Also Credited As:Jenna Noelle Ushkowitz
|April 28, 1986|
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Jenna Noelle Ushkowitz was born on April 28, 1986 in Seoul, South Korea. An adopted child, she was raised in East Meadow, Long Island, NY. Ushkowitz booked her first acting job when she was only three years old and landed walk-on roles on the educational children's television series "Sesame Street" (NET, 1969-1970; PBS, 1970- ), the long-running daytime soap "As the World Turns" (CBS, 1965- ), and other TV shows. She also appeared in print commercials with comedy icon Bill Cosby for Jell-O gelatin and Burger King. At age 10, Ushkowitz made her Broadway debut as one of the royal children in the 1996 revival of the musical, "The King and I." Ushkowitz attended Holy Trinity Diocesan High School, which was renowned for its theater department. There, the future Broadway actress appeared in numerous high school productions including "Les Misérables," "Honk!" where she played the beautiful swan Penny, "Into the Woods" in which she starred as Little Red Riding Hood. She donned the little red cape again, reprising her role during her freshman year at Marymount Manhattan College, where she graduated in 2007 with a bachelor of arts degree in acting and a minor in musical theater.
Shortly after graduation, Ushkowitz became an understudy for four roles in the Tony Award-winning, coming-of-age Broadway musical, "Spring Awakening," which dealt with mature themes of the teenage experience including sex, abortion and rape. Portraying such complex characters in the controversial production helped Ushkowitz prepare for her breakout role on the hit series "Glee." Aside from the experience, "Spring Awakening" also provided Ushkowitz with the opportunity to work with future "Glee" co-star Lea Michele - who would go on to play the overachieving soprano Rachel - whom she has known since they were eight years old. Ushkowitz pulled out all the stops during her "Glee" audition, telling Seventeen magazine that she auditioned with "full-on Tourette's" because the casting director was looking for someone who stuttered and exhibited the chronic tics associated with the disorder. Ushkowitz also revealed that she walked out of the audition feeling as though she did not land the part, which made finding out she did more impactful.
Being cast on "Glee" proved that Ushkowitz was just as comfortable being on television as she was on stage. The bitingly funny musical series about a struggling high school choir was the perfect vehicle for the stage actress to showcase her talent to an even bigger audience. As Tina Cohen-Chang, the club's resident Goth chick with an attitude, Ushkowitz stayed mostly in the background with her onscreen best friend, Mercedes Jones (Amber Riley), the outspoken glee clubber with a diva attitude. She was also the most withdrawn from the group, thanks to a nagging stutter. Ushkowitz gave her character a quiet determination that made her slowly come out of her shell and light up during the musical performances. While Ushkowitz did not get the most songs or lines, she endeared herself to the show's fans when she let her guard down and revealed the truth about her stuttering.
The show's popular musical numbers were as much of a hit, if not more so, than the actual plot lines. Week after week, Ushkowitz and her co-stars performed jazzed-up hit songs complete with choreography, much to the delight of fans. They grooved to Rihanna's "Take a Bow" (2008), belted out "Don't Stop Believin" by Journey (1981), and rocked Queen's "Somebody to Love" (1976). Audiences could not get enough of the over-the-top renditions, particularly the show's "mash-ups" where the cast blended two unlikely song pairings - such as Usher's "Confessions Part II" (2004) and Bon Jovi's "It's My Life" (2000) - into one production. To keep fans singing and spending, Columbia Records released a series of soundtracks. Glee: The Music, Volume 1 debuted at No. 4 on Billboard's Top 200 Album Chart when it was released in November 2009 and featured Ushkowitz and the entire cast singing some of the show's most requested musical numbers. In the same month, the cast also recorded the classic holiday tune "Last Christmas" (1984), initially available on iTunes, to benefit the Grammy Foundation's Grammy in the Schools programs.