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A.G. High grad stars in Fox's show 'Glee'

Harry Shum Jr., who grew up in the South County, shares a moment with Jenna Ushkowitz in the ‘Silly Love Songs’ episode of ‘Glee,’ which will air Tuesday.
Harry Shum Jr., who grew up in the South County, shares a moment with Jenna Ushkowitz in the ‘Silly Love Songs’ episode of ‘Glee,’ which will air Tuesday. Associated Press

It should come as no surprise that Harry Shum Jr. counts Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly among his inspirations.

Like those legendary leading men, Shum can act, dance and sing with equal aplomb.

After appearing in a series of successful dance movies, the Arroyo Grande High School grad has found fame as a cast member on “Glee,” Fox’s wildly popular sitcom.

“It’s amazing to be part of such a phenomenon,” said Shum, who plays Mike Chang on the show. “I get opportunities to experience amazing things like (attending) the Golden Globes or meeting Oprah (Winfrey).”

Now in its second season, “Glee” returns to the airwaves tonight in a special post-Super Bowl show that pays tribute to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and Katy Perry’s “California Gurls.” A Valentine’s Day episode airs Tuesday.

Lucas Raynaud, who’s known Shum since high school, said it’s exhilarating to see his friend in the national spotlight.

“It’s just crazy that he started dancing in a little dance room at (Arroyo Grande High) and now he’s on stage at Radio City Music Hall singing and dancing with ‘Glee,’ ” said the Nipomo native, now an actor, dancer and model living in Burbank.

Five Cities youth

Born in Costa Rica, Shum, who is of Chinese descent, moved to Grover Beach with his family at age 7.

He attended elementary, junior high and high school in the Five Cities area, making his official foray into dance when a friend dared him to audition for Arroyo Grande High’s dance team.

Shum, 28, praised the school as a welcoming environment with plenty of extracurricular activities and “teachers that push you to be better not just academically.” (It’s also “High School Musical” heartthrob Zac Efron’s alma mater.)

Leslie Baumberger, a teacher at American Dance of San Luis Obispo at the time she met Shum, remembers him as a dedicated young dancer with “a natural ability to move.”

“The fact he had a good work ethic is what made him successful,” said Baumberger, co-owner of Core Dance Group of the Central Coast.

After graduating from Arroyo Grande High in 2000, Shum moved to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career — only to be “bitten by the dance bug,” he said.

His big break came in the form of 2004’s “You Got Served.”

Shum and Raynaud played members of rival dance teams locked in a fierce competition.

“At the time, we had no idea how it would change dance movies and validate street dancing in a way it had never been before,” Raynaud recalled. “Every day on set was crazy because we were all young and starting out.”

Shum next appeared in the splashy dance spectacles “Stomp the Yard,” “Step Up 2: The Streets” and “Step Up 3D.” Then, with the help of choreographer Zach Woodlee, he snagged a spot on a yet-to-be-aired sitcom about a high school glee club.

“When he told us he had this minor role on ‘Glee,’ we had no idea what that meant,” Raynaud recalled. “Now when we go out, people are asking for autographs and pictures with him and snapping shots while he’s eating.”

According to The Hollywood Reporter, “Glee” is one of the entertainment business’s hottest properties. The show, which has won four Golden Globe Awards and four Emmy Awards, is averaging 14 million viewers this season — drawn by edgy storylines, infectious pop hits and guest appearances by Britney Spears, Gwyneth Paltrow and Josh Groban.

Meanwhile, “Glee’s” fervent fans — known as “Gleeks” — have bought 9 million albums and 21 million downloaded songs.

Shum has his share of followers as a fleet-footed football player-turned-dancer.

He spends much of his time onscreen with Jenna Ushowitz, who plays goth girl Tina Cohen-Chang. Earlier this season, the two stole the show with the cute duet “Sing” from “A Chorus Line.”

“Jenna is an amazing talent. She can do it all — sing, dance, act,” Shum said.

Always on the move

According to Shum, “Glee’s” grueling shooting schedule — up to 16 hours a day — occupies most of his time. Public appearances are also commonplace; a summer tour will take 14 cast members across the United States, the United Kingdom and Ireland.

“ ‘Glee’ doesn’t leave much time to work on other projects, but somehow I sneak in ways to stay creative,” Shum said.

He’s currently working on the Web series “The LXD: The League of Extraordinary Dancers,” now in its third season.

“Harry is a creative person with forward-thinking ideas that is always willing to take chances and work hard,” Raynaud said. “He will finish a 14-hour shoot with ‘Glee’ and go straight to an ‘LXD’ rehearsal for another eight hours. He never seems to get tired and always has a drive to accomplish more.”

According to Core Dance Group’s Baumberger, success stories such as Shum’s serve as encouragement for “young people coming up through the ranks.”

“There are so many talented people here in San Luis Obispo and in the San Luis Obispo County area, it’s astounding,” she said. “It’s fun to watch them achieve their dreams.”

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