexandra Socha and newcomer Kyle Riabko. She then performed in a reading of Sheik and Sater's new musical, Nero, in July 2008 at Vassar College.[31] In August 2008, she portrayed Éponine in the Hollywood Bowl's Les Misérables concert, which was directed by Richard Jay-Alexander.[32] She starred alongside Brian Stokes Mitchell as Javert and John Lloyd Young as Marius, both of whom would go on to guest star on Glee.[33] While in Los Angeles for the Les Misérables concerts, she sang at the Upright Cabaret at Mark's Restaurant in Hollywood in August 2008.[34] 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.[35] In December 2008, she performed again at Joe's Pub for the Spring Awakening Holiday Benefit Concert.[36]

2009–12: Glee and mainstream success

Michele with members of the Glee cast, August 17, 2009.

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.[37] The role of Rachel was written specifically for Michele by co-creator Ryan Murphy.[38] She took the role because of Rachel's characterization, and explained: "Not only is she a singer, but she has so much heart – I think it's what we need on TV. A show that is filled with heart and love that is funny. It sends an amazing message to kids about the arts and being who you are."[39] Chicago Tribune's Maureen Ryan wrote that Michele "not only has an amazing voice but manages to make her character, spoiled diva Rachel Berry, more than a humorless stereotype."[40] Denise Martin of the Los Angeles Times commented in her review of the episode "The Rhodes Not Taken": "If there's any justice in the world, Lea Michele will win a Golden Globe and an Emmy for playing Rachel."[41]

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.[42] That same year, she was nominated for the Teen Choice Award for Choice TV Breakout Star,[43] the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Television Series Musical or Comedy,[44] and the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series.[45] In 2010, she received another Teen Choice Award nomination for Choice TV Actress: Comedy, and won the NewNowNext Awards for Brink of Fame: Actor.[46][43] Michele was included on Time's 2010 list of the 100 Most Influential People In the World.[47] In December 2010, Michele received Billboard's first-ever Triple Threat Award.[48] Several songs performed by Michele as Rachel have been released as singles, available for digital download.[49][50] Her cover of The All-American Rejects' "Gives You Hell" reached the top 40 on the Billboard Hot 100.[51] Michele is featured as lead singer in 14 of the top 20 selling Glee cast songs as of 2010.[52] 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).[53] Michele was nominated again for Best Actress – Television Series Musical or Comedy at the 2011 Golden Globe Awards,[54] and in 2012, she won the People's Choice Award for Favorite TV Comedy Actress.[55]

Michele at the Time 100 gala, May 4, 2010.

In May 2010, Michele and the cast of Glee embarked on a U.S. music tour, playing 10 shows in Phoenix, Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York City.[56] 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.[57] Glee Live! In Concert! then expanded a year later, to include 22 shows across North America and 9 shows in England and Ireland.[58] The cast acted in character for the concerts. The tour was met with mostly positive reviews. MTV's Aimee Curran wrote: "The cast was able to make every song their own while still managing to maintain the original artist's integrity."[59] Hahn Nguyen of Zap2it wrote: "Seeing it live is well worth the money and effort. Not only is there an elevated, infectious energy you don't get from just watching the show at home, but the feeling of togetherness can't be matched."[60]

In October 2010, Michele and co-star Matthew Morrison performed as Janet Weiss and Brad Majors, respectively, in the 35th Anniversary Benefit of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The event benefited The Painted Turtle and also starred Jack Nicholson and Danny DeVito.[61] 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.[62] Before the Super Bowl XLV on February 6, 2011, Michele performed "America the Beautiful" with the United States Air Force Tops In Blue.[63] Michele next starred in Garry Marshall's romantic comedy New Year's Eve, portraying Elise, a back-up singer and the love interest of Ashton Kutcher's character.[64] The film was released worldwide on December 9, 2011.

2013–present: Music career and Scream Queens

Michele at the 38th People's Choice Awards, January 11, 2012.

On September 18, 2012, it was announced that Michele would be working on her first solo album.[65] She began recordings for the album soon after on October 19, 2012.[66] Michele stated that it was a "pretty slow process" and the album would be more "pop/rock driven" rather than Broadway influenced.[67] 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.[68] She performed "Cannonball" live for the first time on The Ellen DeGeneres Show on December 12, 2013.[69] On December 18, 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.[70] The single sold over 51,000 copies in its first week of sale.[71] On December 27, 2013, a second track, "Battlefield", premiered as a promotional single. The song was released to the iTunes Store as an instant download the following day.[72] The music video for "Cannonball" was released onto Michele's VEVO and YouTube channels on January 9, 2014.[73] She then voiced the role of Dorothy Gale in the animated musical film Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return.[74] After many delays, the film opened in North American theaters on May 9, 2014.

Michele and Sia Furler co-wrote and recorded the song "If You Say So" in late July 2013 – the last song to be written for Louder.[75] The song is about Michele's late boyfriend and co-star Monteith, who died after initial recording for the album was completed.[76][77] On January 13, 2014, the album's title song premiered as the second promotional single a day before its iTunes release.[78] The third promotional single, "What Is Love?", also premiered a day before its iTunes release, on January 28, 2014.[79] The fourth and final promotional single from the album was "You're Mine", released on February 11, 2014.[80] Louder debuted on the Billboard 200 at number 4, with the album selling over 62,000 copies its first week.[81] The second single from the album, "On My Way", was released on May 4, 2014.[82] The music video for the song premiered on May 19, 2014.[83] 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.[84] The book was released on May 20, 2014.[85] Michele had multiple book signings in the U.S., including an interview event hosted by Jonathan Groff.[86] The book debuted at number 9 on the U.S. Nonfiction Best Seller list, a week after it was released.[87] The book made its debut on The New York Times Best Seller list, placing at number 3.[88] Just before Brunette Ambition's release, Michele stated that she had signed another deal to publish a follow-up book. Her second book, titled You First: Journal Your Way to Your Best Life, was released on September 22, 2015 by Random House.[89]

Michele at the San Diego Comic-Con for Scream Queens, July 12, 2015.

In April 2014, it was revealed that Michele had signed on to voice the character of Pinki in an animated film titled Bollywood Superstar Monkey.[90] However, the project was delayed by DreamWorks Animation in early 2015. On July 28, 2014, it was announced that Michele would guest star in the sixth episode of the final season of FX drama series Sons of Anarchy, playing the role of Gertie, a truck stop waitress and single mother, who connects with Katey Sagal's character Gemma.[91] The episode, titled "Smoke 'em If You Got 'em", aired on October 14, 2014.[92] In 2015, Michele joined the main cast of the Fox horror-comedy series Scream Queens, opposite Jamie Lee Curtis and Emma Roberts, portraying the role of Hester Ulrich.[93] In 2016, she was nominated for the People's Choice Award for Favorite Actress in a New TV Series,[94] and for two Teen Choice Awards for Choice TV Actress: Comedy and Choice TV: Villain for her performance as Hester.[95][96]

On March 15, 2016, the charity single "This Is for My Girls", on which Michele was one of eight featured singers, was released. 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.[97] In 2017, Michele will appear alongside Robert Buckley and Joel McHale in the first episode of the Hulu anthology series Dimension 404.[98] Michele began recording for her second studio album in April 2015.[99] She has since stated that the album will be less pop-influenced than her debut, and she will "[go] back to [her] roots" with a more theatrical sound.[100] Michele also stated that she intends to support the sophomore album with a live tour.[101]


Michele supported Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, performing in December 2007 at the Lucille Lortel Theatre for Unsung: 'Tis The Season To Be Naughty.[102] She has also participated in Broadway Barks, Broadway Bares, The Easter Bonnet Competition, and The Flea Market and Grand Auction.[103] 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".[104] In 2008, Michele performed at a benefit concert, Alive in the World, to aid the Twin Towers Orphan Fund.[27] In support of gay rights, she performed at the Human Rights Campaign dinner in November 2009.[105][106] In the same month, Michele and Jonathan Groff performed for True Colors Cabaret, a fundraiser in support of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender equality.[107] In April 2010, Michele appeared in a public service announcement for PETA, speaking out against fur clothing.[108] In September 2010, Michele was honored by PETA for her work with animals.[109]

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.[110] In February 2011, she performed for the Grammy Award's MusiCares benefit in Los Angeles.[111] 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.[112] In October 2012, Michele and Criss performed together at the Big Brothers & Big Sisters Of Greater Los Angeles 2012 Stars Gala.[113] 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.[114] Michele has been an ambassador for L'Oréal's Women of Worth program since December 2012, celebrating women who have positively impacted their communities.[115] In June 2013, Michele co-hosted the launch of Feed America for Target stores. Proceeds from the lifestyle collection benefited Feeding America, the United States' leading domestic-hunger relief charity.[116]

In August 2013, Michele once again donated a hand print to Valspar Hands for Habitat charity auction.[117] Michele was the host of Lea Michele's Night of Shopping and Cocktails on December 14, 2013, a fundraiser presented by SodaStream that 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.[118] In October 2014, Michele teamed up with Evian to encourage women to perform their own breast exams in an attempt to raise awareness of early cancer detection.[119] 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.[120]

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.[121]



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.[3] 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."[122] 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.[3]

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."[123] 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.[15] "I love Alanis Morissette... All of her songs are lyrically so beautiful and vocally she's so strong."[124] Celine Dion has also influenced her as a singer.[125] In addition, Michele has praised music artist Lorde, stating: "She writes all her own songs and they're like poetry."[124] 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."[124]


Michele has the vocal range of a soprano.[126] As of 2013, her voice reportedly spans 2.7 octaves and one semitone.[127] 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.[128] 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."[129] The Daily Mail called her live vocals during a performance of "Cannonball" on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon a "powerhouse performance".[130] 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."[60]

Product endorsements

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.[131] 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.[132] 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.[133] Also in 2011, Michele became a spokesperson for a Nike workout application.[134] In September 2011, she appeared in commercials for the HP TouchPad.[135]

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.[136] 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.[137] 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.[138]

Personal life

Michele with Cory Monteith at San Diego Comic-Con, July 25, 2009.

In June 2015, Michele purchased a four-bedroom home in Brentwood for $2.9 million,[139] after selling her two-bedroom Los Angeles cottage which she had bought in April 2012 for $1.4 million.[140] Michele previously resided in an apartment in New York City's West Village since graduating from high school.[9][141]

In November 2009, Michele started a relationship with actor Theo Stockman, from whom she split in September 2011.[142] Michele then began dating her Glee co-star Cory Monteith in November 2011.[143] They remained a couple until Monteith's death in July 2013.[144] The song "If You Say So" from Michele's debut album was written about him.[75] She dated model and lifestyle coach Matthew Paetz from April 2014 to February 2016.[145] In April 2016, Michele began dating her Dimension 404 co-star Robert Buckley,[146] from whom she split in July 2016.[147]

See also


  1. Michele said her own name near the beginning of her appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, which aired on December 7, 2011
  2. Her paternal grandmother Sylvia Sarfati (née Veissy) was born in New York. Sylvia's parents, Benuta (née Kouenkas) and Morris Veissy, were born in Thessaloniki. (As stated in Michele's episode of Who Do You Think You Are?, which aired on May 1, 2016)


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