Glee, Then and Now
When Glee premiered in 2009 (with a preview of its pilot after American Idol before officially launching that fall), it became an unexpected phenomenon, launching acting careers, concert tours, and more. The musical television show about a group of high school misfits who form a glee club under the direction of an earnest teacher made the musical cool again, selling countless iTunes singles and albums and proving that it was in fact possible to make a successful musical TV show. Creator Ryan Murphy went from critical darling to network juggernaut, paving the way for him to become one of the most successful and powerful content creators in Hollywood. Much of the cast were young, fresh discoveries, while others were untapped Broadway talents. So, where are they now?
Matthew Morrison (Will Schuester)
Morrison was already a Broadway star when he took on the role of earnest Glee club founder/teacher (and man who should never rap) Will Schuester. Morrison originated the role of high school heartthrob Link Larkin in Hairspray and delivered highly-praised turns in The Light in the Piazza and Lincoln Center’s revival of South Pacific. Though he’d also done some television guest work, it wasn’t until Glee that Morrison became a fairl household name. While on the show, he released his first studio album and he still regularly does small concert tours. Since Glee ended, he has had recurring roles on Younger, The Good Wife, and Grey’s Anatomy. He also returned to his Broadway roots and originated the role of J.M. Barrie in the musical adaptation of Finding Neverland. He recently welcomed his first child, a son.
Jane Lynch (Sue Sylvester)
When Lynch was recruited to play the polarizing, vitriol-spewing cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester, she had enjoyed years’ worth of steady work as a character actress and comedian. A stalwart familiar face in the work of Christopher Guest, she also logged scene-stealing roles in the likes of The 40 Year Old Virgin and Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. Lynch had regular roles on Party Down and The L Word, but Glee shot her to new heights; since then, her career has spanned Broadway (Miss Hannigan in Annie), animated movies (Wreck-it Ralph and its upcoming sequel), and far more television (Angel from Hell, The Good Fight, Criminal Minds, and a turn as Janet Reno on Manhunt: Unabomber). She also hosts the popular game show Hollywood Game Night.
Lea Michele (Rachel Berry)
Michele had a deep Broadway resume by the time she joined Glee, having made her professional stage debut at the age of eight as young Cosette in Les Miserables. She earned a wider following when she originated the role of Wendla Bergmann opposite Jonathan Groff in Spring Awakening. The actress put her Broadway chops to good use as the ambitious perfectionist (and Barbra Streisand obsessive) Rachel Berry on Glee, earning Emmy and Golden Globe nominations for the role. In the years since joining the show, she’s released two studio albums and published two books. Michele made her film debut in 2011’s New Year’s Eve, but she’s largely remained in television, continuing working with Ryan Murphy as nerdy sorority girl Hester Ulrich on Scream Queens. Michele’s most recent role: Overzealous campaign manager Valentina Barella on ABC’s The Mayor.
Cory Monteith (Finn Hudson)
Monteith had made headway in bit parts and supporting roles when Ryan Murphy plucked him from near obscurity to portray Finn Hudson, the high school quarterback with a softer side and a killer set of pipes. The actor became an instant fan-favorite and the standout heartthrob of the cast, which earned him a quick movie role opposite Selena Gomez in Monte Carlo. The summer before the fifth season of Glee hit the air, Monteith tragically died at the age of 31; his character’s passing was worked into the show with one of the most heartbreaking episodes in the show’s six seasons.
Chris Colfer (Kurt Hummel)
Colfer was a recent high school graduate when he landed his breakout role as openly gay high school student Kurt Hummel – a role which was created for him (and based partly on his resemblance to Kurt in The Sound of Music). Colfer earned praise and a Golden Globe award for his sensitive portrayal of Kurt’s journey, which included several timely bullying storylines. Since Glee, Colfer appeared in the Absolutely Fabulous movie and has made appearances as himself on Netflix’s Julie’s Greenroom. He has primarily focused his attention on writing, beginning with 2011’s The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell. Colfer has written six children’s novels in the series and is currently poised to make his directorial debut with an adaptation of the first book. He also wrote, produced, starred in, and novelized a coming-of-age film that premiered at Tribeca called Struck by Lightning.
Kevin McHale (Artie Abrams)
McHale was best-known as a member of the boy band “NLT” when he was cast as wheelchair-bound Artie Abrams, often using the dancing chops from his pop music days in dream sequences on Glee. After the show, he hosted theBritish panel show Virtually Famous for three years. Most recently, he appeared in Dustin Lance Black’s mini-series When We Rise as AIDS activist Bobbi Campbell.
Jenna Ushkowitz (Tina Cohen-Chang)
Ushkowitz was a Spring Awakening co-star of Lea Michele’s when Murphy pegged her to play the onetime-goth Tina, who faked a stutter to stand out at school. The role marked Ushkowitz’s television debut. Since Glee, she was featured in a film adaptation of Hello Again alongside Audra McDonald and Martha Plimpton, but has primarily dedicated her energy to the stage, appearing on Broadway as the nerdy Dawn Williams in Waitress and opposite Tracie Thoms and Rachel Dratch in New York’s special The 24 Hour Plays.
