Darren Everett Criss (born February 5, 1987) is an American actor, singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and composer. One of the founding members and co-owners of StarKid Productions, a musical theater company based in Chicago, Illinois, Criss first garnered attention playing the lead role of Harry Potter in StarKid's musical production of A Very Potter Musical. The theater troupe made Billboard history when Me and My Dick became the first charting student-produced musical recording, debuting at number eleven on the Top Cast Albums chart in 2010.
Criss is best known for his portrayal of Blaine Anderson (2010-present), an openly gay high school student, on the Fox musical comedy-drama series Glee. As the lead vocalist of Glee's Dalton Academy Warblers, Criss' first number, a cover version of "Teenage Dream", became the fastest-selling Glee single, reached number eight on the Billboard Hot 100, and was certified gold in the U.S. The Warblers have sold over 1.3 million tracks, and the soundtrack album, Glee: The Music Presents the Warblers (2011), peaked at number two on the US Billboard 200.
In January 2012, Criss made his Broadway debut, starring as J. Pierrepont Finch in the revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. His stint there proved to be a success: apart from Daniel Radcliffe's final week, the musical had the three most lucrative weeks of its 11-month run with Criss in the lead role, grossing more than four million dollars. In September 2012, he made his feature film debut in the comedy Girl Most Likely.
Criss was born in San Francisco, California, the youngest son of Cerina (née Bru) and Charles William Criss, a banker and a former director of the San Francisco Opera, the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, the Stern Grove Festival, and San Francisco Performances. Criss is Eurasian - his mother, a native of Cebu, Philippines, is of Chinese, Spanish, and Filipino descent, while his father, a native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is of Irish descent. He has an older brother named Charles "Chuck" Criss (born April 15, 1985), a musician and member of the indie rock band Freelance Whales. Criss and his brother were raised in San Francisco, except from 1988 to 1992, when the family resided in Honolulu, Hawaii, where their father started the EastWest Bank, serving as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer.
Education, and musical and theatrical training (1987-2009):
Criss' interest in music and the performing arts started in his early childhood. At the age of five he began taking violin lessons and was classically trained for the next fifteen years. At ten, he was accepted into the American Conservatory Theater (Young Conservatory program) where he studied theater performance throughout his formative years; concurrently, he made his professional stage debut at the musical theater company 42nd Street Moon. Pursuing his musical interests, Criss taught himself how to play various instruments until he mastered the violin, guitar, piano, mandolin, harmonica, and drums. By fifteen, he began delving into music composition and wrote his first song, which he later used as the title track of his first EP Human, released in 2009.
Criss completed his elementary education at Stuart Hall for Boys, and later graduated from Saint Ignatius College Preparatory in 2005. At Saint Ignatius he was a member of the performing arts program and acted in theater classics such as The Music Man, The Diary of Anne Frank, and Fiddler on the Roof. He also immersed himself in the school music scene - he held the position of concertmaster in the school orchestra, he fronted his own band, and was voted "most likely to win a Grammy" by his peers. Criss went on to attend the University of Michigan, majoring in theater performance and minoring in musicology and Italian. He was active as both an actor and director in the university's student-run theater organization Basement Arts. In the spring of 2008, he spent a semester abroad studying Italian theater at the Accademia dell'Arte in Arezzo, Italy. In 2009, he obtained his Bachelor of Fine Arts.
Criss made his professional stage debut at the age of ten as Cesario in 42nd Street Moon's production of Fanny (1997), then played Mauro in the Richard Rodgers and Stephen Sondheim musical Do I Hear a Waltz? (1998), and Beauregard Calhoun in Babes in Arms (1999). Throughout his adolescence, Criss appeared in a number of the American Conservatory Theater's plays, notably A Christmas Carol, A Midsummer Night's Dream, and The Voysey Inheritance. At the University of Michigan, he performed in stage productions such as Pride and Prejudice, A Few Good Men, and The Cripple of Inishmaan.
Upon receiving his Bachelor of Fine Arts in 2009, Criss, along with his friends and classmates from the University of Michigan, founded StarKid Productions, a musical theater company. His most prominent acting role with StarKid has been that of Harry Potter in the musical comedies A Very Potter Musical, A Very Potter Sequel, and A Very Potter Senior Year (based on the Harry Potter series of novels by J.K. Rowling).
In January 2012, Criss made his Broadway debut, replacing Daniel Radcliffe in the role of J. Pierrepont Finch in the revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying for a three-week engagement at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre. His stint there proved to be a success: apart from Daniel Radcliffe's final week, the musical had the three most lucrative weeks of its 11-month run with Criss in the lead role, grossing more than four million dollars.
Criss started his television career with a five-episode arc playing the character of Josh Burton on Eastwick in 2009. The following year, he appeared in an episode of the series Cold Case.
Currently, Criss portrays Blaine Anderson, an openly gay high school student, on the Fox television series Glee. Criss had auditioned for Glee several times for several roles before the character Blaine was created. He originally auditioned to play Finn Hudson. Criss made several audition videos for Glee, which he posted to the social networking website MySpace. Although the series writers have seen them, he considers them supplemental to his main audition, which was for series creator Ryan Murphy. Murphy had not seen any of Criss' previous auditions, but knew he was the right actor for Blaine as soon as he saw this one. The actor cut his long hair before auditioning, to suit the "serious and preppy" role.
In September 2010, it was confirmed that Criss would join the show in a "much-talked-about new gay role". Media speculation suggested that Blaine would be Kurt Hummel's new love interest. His original character description was: "a cute and charismatic gay student from a rival Glee club named the Dalton Academy Warblers--will maintain a strictly platonic friendship with McKinley High's most out and proud pupil. But could that change as the season progresses? Yes, it could." Murphy stated that Blaine's arc would be a significant one. He explained, "He sort of becomes Kurt's mentor and then maybe love ... Kurt really admires him and respects him."
He made his first appearance in season two in the episode "Never Been Kissed", which aired on November 9, 2010. Blaine attended Dalton Academy and was lead singer of its glee club, The Dalton Academy Warblers. Blaine initially served as a friend and mentor for Kurt, the bullied gay member of the Warblers' rival glee club, New Directions. Chemistry between the two characters, combined with fan support for the potential couple, led series co-creator Ryan Murphy to pair them romantically onscreen. At the beginning of the third season, Blaine transfers to McKinley High and joins New Directions; concurrently, Criss was promoted from recurring guest star to the show's main cast. Discussing public response to his character, Criss stated that he particularly enjoyed comments from "people from parts of the world who are maybe not as exposed to certain ideologies", but had reconsidered their stance on relationships and human rights as a result of the Blaine and Kurt storyline. He called this response "phenomenal" and said, "I was a straight kid growing up in a very gay community and it's something that I've had to watch so many friends have to struggle with and have no place to go to identify in kind of a grander media culture. To be a small piece of that machine is incredibly wonderful."
On September 7, 2012, Criss made his feature film debut in the comedy Girl Most Likely. It premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and was released nationwide on July 19, 2013. Previously titled Imogene, the film co-stars Kristen Wiig, Annette Bening, and Matt Dillon.
Solo artist (2005-present):
Criss began his solo music career while attending the University of Michigan. Playing in small venues, he developed his own musical repertoire which today consists of standards from the Great American Songbook, contemporary songs, Disney classics, and his own compositions. Criss occasionally collaborates and performs with fellow musicians, in particular University of Michigan alumni singer-songwriters Charlene Kaye and Theo Katzman, as well as various members of StarKid and the Glee cast.
On July 20, 2010, Criss released an independently-produced EP called Human. Describing his album as "soul-folk" to Entertainment Weekly, it peaked at No. 17 on the Billboard Top Heatseekers Albums chart. On December 10, 2010, Criss became the 400,000th member of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP). In April 2011, he signed with Sony Music Entertainment. He is in the process of recording a full-length studio album, with a release date yet to be determined.
In January 2013, Criss performed for U.S. President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, and Vice President Joe Biden at the inaugural balls of the 57th Presidential Inauguration.
During a benefit concert for public school arts on April 14, 2013, Criss was made an honorary member of Yale University's a cappella singing group The Whiffenpoofs.
Criss' first solo music tour visited 17 cities in the United States, Canada, and France from May 29, 2013 - June 30, 2013, and included songs from Glee, StarKid, his Human EP, and new material from his upcoming solo album.
StarKid Productions (2009-present):
Criss is credited as one of the primary songwriters and composers for StarKid Productions. He has contributed songs to A Very Potter Musical, Me and My Dick (which became the first-ever student-produced college musical to reach Billboard, debuting at No. 11 on the Top Cast Albums chart), Little White Lie, and A Very Potter Senior Year. Subsequently, Criss solely composed all the songs and music for A Very Potter Sequel, its companion album A Very StarKid Album, and Starship, which landed at No. 1 on the Billboard Top Cast Albums chart, and at No. 134 on the Billboard 200 chart.
In November 2011, Criss participated in StarKid's first national concert tour, The SPACE Tour, for the New York and Boston shows, and, in the summer of 2012, he joined them again for their second national tour, Apocalyptour, for the Los Angeles and New York shows.
