Patch spoke with East Meadow native Jenna Ushkowitz, whose alter ego Tina Cohen-Chang is one of the six original New Directions members.
Born in Seoul, South Korea, Ushkowitz was adopted at three months and raised in East Meadow. She appeared in numerous print ads and national commercials, along with an appearance on “Sesame Street” when she was just three.
She attended Parkway Elementary School, and later, Holy Trinity Diocesan High School (class of 2004), where she starred in musicals including “Les Miserables” and “Into the Woods.”
The former “Yankees on Deck” host graduated from Marymount Manhattan College in 2007 with a B.A. in Acting, a concentration in Theater Performance and a minor in Musical Theater. Her degree paid off; Jenna landed a role on the Broadway hit “Spring Awakening” six months later.
Ushkowitz: We were both eight years old; she was doing “Les Miserables” while I was in “The King and I.” The Broadway community is small – especially the kids’ community – and we became friends and stayed in touch, seeing each other at auditions. It was great to reunite with her in L.A. when “Glee” started.
Patch: With several of your choir-mates graduating, something tells me we’re in for a tearjerker tomorrow night.
Ushkowitz: We (the cast) were crying during the entire shoot! We don’t know what’s going to happen, but we know it will be a different show. It might be the last time we’re all in the choir room or auditorium together.
Patch: New Directions emphasizes the importance of being a part of something special – which you are in real life! What does it feel like to be part of the “Glee” family?
Ushkowitz: It’s the most amazing thing that has ever happened to me. I’ve made friends who will be part of my life forever. And to be part of a phenomenon that others might not understand…we’ve been through so much together, sharing amazing and sometimes difficult experiences.
Patch: Who were some of your favorite guest stars over the years?
Ushkowitz: We’ve been blessed by so many, but Kristin (Chenoweth) was my favorite. Being a Broadway girl, I’ve always idolized her. We’ve had some great, strong women on, like Gwyneth Paltrow and Whoopi Goldberg. I’d love for Hugh Jackman to come on!
Patch: Sarah Jessica Parker and Kate Hudson are already lined up for season four.
Ushkowitz: It’s so cool – that’s Carrie Bradshaw!
Patch: Favorite memories of East Meadow?
Ushkowitz: I loved bowling, so East Meadow Bowl was the place to be, along with Ralph’s Ices. And sledding at Parkway Elementary – they have great hills!
Patch: What message do you have for students out there struggling with peer pressure and bullying?
Ushkowitz: I’m pairing with Wallflower Jeans to launch a ‘Stop the Bullying’ campaign soon. Bullying is NOT okay. Speak up and get help – no situation is too small!
This is to celebrate the birthdays of Jenna and Harry so if you are fan tweet it like it on Facebook or leave a nice comment they will read them! Since the first time I shot Harry people have been asking for this!
Happy Birthday guys you are amazing!
Glee‘s Jenna Ushkowitz, The Book of Mormon Tony winner Nikki M. James and more will take part in the Born For Broadway benefit on May 21 in support of the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation. Directed by Marcia Milgrom Dodge with musical direction by Lawrence Yurman, the evening will take place at the American Airlines Theatre.
Also set to appear are James Naughton, Richard Kind, Malcolm Gets, Vicki Lewis, Aaron Lazar, Orfeh, Andy Karl, Colin Donnell, Christiane Noll, Matt Cavenuagh, Lindsay Mendez, Adrian Bailey, Tony Yazbeck, Jenny Powers, Emma Hunton Ali Stroker, Ben Cook, Carole Lasser, Chris Pinella, Colin Hanlon, Graham Rowat, Jesse Ruben, Kate Wetherhead, Marianne Tatum, Richard B. Watson, Robert Petkoff, Ron Bohmer and Steve Rosen.
Now in its ninth year, Born For Broadway helps the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation with its fight to cure spinal cord injury by funding innovative research and improving the quality of life for people living with paralysis through grants, information and advocacy.
Although this is a moment in which I caught Jenna in a pleasant daze, Jenna’s smile makes you want to burst at the seams. Therefore, naturally you want to make her laugh as much as humanly possible. Her sense of humor is a healthy one, so this task is not too difficult. However, it is one that you truly want to exercise. Her laugh is even better, it comes straight from the core. When she is in that moment, you know that she is truly free. This is a brief insight to my beautiful friend, a fun little walk in her head.
YM&C: What day is it?
Jenna: Saturday, around 1:00 pm.
YM&C: Where are you responding to this email?
Jenna: On my couch, in my living room.
YM&C: If you could go somewhere, right now, for 24 hours, where would it be?
Jenna: Only 24 hours?? OK. A remote beach in Fiji. I’d need more time to go to the other places on my list…..Italy, Greece, Paris…
YM&C: What makes you the happiest?
Jenna: The little things. My friends, family, a quiet night on the couch by myself or a fun night out. I feel the happiest when I feel complete. Productive, challenged.
YM&C: What makes you feel inspired?
Jenna: Seeing something beautiful develop when someone tells a story. What I mean, is in reference to when you watch an artist go through a journey, watching them fall and pick themselves back up and rise to the top. Being challenged, being forced
to really think and question.
YM&C: What’s your favorite song to sing?
Jenna: Adele’s cover of “Make You Feel My Love.”
YM&C: What’s your power anthem?
Jenna: Florence and the Machine’s “Shake it Out.”
YM&C: What movie makes you all kinds of happy?
Jenna: Peter Pan.
YM&C: What is one thing that you think people don’t expect from you?
Jenna: To speak up for myself. I used to be a “welcome mat” and I didn’t speak up! So I think a lot of people don’t expect me to confront them, or be honest with my feelings. BUT! I pick my battles. So when I do, I’m sure to be heard.
YM&C: What would you say to your younger self?
Jenna: Don’t take yourself too seriously. Don’t be afraid to make more mistakes and take more risks. Also, don’t forget to look at the bigger picture. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve figured out how to put myself in other people’s shoes. I wish I new that a little earlier. My parents always taught me to appreciate what I have and to “be where you are.” We are always looking towards tomorrow, what’s coming next, especially when I was dying to get out of High School, you know what I’m talking about! I wish I had made it more evident or shared with people that I was truly appreciative of them and what they did. Being adopted gave me a great perspective on things, but that got stronger as I matured. I am so grateful to be adopted. I am so grateful for my parents and being able to be their choice and “gift” in this world. I wouldn’t be where I am without them and the opportunity that I was given. So, to little Jenna, I’d say, “Live in the moment. Appreciate what you have instead of what you could or don’t have.”
YM&C: A picture and a thought?
I took these photos when I was living in the West Village with one of my best friends, Eryn. We got a “grow your own sunflower” as a gift. This little seed grew into this beautiful sunflower over the course of a few months living together.
I was having one of those sideways days where nothing felt or seemed right and this turned my whole day around.
Its the little things.
Jenna graces the pages February’s Seventeen Magazine and looks absolutely stunning while doing so. Check it out for yourself and then watch the video from behind the scenes of her shoot!