Michele made her feature film debut in New Year's Eve (2011), and was signed to Columbia Records in 2012. She released her debut single the following year, "Cannonball", followed by her debut studio album, Louder (2014), which debuted at number 4 on the Billboard 200 chart in the United States. Three years later, she released her second studio album, Places (2017), which debuted at number 28 on the Billboard 200. On October 25, 2019, she released Christmas in the City, her third studio album. Michele has also published two books, Brunette Ambition (2014) and You First: Journal Your Way to Your Best Life (2015).
Michele started using her middle name at an early age. When she went on her first audition, for the role of Young Cosette in Les Misérables, she gave her name as Lea Michele, and has used it professionally ever since. Michele stated that she intentionally left off her surname because she was teased about its pronunciation. During the audition, she sang "Angel of Music" from The Phantom of the Opera - the only musical she knew at the time. Michele went along to support a friend, but ended up landing the part herself. In 1997, Michele was homeschooled while living and working in Toronto, where she performed in a production of Ragtime. For her high school education, Michele attended Tenafly High School. During her time there, she was on the volleyball team, the debate team, and participated in choir. In her teens, when she was not working on the stage, Michele had a part-time job at a bat mitzvah dress shop. She also worked at her father's deli.
Michele made her Broadway debut in 1995, at the age of eight, as a replacement in the role of Young Cosette in Les Misérables. Michele was also the understudy for the role of Gavroche. This was followed by the role of the Little Girl in the 1998 original Broadway cast of Ragtime. Michele had been portraying the part of the Little Girl for a year in the original Toronto cast, before the production was transferred to Broadway. As a child, she voiced a main character, Christina, in the animated film Buster & Chauncey's Silent Night, released on October 13, 1998. In 2004, Michele began portraying Shprintze in the Broadway revival of the musical Fiddler on the Roof, and understudied the role of Chava. She also performed on the cast recording of the show.
On September 18, 2012, it was announced that Michele would be working on her first solo album. She began recordings for the album soon after on October 19, 2012. Michele stated that it was a "pretty slow process" and the album would be more "pop/rock driven" rather than Broadway influenced. On November 27, 2013, it was announced that the first single from her debut album Louder would be "Cannonball", which was released on December 10, 2013. "Cannonball" debuted at number 75 on the Billboard Hot 100, making her the first main Glee cast member to chart as a lead soloist. The single sold over 51,000 copies in its first week of sale. The music video was released on January 9, 2014. Michele subsequently released four promotional singles in the lead-up to the album: "Battlefield", "Louder", "What Is Love?", and "You're Mine".Louder was released on February 28, 2014, and debuted on the Billboard 200 at number four, selling over 62,000 copies in its first week. The second single from the album, "On My Way", was released on May 4, 2014, with the music video premiering on May 19, 2014.
Michele next voiced the lead role of Dorothy Gale in the animated musical film Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return, which opened in North American theaters on May 9, 2014. In May 2013, it was announced that Michele had signed a deal with Harmony Books and Random House to pen a part memoir, part how-to book titled Brunette Ambition. The book was released on May 20, 2014. Michele had multiple book signings in the United States, including a signing and Q&A event hosted by Jonathan Groff. The book debuted at number nine on the U.S. Nonfiction Best Seller list a week after it was released, and made its debut on The New York Times Best Seller list at number three. Michele released a second book, You First: Journal Your Way to Your Best Life, on September 22, 2015, which was also published by Random House.
Michele began recording for her second studio album in April 2015. She stated that the album would be less pop-influenced than her debut, and would "[go] back to [her] roots" with a more theatrical sound. In January 2017, Michele played three shows on a mini tour titled An Intimate Evening with Lea Michele, to support her second studio album, Places. The tour continued with additional shows in the UK and North America in April and May 2017. The lead single from the second album, "Love Is Alive", was released on March 3, 2017. Three promotional singles were subsequently released in the lead-up to the album: "Anything's Possible", "Run to You", and "Getaway Car".Places was released on April 28, 2017, and debuted at number 28 on the Billboard 200 chart with over 16,000 units sold in its first week.
On April 4, 2017, Michele appeared as Amanda in the first episode of Hulu's science fiction anthology series Dimension 404, alongside Robert Buckley and Joel McHale. She subsequently portrayed political advisor Valentina Barella in ABC's sitcom The Mayor, created by Jeremy Bronson and executive produced by Daveed Diggs, starring opposite Brandon Micheal Hall and Yvette Nicole Brown. On October 8, 2017, Michele performed as a headlining act at the third annual musical theatre festival Elsie Fest, founded by her Glee co-star Darren Criss. In April 2018, it was announced that Michele would venture on a co-headlining tour with Criss. The LM/DC Tour included shows in several North American cities in May and June 2018. The tour continued from October to December 2018 in the United Kingdom and Ireland.
2019-present: Further television work and Christmas in the City
In May 2019, it was announced that Michele will host a health and wellness digital series for the Ellen DeGeneres Network, titled Well, Well, Well with Lea Michele. Michele's third studio album, Christmas in the City, was released on October 25, 2019. She also starred as the lead in a holiday television film, Same Time, Next Christmas, for ABC.
Michele supported Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, performing in December 2007 at the Lucille Lortel Theatre for Unsung: 'Tis The Season To Be Naughty. She has also participated in Broadway Barks, Broadway Bares, the Easter Bonnet Competition, and the Flea Market and Grand Auction. Michele has been active in campaigning for animal rights; in 2008, she appeared in the PETA advertising campaign "Buck Cruelty! Say No to Horse-Drawn Carriage Rides". In 2008, Michele performed in a benefit concert production of Alive in the World to aid the Twin Towers Orphan Fund. In support of gay rights, she performed at the Human Rights Campaign dinner in November 2009. In the same month, Michele and Jonathan Groff performed for True Colors Cabaret, a fundraiser in support of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender equality. In April 2010, Michele appeared in a public service announcement for PETA, speaking out against fur clothing. In September 2010, Michele was honored by PETA for her work with animals.
In August 2013, Michele once again donated a hand print to the Valspar Hands for Habitat charity auction. She was then the host of the fundraiser "Lea Michele's Night of Shopping and Cocktails" on December 14, 2013, presented by SodaStream, which benefited Chrysalis, a non-profit organization helping homeless people find work. In April 2014, Michele and Darren Criss once again performed together at the 19th annual Taste for a Cure event for the Jonsson Cancer Center Foundation. In October 2014, she teamed up with Evian to encourage women to perform their own breast exams in an attempt to raise awareness of early cancer detection. In February 2016, it was announced that Michele would collaborate with Burt's Bees in a campaign to act on the declining population of bees.
In June 2016, the Human Rights Campaign released a video in tribute to the victims of the 2016 Orlando gay nightclub shooting, in which Michele and other celebrities told the stories of the people killed there. Michele continues to support the Los Angeles-based non-profit Step Up and attends their annual Step Up Inspiration Awards event. In April 2017, Barnes & Noble donated a portion of every purchase of Places to Step Up. In November 2017, Michele partnered with eBay to design a pin to benefit Feeding America; she also auctioned off a set visit to one of her projects in 2018. In April 2019, she performed for the "A Grand Night" fundraising gala held at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles. On May 1, 2019, Michele joined Former First Lady Michelle Obama at Reach Higher's 2019 College Signing Day. On November 24, 2019 she visited ill children at Children's Health Care of Atlanta.
One of the most significant influential figures in Michele's life is Barbra Streisand whom she cites as her "role model". Her mother Edith would play her films when she was a child. Michele dedicated a chapter in her book Brunette Ambition to Streisand, noting that it is important for people to have someone to look up to. Michele wrote, "I really love her, she's always been such a role model to me. She's someone who has built her career on focusing on what makes her unique and what makes her special." An actress who influenced Michele was Natalie Wood. Michele said that she would watch West Side Story as a child and want to play the role of Maria.
Actress and singer Audra McDonald has also been an influence on Michele. She told The Fresno Bee, "Audra is probably the best singer in the world - up there with Barbra. I don't think she has any idea what an influence she had on me. I would say 80% of my singing knowledge came from Audra... How to warm up. How to breathe. How to take care of my voice. All of my beliefs are because Audra instilled them in me." Recording artist Alanis Morissette has been an inspiration throughout Michele's career. Morissette's album Jagged Little Pill was the first album Michele purchased, and in a 2014 interview has said she still owns. She said, "I love Alanis Morissette... All of her songs are lyrically so beautiful and vocally she's so strong."Celine Dion has also influenced her as a singer.
In January 2012, Candie's announced that Michele would be the spokesmodel for their brand, taking over from Vanessa Hudgens who was the face of the brand for the previous year. In September 2012, it was revealed that Michele had signed an estimated $1 million deal to be a spokesperson for L'Oréal Paris. She has appeared in magazine spreads and television commercials promoting their products. In September 2015, Pixelberry Studios announced their collaboration with Michele, launching High School Story with Lea Michele, a celebrity takeover update of their popular app. In December 2018 Michele teamed with Old Navy and Lyft to announce free car sharing to stores for holidays. In February 2019, Michele appeared in a commercial for ZOLA, a wedding planning website.
Michele began working with actor Cory Monteith in 2008, when they were cast as love interests on Glee. In February 2012, the media reported that they had begun dating. They remained together until his death in July 2013.
On April 28, 2018, Michele announced her engagement to businessman Zandy Reich. They were married on March 9, 2019, in Napa, California. On May 2, 2020, Michele announced that she was pregnant with her and Reich's first child.
In June 2020, actress Samantha Marie Ware, who worked with Michele in late 2014 during Ware's recurring role in the sixth season of Glee, accused Michele of being very rude to her on set, behaving with "traumatic microaggressions". Ware made her comments in direct response to Michele having posted a message on social media saying "George Floyd did not deserve this. This was not an isolated incident and it must end. #BlackLives Matter", though she did not specifically state that Michele's rude behaviour towards other actors was akin to the racism involved in the killing of George Floyd. Other actors who co-starred with Michele, Heather Morris, Alex Newell, Melissa Benoist, and Amber Riley, made statements in corroboration with, or liked Twitter posts confirming that Michele had displayed rudeness to others on set, but Riley and Morris verbally disagreed with the implication of Michele being racist. Michele responded with an apology, noting that the comments from numerous cast members in response to Ware's accusation had made her aware that her general treatment of all cast members during those years was "insensitive or inappropriate", a sign of "immaturity", and that she was "unnecessarily difficult" towards others around her, and she would "keep working to better myself and take responsibility for my actions." On June 2, 2020, HelloFresh announced they had ended their partnership with Michele, describing Michele's actions as racist.
^Her paternal grandmother, Sylvia "Celia" (née Veissy), was born in New York. Sylvia's parents, Benouta "Bessie" (née Cohenka) and Morris Joseph Veissy, were born in Thessaloniki, Greece. (Who Do You Think You Are?, May 1, 2016)