James Russell  |  Staff Writer

Alex Newell says he loves Human Rights Campaign fundraisers. So the 22-year-old star of Glee couldn’t pass up the opportunity to perform at Dallas’ Black Tie Dinner, the nation’s largest such event benefitting HRC, on Saturday, Nov. 15.

Unlike a lot of celebrities at benefits, however, Newell just doesn’t perform for the audience and then leave. At HRC fundraisers, he not only entertains a crowd, he meets them, too.

“You don’t sit down and spend time with other people” at other events, he said by phone. “[At HRC fundraisers] I get the opportunity to spend time with the people I appreciate.”

Newell first earned accolades as a runner-up on the Oxygen network’s Glee Project, a reality audition TV show for the hit Fox musical comedy series. Newell initially was only slated to appear as Wade “Unique” Adams, a trans student, for a few episodes of season four. But he proved so popular he was promoted to the main cast for the fifth season.

Newell does not identify as trans himself, but he still finds Adams relatable: She shares the anxieties of other high school students. Unique is just trying to find herself, Newell said.

Playing trans is a rare opportunity, and Newell said he has gotten a lot of attention for the role. He also described hearing from grateful parents and teachers who are inspired by his character.

“I love hearing the compliments because I know my work is reaching audiences,” he said.

The compliments aren’t just a “breath of fresh air,” Newel said. They are also reminder he’s doing what he loves — and doing it right.

“I’ve always been a performer at heart. Since I was a junior in high school, I always wanted to sing, act and dance on a TV show,” he said

Glee may be ending its run but the energetic Newell isn’t planning on retirement. Between a forthcoming solo album and a schedule of many more HRC fundraisers, he’ll still be doing everything he loves but mostly now in front of a live audience.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 14, 2014.