Every generation has an unlikely hero, someone on the cusp of a cultural shift. Not by choice perhaps, but by vocation.
Alex Newell first dipped his toes into the waters of stardom while he was still at Bishop Fenwick High School in Massachusetts and cajoled by his cousin to send in an audition video to the Glee Project. 7 episodes later Newell snatched a drool-worthy, but controversial part in the television series.
Newell, 20, was cast as Wade "Unique" Adams, a male-to-female transgender teenager who flexes his feminine side through music; his original audition of "And I'm Telling You" which channeled Effie White from Dreamgirls, cemented his powerhouse prowess as a dual-gender performer.
"My cousin kept sending me the link to audition, telling me to go and do it!" says Newell. "After the fourth or fifth time, I decided I might as well try. So at the very-last minute, I recorded my audition in my high school auditorium, solo on stage, and did my best to fill the room with my voice. And it was history ever since then."
Newell has taken the heat of the spotlight with poise and a rare self-assurance. "It's been a slow progression," he says. "I try not to get complacent with everything because then, no one likes you. Of course, I don't see my family and friends as much but it's been growing on the horizon."
Adversity isn't something Newell is shying away from either, in fact it seems he's welcoming the chance to celebrate the complications of identity. He seemed delighted when notorious conservative Bill O'Reilly weighed in on his role as Wade, questioning whether "alternative lifestyles" should be championed to children. Not because he was causing waves, but because it pushes the boundaries of awareness and acceptance.
But Newell also boasts a healthy amount of pragmatism; time will tell if Wade "Unique" Adams actually has an impact on the future. "The role could down in history as being iconic...or just phase out."
Having been raised in the church amid gospel music, Newell could have had a rough go reconciling his past with his future. Has is it been difficult? "Yes and no," he says. "There are people that don't accept me, but I don't let that get to me. No one is going to tell me how to live my life. And I've always had people tell me that...and I believed it and held it true. It's my life -- they're not living it for me."
The latest notch in Newell's belt is being chosen as one of six celebrity Grand Marshall's for the Pride Parade. He'll be performing on Sunday around 4 p.m. on the Main Stage. His songs are still hush-hush however. Or he's overwhelmed by choices; when you can belt out everything from Beyonce to Patti LaBelle ... it's hard to pick your poison.
"I don't know what I'm performing just yet! But I have that power to keep going and pick my own songs without someone telling me what I'm going to sing."
Although Newell revels in being chosen to represent the LGBT community, being called a role model for youth is a double-edged sword for Newell. "It's one thing to be a role model," he says. "But it's another thing to say you're a role model. I would hope that one day I could be a role model...or if I am a role model for someone, I hope they look at me, and take it with a grain of salt. Everything I do is amplified by 10,000. But everything I do is full of heart. I know that all my role models -- they're under the limelight, but they're just people, they're just humans."