Jenna Noelle Ushkowitz (/ˈʌʃkəwɪts/; born April 28, 1986 is a South Korean-born American actress, singer, and podcast host. She is known for her performances in Broadway musicals such as The King and I and Waitress, and Tina Cohen-Chang on the Fox comedy-drama series Glee.
Ushkowitz was born in Seoul, South Korea; she was adopted at the age of three months and raised in East Meadow, New York. Ushkowitz was raised Catholic (her surname originates from her adoptive paternal grandfather, who was of Russian Jewish descent). She attended Parkway Elementary School and Holy Trinity Diocesan High School, a Catholic school in Hicksville, Long Island known for its strong theater department.
During high school, Ushkowitz appeared in several musicals, including the first-ever high school production of Les Misérables. Her other roles included Penny in Honk!, Inez in The Baker's Wife, Little Red Riding Hood in Into the Woods, and Romaine Patterson in The Laramie Project. Ushkowitz graduated from high school in 2004 and moved on to attend Marymount Manhattan College, where she once again took the role of Little Red Riding Hood in Into the Woods. She graduated from Marymount Manhattan in 2007 with a Bachelor of Arts in theatre arts, with a concentration in performance and a minor in musical theatre.
Ushkowitz has had a career in show business since the age of three. As a child, she appeared on Sesame Street and other children's television shows. Her first role in a Broadway musical was in the 1996 revival of The King and I. Ushkowitz sang the American National Anthem at a New York Knicks game at Madison Square Garden when she was thirteen. Ushkowitz understudied the roles of Ilse, Anna, Martha, and Thea in the Broadway musical Spring Awakening from 2006 to 2008. In 2009, Ushkowitz landed the role of Tina Cohen-Chang on Fox's musical comedy-drama series Glee. In casting Glee, series creator Ryan Murphy sought out actors who could identify with the rush of starring in theatrical roles. Instead of using traditional network casting calls, he spent three months on Broadway, where he found Ushkowitz. She was initially given little information about Tina's back story, and believed that the character's stutter was real.
Ushkowitz's solos have included the songs "True Colors" by Cyndi Lauper, "I Follow Rivers" by Lykke Li, "Because You Loved Me" by Celine Dion, "Gangnam Style" by PSY, "I Don't Know How to Love Him" from the musical Jesus Christ Superstar, "Hung Up" by Madonna, and "I Kissed a Girl" by Katy Perry. Raymund Flandez of The Wall Street Journal hailed the "True Colors" cover as showcasing Ushkowitz's "strong crystalline voice". Gerrick D. Kennedy, writing for the Los Angeles Times, wrote that the "poignant" rendition was one of his "feel-good, tearjerker moments". The version charted at number 47 on the Australian Singles Chart, 38 on the Canadian Hot 100, 15 on the Irish Singles Chart, 35 on the UK Singles Chart, and 66 on the Billboard Hot 100. Rolling Stone journalist Erica Futterman wrote that her "Because You Loved Me" performance "removes some of the Lite FM softness embedded in the tune" and added that it was "really is great to see Tina get a song that suits her vocal abilities".
In both 2010 and 2011, Ushkowitz embarked on live concert tours with her Glee co-stars, with performances taking place in the United States, Canada, England, and Ireland. In 2011, Ushkowitz appeared briefly in Lady Gaga's music video for "Marry the Night", playing the role of Gaga's friend. In July 2012, it was reported that Ushkowitz would be writing her first book, titled Choosing Glee. The book, an autobiography, was released on May 14, 2013. During Glee's fifth season, Ushkowitz's character graduated and was accepted into Brown University, meaning her role on the series was reduced.
In August 2014, Ushkowitz was cast as Jeannie Ryan in the Hollywood Bowl production of Hair. Also in 2014, Ushkowitz was approached by fellow adoptee Samantha Futerman to found Kindred: The Foundation for Adoption, created to provide international and domestic adoptees and their families (both adoptive and biological) with services such as travel, translation, and support for those who wish to reunite. With the same spirit that made her create Kindred, in 2015, Ushkowitz executive produced the documentary Twinsters, a film showing the story that connected Samantha and Anaïs, identical twin sisters separated at birth. The film premiered at the 2015 South by Southwest. That same year, she was cast as the lead character, Julia Sullivan, in a special production of The Wedding Singer at the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera, marking one of the first times the character has been played by an Asian woman. The play was initially set to last one week, but the positive response from critics and audiences extended its run.
In December 2015, it was announced that Ushkowitz had been cast as Marie the Nurse in the film adaptation of the musical Hello Again, alongside Nolan Gerard Funk, Audra McDonald, and Martha Plimpton. In 2016, Ushkowitz co-founded the podcast network At Will Radio with Will Malnati. The network debuted Infinitie Positivities, a show hosted by Ushkowitz that contains discussions of topics from her book Choosing Glee, and conversations with people who inspire her; guests include fellow actors, authors, and experts. In each episode, she talks about a new way to live life with a positive outlook.
Ushkowitz temporarily assumed the role of Dawn Williams from Kimiko Glenn in the Broadway production of Waitress, beginning performances July 29, 2016, and completing her run on October 19, 2016. She then appeared alongside Tracie Thoms and Rachel Dratch in Broadway's The 24 Hour Plays, with a performance on November 14, 2016.
Besides her work with Kindred Foundation, Ushkowitz has advocated for multiple causes. In 2012, she posed with Glee co-star Kevin McHale for the NOH8 Campaign, supporting the repeal of Proposition 8 in California which had previously banned same-sex marriages in the state. Ushkowitz has also worked with NYCLASS and Oceana. A long time supporter of ocean conservation, Ushkowitz took a trip during summer of 2015 with Oceana to the Channel Islands, in order to raise awareness on the overfishing of forage fish and its effects on their survival. That same year, she hosted the 2015 Nautica Oceana Beach House event. She has also made efforts to raise awareness about the declining population of sea lions in California, also caused by the overfishing of forage fish.