CORRECTION: This article gave the wrong date for Alex Newell's Pride in the Plaza performance. Newell will perform Sunday, July 14, in Mission Plaza in downtown San Luis Obispo.
These days, Alex Newell is feeling pretty “Glee”-full.
In just two years, he’s gone from ordinary high school student to celebrated standout on Fox’s Golden Globe Award-winning television show.
“When ‘Glee’ came on the spot, I always said I wanted to be on the show, and I’d do everything in my power to be on the show,” said Newell, who was attracted by “Glee’s” diverse cast and positive message. “I always thought I had a story to tell.”
Newell is the headliner Sunday at Pride in the Plaza in downtown San Luis Obispo, part of Central Coast Pride.
Presented by the Gay and Lesbian Alliance of the Central Coast, this year’s festival includes “Drag Divas Live” on Friday at SLO Brewing Co. and the Freewheelers and Great Autos of Yesteryear Car Show on Saturday at Embassy Suites Hotel in San Luis Obispo.
Newell, whose previous pride appearances include Salt Lake City, San Francisco and Asbury Park, N.J., is excited to add another festival to his resume.
“How many people can say that they travel the country doing pride festivals — especially at 20 years old?” he asked.
Growing up north of Boston in Lynn, Mass., Newell discovered his love of music in church.
“I remember my mom always telling me that, when I was younger, I really wanted to be a superstar,” said Newell, who was 6 when his father died of cancer. “She reminds me of that every day.”
For his part, Newell dreamed of stardom on the stage.
“I’ve been training and working my whole, entire career and life to be on Broadway,” he said. “It was Broadway, or a gospel singer — whatever came first.”
Then came “Glee,” about a group of high school misfits who find friendship and acceptance via show choir.
Newell credits his cousin with convincing him to audition for “Glee” via MySpace in 2009. (He was a junior in high school at the time.)
“Basically, I owe my career to my cousin right now,” said the performer, one of 40,000 people to submit a video for the tryouts.
In 2011, Newell was selected to appear on the Oxygen reality competition “The Glee Project” along with 11 other contenders. He finished as one of two runners-up, earning a two-episode guest-starring role on the show’s third season.
Newell described the experience as “grueling.”
“You’re working 24/7,” he said. “It sucks because you’re working toward an actual dream of yours, instead of just an everyday job, and then you get the disappointment of … (repeatedly) ending up in the bottom three.”
“You just have to push through and persevere,” he added.
Fortunately, “Glee” creator Ryan Murphy decided to make Newell a series regular in season four.
As Wade Adams, a transgender teen who feels most comfortable as his female alter-ego, Unique, Newell had to create not just one persona, but two.
“For the most part, I’ve always tried to keep Wade and Unique two different entities,” he explained. “For Wade, I’m shy and conservative and not very open. For Unique, I was always very confident.”
Newell, who also appeared this year in the independent comedy “Geography Club,” calls his mother his “biggest inspiration.”
“I’ll always have that courage and that perseverance and that confidence from her,” said Newell, whose idols include Beyoncé, Barbra Steisand and RuPaul. “She gave me strength, and I think Unique gave others strength.”
Although Newell wouldn’t speak directly to whether “Glee” has helped shape public attitudes toward the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community, he agreed that outlook is shifting.
“Times are changing because times are changing. That’s basically all I’m saying,” he said. “My hope is that things always change for the better, and not the worse.”
IF YOU GO
5 p.m. Sunday
Mission Plaza, San Luis Obispo
541-4252 or www.slopride.com
Reach Sarah Linn at 781-7907. Stay updated by following @shelikestowatch on Twitter.