Lea Michele Sarfati (/ /;[note 1] born August 29, 1986) is an American actress, singer, songwriter and author. She began her career as a child actress on Broadway, appearing in productions of Les Misérables, Ragtime, Fiddler on the Roof, and Spring Awakening. Michele is known for playing Rachel Berry on the Fox series Glee (2009–2015), for which she received a Satellite Award, a Screen Actors Guild Award, and three consecutive People's Choice Awards. She subsequently starred as Hester Ulrich on the Fox series Scream Queens (2015–2016). Michele is set to star as Valentina Barella on the upcoming ABC sitcom The Mayor.
Michele at the 38th People's Choice Awards in January 2012
|Born||Lea Michele Sarfati
August 29, 1986 
The Bronx, New York, U.S.
|Residence||Los Angeles, California, U.S.|
|Education||Tenafly High School|
Michele made her feature film debut in New Year's Eve (2011), and was signed to Columbia Records in 2012. She released her debut single the following year, "Cannonball", followed by her debut studio album, Louder (2014), which debuted at number 4 on the Billboard 200 chart in the United States. Three years later, she released her second studio album, Places (2017), which debuted at number 28 on the Billboard 200. Michele has also published two books, Brunette Ambition (2014) and You First: Journal Your Way To Your Best Life (2015).
Early life and educationEdit
Lea Michele Sarfati was born in the Bronx, New York. She is 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 an Italian American Catholic with ancestors from Rome and Naples, while her father is a Sephardic Jew with ancestors from Thessaloniki, Greece.[note 2] Michele was raised Catholic, and has stated that her father "gladly" attended church with her and her mother. She 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 started using her middle 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 was not working on the stage, Michele had a part-time job at a bat mitzvah dress shop. She also 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 rolesEdit
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 successEdit
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 QueensEdit
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 was released on February 28, 2014, and 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 lead 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. From 2015 to 2016, Michele starred in the Fox horror-comedy series Scream Queens, alongside original scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis, portraying the quirky, neck brace-wearing Hester Ulrich. She was nominated for a People's Choice Award (Favorite Actress in a New TV Series) and two Teen Choice Awards (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 on a mini tour titled An Intimate Evening with Lea Michele, to support her second studio album, Places. The tour continued with additional shows in the UK and North America in April and May 2017. The lead single from the sophomore album, "Love Is Alive", was released on March 3, 2017. Three promotional singles were subsequently released in the lead-up to the album: "Anything's Possible", "Run to You", and "Getaway Car". Places was released on April 28, 2017, and debuted at number 28 on the Billboard 200 chart with over 16,000 units sold in its first week.
Michele appeared as Amanda, alongside Robert Buckley and Joel McHale, in the first episode of Hulu's science fiction anthology series Dimension 404. The episode, titled "Matchmaker", aired on April 4, 2017. She has been cast as Valentina Barella in ABC's upcoming sitcom The Mayor, created by Jeremy Bronson and executive produced by Daveed Diggs. She will star opposite Brandon Micheal Hall and Yvette Nicole Brown.
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. Michele continues to support the Los Angeles-based non-profit Step Up and attends their annual Step Up Inspiration Awards event. In April 2017, Barnes and Noble donated a portion of every purchase of Places to Step Up.
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 and a belter. As of 2013, her voice reportedly spans 2.7 octaves and one semitone. Michele's vocals have been repeatedly praised, however, Christopher Weingarten of Rolling Stone critiqued that Michele's voice is "a little too perfect" for pop music 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 Nguyen 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." Billboard called her live performance of "Love Is Alive" on The Late Late Show with James Corden an "emotional performance [that] showcased Michele's strong vocal ability."
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 songs "If You Say So", from her debut album, and "Hey You", from her second album, were written for him.
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- Her paternal grandmother, Sylvia "Celia" (née Veissy), was born in New York. Sylvia's parents, Benouta "Bessie" (née Cohenka) and Morris Joseph Veissy, were born in Thessaloniki, Greece. (Who Do You Think You Are?, May 1, 2016)
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