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Lea Michele Through the Years: From ‘Glee’ Star to Tony Awards Performer

Taking a look back. Lea Michele may be best known for her role as Rachel Berry in Glee, but the actress’ life in the spotlight started long before that, as she made her debut on Broadway at the age of 8, playing a replacement Young Cosette in Les Misérables. Three years later, she played Little Girl in Ragtime.

Although she stepped away from the stage in 2009 when Ryan Murphy wrote the role of Rachel Berry for her specifically, her love for Broadway was written into the character. Following the show, the iconic writer and director included Michele in many of his projects. In fact, when Glee ended in 2015, she signed on as the lead of his next series, Scream Queens.

The horror comedy, in which she starred alongside original scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis, didn’t include singing and the character was nothing like Rachel Berry. Instead, she wore a neck brace and desperately tried to fit in with the It-Girls in school.

“Honestly, having been offered this role, I knew nothing. But I did trust Ryan implicitly that he would create something for me that would be the most incredible opportunity to show people a different side and a different color,” the actress told Entertainment Weekly in 2015. “And the first and only thing he said to me about the project was, ‘neck brace.’ And I was like, ‘Well, I guess no better way to show people something completely different from Rachel Berry than a neck brace.’ The thing that I’m most grateful for with this character is the opportunity to show people a completely different side.”

In addition to acting, Michele also has released three albums with three very different sounds. Her first, Louder, came out in 2014. She worked on it following the death of her boyfriend, Cory Montieth, who died of an accidental overdose the year before.

“Listening to it, it’s therapeutic and difficult,” she told Billboard about the song “If You Say So,” which she wrote about Monteith. “It will always represent the most devastating thing that’s ever happened to me in my whole life. But at the same time, music is therapy. It’s been therapy for me in the entire grieving process and in my entire life. I’m grateful that Sia collaborated on that song with me and it’s a moment in my life … music has just been so important and so helpful to me this whole year.”

Scroll through the gallery below for more on Michele’s life: