Jenna Ushkowitz Bio: In Her Own Words – Video Exclusive, News, Photos
Jenna Ushkowitz (April 28, 1986) is a Korean-American actress and singer. She is most well known on Fox’s television show Glee as well as Broadway performances. She’s also written a book, produced a documentary, and runs a charitable organization devoted to adoptees.
Jenna Ushkowitz Early Life
Jenna Noelle Ushkowitz was born on April 28, 1986 in Seoul, South Korea. When she was three months old she was adopted by a family from East Meadow, N.Y., located on Long Island. Very quickly Ushkowitz was brought into the world of show business. In an exclusive interview with uInterview, Ushkowitz told her about her entrance into entertainment.
“When I was 3 years old my parents decided to put me into commercials and print jobs. Being the cute little Asian, I tended to work a lot and really it sorta snowballed.”
At just 9 years old, Ushkowitz “learned about the Broadway community” by being cast in the production of The King and I as a Royal Child. She would perform in the play from 1995 to 1998. Her childhood was also filled with many small roles on television, appearing on Sesame Street, Reading Rainbow, and As The World Turns.
Ushkowitz continued her progression in acting by attending Holy Trinity High School, a Catholic high school in Hicksville, NY, where she joined the school’s prestigious theater department. “I honed in my craft there and really learned the skills that I needed,” Ushkowitz said of her time there. She graduated high school in 2004 and moved on to Marymount Manhattan College in New York City, where she received her B.A. in Theatre Arts in 2007.
Jenna Ushkowitz Career
Jenna Ushkowitz’s transition from child star to a professional actor was an easy one, she said. “I’ve had an agent the whole time so I’ve been very blessed. I’ve been extremely lucky. That doesn’t say I didn’t work very, very hard but it’s been really cool.”
As Ushkowitz completed her studies at Marymount Manhattan, she took on an understudy role in the Broadway production of Spring Awakening. During her time in the play, she took on the roles of Anna, Martha, Thea, and Ilse. Additionally, she appeared in an episode of Disney Channel’s children’s comedy The Suite Life of Zack & Cody.
The opportunity of a lifetime rang for Ushkowitz during her time on Spring Awakening. Ryan Murphy was looking to cast characters for his new high school musical drama for Fox, Glee, and turned to the Broadway stage to look for actors and actresses. Ushkowitz was one of the performers that impressed Murphy the most. Shortly thereafter, Ushkowitz was offered the role of Tina Cohen-Chang. Jenna accepted the deal and would join the cast of Glee from the onset in 2009.
Jenna Ushkowitz played Tina throughout the show’s first five seasons and periodically during the sixth and final season. Tina is a member of the glee club at William McKinley High School who overcomes a fake stutter and a shy personality to become one of its most prominent members. Throughout the course of the show, Tina develops more complex relationships with the show’s other characters, especially Artie (played by Kevin McHale) and Mike (Harry Shum, Jr.), and the issues that come with an increased sense of popularity.
As Glee continued through its seasons, Ushkowitz’s prominence in the show rose. By season 3, Tina became one of Glee‘s central characters. The show also responded to critics by having more Tina-centric episodes that put Ushkowitz’s talents in the spotlight. One such performance was her cover of Cyndi Lauper‘s “True Colors,” which was not only a hit with Glee fans, but also hit the charts in the United States, Canada, Britain, Ireland, and Australia.
In the middle of her run on Glee, Ushkowitz appeared in the music video for Lady Gaga’s song “Marry the Night.” She also appeared in many of Glee’s side projects, including the Glee Live! In Concert! Tour, the reality competition The Glee Project, and Glee: The 3D Concert Movie. Additionally she made appearances on MTV’s This is How I Made It, Fox’s Master Chef, and Craig Ferguson’s syndicated Celebrity Name Game. Ushkowitz also made her writing debut by penning Choosing Glee, which not only served as an autobiography, but also provided readers with motivational messages to help live life.
After her character of Tina graduated high school and went on to college, Ushkowitz would only appear a few more times on Glee for its final season. One of those episodes was the show’s series finale. In an exclusive interview with uInterview, Ushkowitz shared some insight into the taping of the last show. “It was really emotional because that’s your family and you spend six, seven years with them and then it sort of goes away,” Ushkowitz said. “So it was definitely a roller coaster of emotions. We’d be laughing and enjoying the moment and then somebody would start to cry, and then I would start to cry, and then Amber would start to cry. It was just crazy but you felt like very cooky that day.”
“But it was very nice, we got our closure that day, you know,” Ushkowitz continued. “We got to say goodbye, we got to walk around the sets. Everyone came back so it was really lovely.”
The cast of Glee also had to deal with the loss of co-star Cory Monteith, who died in 2013 after a heroin overdose, during its run. “We never stopped remembering him, so it’s just another day that we’re remembering him,” Ushkowitz says. “We definitely pay homage to him in the (final) episode. You know, I don’t think there was somebody, anybody there that wasn’t thinking about him that day as well.”
During her lessened role in Glee, Ushkowitz continued to keep herself busy by performing in musicals again. In 2014, she joined an all-star cast at the Hollywood Bowl in a special three night performance of Hair, where she played Jeannie.
In 2014, Jenna Ushkowitz became an executive producer by producing the documentary Twinsters, which focused on two twins who were separated when they were adopted. Ushkowitz talked extensively about the project to uInterview exclusively at the 2015 SXSW Festival in Austin, Texas.
“This was sort of like everybody’s first time accidental filmmaker debut,” she said about her and her production crew. “And we sort of learned together, came up together and supported each other and it was a really cool experience because it was a safe one. It’s just something I’ve always wanted to do. I definitely plan on continuing to develop and produce, but I will still continue to sing, dance and act as well.”
Ushkowitz also told us how she teamed up with Samantha Futerman on the project. “Samantha Futerman, the American Twinster, and I have gone way back. We auditioned together as kids on the East Coast and we both moved to LA to pursue our careers. Two years back, she called me and told me, “I have this crazy story, I really want to tell you about it. Being a fellow adoptee, I think you would understand.” And she said, “I found my twin! It’s this sort of crazy story and it’s changed my life.” And I said, “What can I do to help? This is amazing, your story has to be shared.” So I became executive producer and then out of that we also birthed Kindred Foundation For Adoption.”
Twinsters was a hit with critics at South By Southwest, as it won the Special Jury Award to a Documentary Feature for Editing and was nominated for the SXSW Grand Jury Award to a Documentary Feature. It also won the Best Documentary Picture award at the 2015 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival.
Ushkowitz has spent the summer of 2015 in Pittsburgh, where she’s performing in a seasonal run of The Wedding Singer. She has the female lead of Julia Sullivan in the musical at the Pittsburgh CLO. Jenna told uInterview she is “taking like the tiniest little break, like a week break before I figure out the next project (after Glee and Twinsters). You know, I’m sort of open to everything, obviously open to producing, open to a TV show, maybe Broadway. It’s just sort of things seem to fall into the lap the way they’re supposed to.”
Jenna Ushkowitz Personal Life
Jenna Ushkowitz began dating actor Michael Trevino of The Vampire Diaries in 2011. The two broke up in 2014.
Ushkowitz is also a co-founder of Kindred Foundation For Adoption, which helps adoptees around the world. The foundation started while working on Twinsters. “It really truly was from the Kickstarter, from Sam and Kanoa, one of our other producers, had written up,” she told uInterview. “And through that, the outreach of adoptees from the community was so overwhelming, Sam was like, “We have to do something.” We felt almost compelled because we had such a good experience to share the positive life on adoption, and also be there emotionally for the ones that didn’t have the same experience. So we decided that we were going to create this foundation and it was sort of, you know, experiencing twinsters, her and her sister. You are seeing the way people are responding to it.”
“Nobody’s story is the same,” Ushkowitz said about adoption. “I think every adoptee has a very particular experience. It’s okay, whatever it is. No one has to be completely okay with it, or you can be absolutely okay with it, like I was. So we just wanted to make sure that everyone knows that they’re not alone. That they can share it with us and that we will be there for them, and to enhance the community, so that we can sit together and be like, “We’ve all been there, and we’re okay.”
Jenna Ushkowitz uInterview on Twinsters: