Lea Michele. As a theater fan I’ve had the privilege of love/hating her for years. I coined her ‘Man-Hands Michele’ years before the writers on Glee even had the chance to dream up that joke. But now, as the rest of the country begins to root for Lea as the loveable pain-in-the-ass Rachel Berry, my opinion seems to confuse people.
For years, it confused me too. For years I felt bad about not being on board the Lea Michele is Awesome Express. I mean, Jonathan Groff has always loved her. And she can sing like a BAMF. Shouldn’t that be enough evidence for me? For some reason, it wasn’t.
Because despite all the awesome things about her—and there are lots of those things—something just felt off. It was difficult to pinpoint exactly, but her whole life seemed like a performance. Like every last word or smile was dripping with condescension . Like despite her chipper smile Lea only deigned to perform for us, to speak to us, to even breathe the same air as us, not because it meant anything to her, but because it would get her somewhere. And we—all of us, from Jonathan right on down—were beneath her. Useful only because our adoration could prove she was worthy of even more adoration, could make her more famous.
For years I felt bad about this. I was sure I didn’t have any real reason to feel this way, to believe these things. I was convinced I had to be wrong and even felt embarrassed by my love/hate for Lea. I thought it made me seem like a crazy, jealous Jonathan Groff Fan-Girl, and even in 2007 I was at least a decade too old for that kind of behavior. And worse. I wondered if it meant I actually was a jealous Jonathan fan. Guiltily, I swallowed my feelings.
Thankfully, last year, Lea herself relieved me of that guilt. One night late in 2009, she and I attended the same party. At first, this seemed really cool. I mean, here Lea was, at the same silly Broadway party I was attending. She was mingling with the little people! Only. She never did mingle with the little people. She refused. To the point where even the venue staff was seriously unimpressed with her, and quite vocal about that fact.
“Who does she think she is? Even Meryl Streep mingles and poses for photos when she comes here!” remarked one of the waitresses. Repeatedly.
Poof. The Mick’s Irish Guilt, gone. Right there, just like that. Because let me tell you, Lea wouldn’t have had to beat people back with a stick. It wouldn’t have turned into a riot. Most of the attendees didn’t even see her. As the night ended and she walked back to the VIP area—where we were standing—I watched Lea point blank refuse the lone young man who told her he loved her and asked for a quick photo. None of the rest of us even said a word. Foul. Turns out I wasn’t totally imagining her superiority complex. It was real, and now I’d seen it in action.
The thing about Lea is, I can’t totally hate her. Because maybe she was just having a bad night. Despite everything, I want to give her the benefit of the doubt. She’s human, after all. More complex than I can sort out in the time I’ve spent around her. And besides, it’s not like she’s Tiger Woods. She’s not despicable. She’s just…weirdly disingenuous. And sometimes she’s not very nice. And yes, that turns me off. It makes me kind of hate her some days.
But none of that changes the fact that she’s one of the most talented performers of her generation. None of that erases that shining moment when she stands alone on the stage, in the spotlight, and belts out “Taking Chances” so your heart pounds and you fist pump with joy because, oh my god, a Theater Girl just nailed it in front of the entire nation. And that, I have to root for.
Photo Credit: thetvaddict.com