It’s a sweltering late afternoon in June and Alex Newell is struggling to placed on his footwear. “Dear feet. You will not be swollen today,” Newell, 24, says as he squeezes his toes right into a pair of lacey black Christian Louboutins in his trailer on New York City’s Upper West Side. “I’m an 11 in women’s. It’s not bad. Would I rather be an 8? Absolutely.”
After about 30 seconds of grunting and tugging, Newell is in. “Yes!” he yelps, as he slips in his heel. He trots to the mirror to admire his full look: red-bottomed Louboutins, an identical black lace choker, and an all-white go well with. (He’ll add a silver and black wig later.) “This is a moment,” he says.
Newell has an affinity for footwear. It’s possible why he tried on 3 pairs earlier than selecting the Louboutins as he glams for the 2017 Logo Trailblazer Honors pink carpet later that night time. It’s possible why he’s prepared to resist the ache (and bleeding) of the glittery silver pair of Aldo heels his stylist picked out for his opening efficiency—a violin-powered rendition of “True Colors,” alongside singers Hayley Kiyoko and Wrabel, in honor of Cyndi Lauper.
It’s additionally possible why he snuck into his mom’s closet at 10 years outdated (across the time he started having inklings of his sexuality) to strive on her excessive heels, or why he auditioned for the position of Lola, a thigh-high boots-obsessed drag queen, on Broadway’s “Kinky Boots” 4 occasions. “I think the higher the heel, the closer to god,” Newell says.
There maybe is nowhere nearer to god than the place Newell is correct now on the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, a Gothic higher Manhattan church, the place Logo will movie its present. Soon, the cathedral, a non secular worship house-turned-pink-tinted gala, will probably be stuffed with a whole lot of LGBTQ leaders—an irony Newell, a Catholic college alum, absolutely understands. “I love it. All the homos in one little church. It’s such an oxymoron,” Newell says.
Born and raised in a city simply north of Boston, Newell spent most of his childhood at Catholic college, the place he was one among lower than 5 black college students. “I had my best Caucasian upbringing,” he says.
The solely place he noticed others that regarded like him was at church, the place Newell attended each Sunday since he was a toddler to sing within the choir. It was additionally the place he would later develop conflicted emotions over the bible’s teachings.
Newell’s mom found his expertise at age 2 after he wandered onto the stage at a state truthful when his mom briefly rotated to fetch him a juice. “She started panicking, looking for me, and then she just heard my voice,” Newell says.
He later caught the performing bug at 11, when he noticed a neighborhood theatre manufacturing of “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” an all-black Musical set within the Harlem Renaissance. “I would see Broadway shows that were on PBS and I would be in love with them, but I never saw anyone that looked like me,” he says.
It was a working theme: Newell was one among 3 black college students in his highschool—and with a high-pitched voice and pure sashay, he simply caught out. Still, it wasn’t all powerful. While his friends sorted by means of their very own sexuality, Newell barely gave his a 2d thought. “Walking around the house in my mother’s heels, I was like, ‘I think that’s it, guys!’” he says,
At 17, on a whim, Newell got here out to his mom by impulsively telling her proper earlier than mattress. “I screamed it at my mother and she said, ‘Go to bed. I just took a Xanax,’” he says. “The next morning she was like, ‘I’m fine. Are you fine?’ And I was like, ‘I’m great! I love you.’”
But not everybody was so accepting. As phrase unfold in his church, Newell caught the eye of his pastor, who pulled his mom apart to tell her that Newell’s sexuality was sinful. “He said the lifestyle that I chose goes against the bible,” Newell says. “Everyone who is a diehard Christian, they always use the bible against things they don’t like. But I’m pretty sure the bible says, ‘God is love.’ So if you can’t love someone else, aren’t you going against the bible?”
In his junior yr, Newell utilized for an everyday position on “Glee” by way of a Myspace audition. Months later, he was chosen to compete on a little-known present referred to as “The Glee Project”—not fairly the identical, but when chosen, Newell would win a recurring position on “Glee.” Newell rapidly agreed, taking a go away absence from highschool and flying to Los Angeles that very same week.
He ultimately made it to the highest 4, dropping out on the primary position however nonetheless incomes a two-episode comfort prize—a task that will later grow to be a collection common and catapult him to nationwide stardom.