Amber Riley (Mercedes Jones)
Famously passed over by American Idol producers, Amber Riley showed off her stellar pipes and made her screen debut in the role of resident high school diva Mercedes Jones, always competing with Rachel Berry for the top spot in the Glee club. While still starring on Glee, she appeared on the seventeenth season of Dancing with the Stars in 2013 and won, and since Glee, she guest starred on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and portrayed Good Witch of the North Addapearle in NBC’s The Wiz Live!. Most recently, Riley portrayed Effie White in a West End revival of Dreamgirls, earning an Olivier Award for her performance.
Mark Salling (Noah “Puck” Puckerman)
Salling was a musician who had scored some bit parts in direct-to-video horror films when he landed the role of resident bad boy Puck. He hasn’t appeared in anything since the series wrapped due to being embroiled in allegations of possessing child pornography. Salling was first arrested in December 2015; in December 2017, he pled guilty to the charges. On Jan. 30, 2018, Salling died at age 35 of an apparent suicide.
Dianna Agron (Quinn Fabray)
While playing the role of head cheerleader Quinn Fabray on Glee, Agron embarked on a film career, starring in movies like The Family (as the daughter of Robert De Niro) and the science-fiction thriller I Am Number Four. Since Glee, she has largely made her career in indie films, appearing in The Crash, Novitiate, and Hollow in the Land. She made a memorable appearance opposite an adulterous Chris Messina in the music video for Sam Smith’s “I’m Not the Only One.” She will next be seen as a former CIA operative opposite Andy Garcia and Justin Bartha in Headlock.
Naya Rivera (Santana Lopez)
Rivera had worked in television and commercials since the age of four, but the role of bitchy cheerleader Santana Lopez proved to be her breakout part. Rivera broke barriers with Lopez’s storyline of being a lesbian and coming out to her traditional Hispanic family and grandmother. Since Glee, she has had recurring roles on Lifetime’s Devious Maids and the dance television series Step Up: High Water. Rivera released a memoir in September 2016 entitled Sorry Not Sorry: Dreams, Mistakes, and Growing Up.
Darren Criss (Blaine Anderson)
Criss had already earned something of a cult following thanks to his time with internet sensations Team Starkid, for whom he portrayed Harry Potter in the troupe’s famous unauthorized YouTube musical adaptations of the beloved book series. Criss rocketed to instant success when he appeared as Warbler Blaine Anderson in the second season of Glee; his first song, a cover of “Teenage Dream,” became the show’s best-selling single and hit the top ten on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The musician also wrote a song for the 2015 finale, for which he was nominated for an Emmy. Criss made his feature-film debut in the indie film Girl Most Likely; while on Glee, he also portrayed the lead character in a Broadway revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. After Glee ended, Criss took over the title role in the Broadway production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, a role he reprised for the national tour’s stops in San Francisco and Los Angeles. He has also maintained a close relationship with Ryan Murphy, appearing in the “Hotel” season of American Crime Story and next starring as murderer Andrew Cunanan in the highly-anticipated second iteration of Murphy’s American Crime Story
Chord Overstreet (Sam Evans)
Musican and actor Chord Overstreet had a few guest star credits to his name when he was cast as hunky transfer student and athlete Sam Evans, joining Glee in its second season. Overstreet has primarily focused on his post-Glee music career, releasing the solo “Homeland” in 2016. In 2017, he released his first EP Tree House Tapes and even managed to perform the single “Hold On” on both Today and The Tonight Show.
Heather Morris (Brittany S. Pierce)
Morris was a talented back-up dancer who had appeared alongside the likes of Beyoncé on tour and in music videos; she landed a small role on Glee when choreographer Zach Woodlee brought her in to assist, and her gig was then expanded throughout the first season, resulting in a fan-favorite creation: the hilariously dim-witted cheerleader Brittany S. Pierce. Morris has continued to work in television comedy and as a dancer. In 2017, she competed on the 24th season of Dancing with the Stars but was eliminated in the sixth week of the competition. She has also welcomed two children with husband Taylor Hubbell.
Harry Shum Jr. (Mike Chang)
Shum began his career as a dancer, appearing in an iconic iPod commercial, a Step-Up movie, and dancing with the Legion of Extraordinary Dancers. His role on Glee as Mike Chang was initially referred to as “Other Asian” and featured few lines before Shum became a series regular in the show’s third season. Since 2016, he has appeared as bisexual warlock Magnus Bane on Freeform’s Shadowhunters, based on The Mortal Instruments book series, and he will next be seen in the hotly-anticipated Crazy Rich Asians feature film.
Jayma Mays (Emma Pillsbury)
Mays had enjoyed two popular recurring roles on Heroes and Ugly Betty before being cast as kindly germophobic guidance counselor Emma Pillsbury on Glee. Though her character found romantic happiness with Will Schuester, she became a guest star from the fourth season on and went on to appear on series The Millers and The League. Since Glee, she’s also appeared on HBO’s Getting On and voiced a character on The Adventures of Puss in Boots. On film, she played the love interest in Paul Blart: Mall Cop and starred as the live-action heroine in two big-screen adaptations of The Smurfs. Most recently, she was seen in American Made opposite Tom Cruise and starred on NBC’s underrated 2017 sitcom Trial & Error.