In April 2012, a few yr after “The Glee Project” ended, Newell made his “Glee” debut as Wade Adams, a shy off-stage, Sasha Fierce on-stage transgender pupil who would later go by “Unique.” By September 2013, Newell was promoted to collection common and earned widespread approval for portraying one of many first transgender highschool college students on tv. “I was just in Denver last week at a nightclub and this trans male came up to me and he said that he wears his [surgical] scars proudly because of me,” Newell says. “It took everything in my body not to sob.”
Despite the reward, Newell continues to be part of ongoing controversy relating to cisgender actors taking part in transgender characters. (In a viral Twitter thread, transgender actress Jen Richards defined that cisgender actors, particularly males, taking part in transgender characters is harmful as a result of it conveys to audiences that “being a trans women is just a man performing.”) It is an issue Newell understands but additionally sees limitations to. “Everything’s a double-edged sword. I’m an actor, so at the end of the day, it’s whoever is best for the role. But I’m also a human,” he says. “I will say, since my character never fully transitioned, it kind of worked in a way. I myself may not be trans, but I am heavy on the gender-noncomforming.”
As “Glee” entered its remaining seasons, Newell was already wanting forward. While signing his final collection common deal, Newell was approached by Atlantic Records to launch his personal music. He jumped on the alternative, debuting his first prolonged play, “POWER”—a Whitney Houston-esque catalogue—in 2016. Though it didn’t launch him into Beyonce’s stratosphere, Newell isn’t discouraged, with a brand new single out in August and one other EP and album within the pipeline.
That stage of assured optimism is probably going what captured the eye of Adam Lambert in 2016 to carry Newell on his tour, or caught the attention of NBC that very same yr to greenlight “Imaginary Friend,” a comedy starring Newell within the lead position.
It’s additionally possible what acquired Newell within the audition room for “Kinky Boots.” In 2015, as “Kinky Boots”—a musical written and scored by Lauper about shoe entrepreneur and drag queen who accomplice to run a excessive heel firm—was trying to change its lead, Newell was referred to as in for the position. He gave the impression to be hitting all of the marks, till the director turned him down for his determine.
“They said my weight would inhibit me from playing the role, which is not true, but to each their own,” he says. “I was like, ‘This is a show where they’re encouraging you to be who you want to be. Don’t let them tell you who you should be.’ They literally looked me in the face and told me I was too big to play a role. There’s no limitation. My weight does not prescribe what I cannot do.”
The discrimination additionally adopted Newell by means of his private life the place he would regularly encounter relationship profiles preaching, “No fats. No femmes. No blacks.”
“We’re in a community where we want so much to be accepted yet we don’t accept each other,” Newell says. “We all suck the same dick, so why is it that you take it upon yourself to create some sort of alpha gay? The gay that is the ‘right’ kind of gay.”
Before he met his boyfriend, Newell admits he was by no means referred to as “beautiful,” a time period he’s nonetheless getting used to. “I was nothing like any of his 6’1”, white, blonde, blue-eyed, go-to-the-gym-nine-times-a-day boyfriends. I used to be like, ‘You do know that I’m 5’7”, I’ve thick thighs, and my hair is black, proper?” Newell says. “I had the insecurities about it all the time. It was really hard to get out of that. But here I am. I’ve risen above it. He always said I was beautiful, regardless. It’s a hard thing to hear because no one else has said it.”
It’s about 2 hours earlier than he takes the stage on the Logo Trailblazer Honors and Newell is whipping by means of a darkish brick-lined alleyway at the back of the cathedral on his technique to a last-minute costume rehearsal.
The practice of his white floor-length gown grazes the bottom because the stomping of his glittery stilettos echo in opposition to the cathedral partitions. Audible YAAAS’s might be heard from stagehands who scoot apart as Newell, additionally wearing satin silver jumpsuit, floats towards the stage.
During the rehearsal efficiency, Newell’s stylist, a girl with lengthy blonde braids clutching a pair of brown leather-based flip flops, watches him from a desk along side the stage. On his solo, Newell struts down, his stiletto-shackled toes following 1 after the opposite, as he belts “True Colors” to a heart-clutching viewers.
At the tip, Newell’s face drops. He turns to his stylist, provides her a loss of life glare, and shakes his head.
She rapidly rushes to him to swap his heels for flip flops. Even probably the most mold-breaking nonetheless have to interrupt of their footwear.