As Blaine, Criss features in many musical performances on Glee, which have been released as singles, available for download. His first performance, "Teenage Dream" by Katy Perry, was featured on the soundtrack album Glee: The Music, Volume 4. It reached number eight on the Billboard Hot 100 in the week ending November 27, 2010, and number one on the Billboard Digital Songs chart. It was the best-selling song in the U.S. that week, selling 214,000 copies, the largest figure for a Glee title. It was only the second U.S.-certified gold single in the show's history. Both Billboard's Jillian Mapes and Erica Futterman of Rolling Stone deemed "Teenage Dream" the best song of "Never Been Kissed", the episode in which it featured. The Daily News's Anthony Benigno gave the song an "A", and noted that it was "flawless" and improved on Perry's original. The performance was nominated for the Best Gay Moment of the Year and Favorite Music Video awards at the 2010 AfterElton.com Visibility Awards. A Billboard cover-feature on Criss noted that the performance "arguably ushered in the trend of more current pop hits being reworked by the Glee cast."
Later songs performed by Blaine and the Warblers became popular enough to warrant a Warbler soundtrack album, Glee: The Music Presents the Warblers. It debuted at No. 2 on the US Billboard 200 and No. 1 on Billboard's Soundtracks chart, selling 86,000 copies in its first week. The Warbler tracks had sold over 1.3 million copies as singles by the time the album was released. Blaine performed the lead vocal on covers of Train's "Hey, Soul Sister", which peaked at number 32 in Canada, "Bills, Bills, Bills" by Destiny's Child, which reached number 44 in the U.S., and Robin Thicke's "When I Get You Alone", which got to number 47 on the Billboard Hot 100. Criss downplayed his performance of "Bills, Bills, Bills", and jested that he ought to issue the group's lead singer, Beyoncé Knowles, an apology for his cover. Blaine also led on "Silly Love Songs" by Wings, and Maroon 5's "Misery", which reached 45 and 52 respectively in the U.S., and Pink's "Raise Your Glass", which peaked at number 30 in Australia.
Blaine duetted with Kurt on Frank Loesser's "Baby, It's Cold Outside", which was included on Glee: The Music, The Christmas Album and reached number 53 in Canada. It was reportedly the most downloaded track of the album, with Murphy expressing his pride in the number for "pushing the envelope a bit." Jessica Ronayne of Zap2it called the duet one of the Christmas episode's few saving graces. Blaine and Kurt also duetted on Neon Trees' "Animal" and Hey Monday's "Candles", which peaked at 62 and 71 in the U.S. respectively. In an April 2011 interview, Criss stated that he did not feel established enough within the cast to make song suggestions, but had mentioned liking "Animal" to Murphy, who included it in a script soon thereafter. Blaine shared a duet of "Don't You Want Me" by The Human League with Rachel, which Amy Reiter of the Los Angeles Times deemed a musical highlight of the episode "Blame It on the Alcohol". It was included on Glee: The Music, Volume 5, and peaked at number 44 in Australia.
From May 21 to July 3, 2011, Criss and the cast of Glee performed in Glee Live! In Concert!, touring the U.S.A., Canada, England, and Ireland. According to Billboard Magazine, it was the 16th most successful concert tour of 2011, grossing more than $40 million, with total attendance topping 485,000. All 40 dates sold out, including shows at Staples Center, Nassau Coliseum, and The O2 Arenas in London and Dublin.
Advocacy and charity work:
Criss is an advocate for LGBT rights, and is an active supporter of The Trevor Project, the leading national organization focused on suicide prevention efforts among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) youth. Criss is the recipient of Variety's Power of Youth Philanthropy award for his contributions to The Trevor Project.
Criss is a spokesperson for the Rock the Vote organization and its Democracy Day campaign. On March 23, 2011, he helped launch Democracy Class, a "national high school civics program ... that uses pop culture, video, a classroom discussion and a mock election to teach young people the skills to navigate the elections process and engage as active citizens".
Criss recorded the Bob Dylan song "New Morning", featuring his brother Chuck Criss, for Amnesty International. It was part of the compilation album Chimes of Freedom: Songs of Bob Dylan Honoring 50 Years of Amnesty International, released on January 24, 2012.
On March 8, 2012, Criss was chosen by UNICEF Philippines to represent their organization and accept a $25,000 donation from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association for the disaster relief of Tropical Storm Washi
On September 20, 2013, in Toronto, Canada, Criss hosted We Day, an annual "youth empowerment" event organized by the Free the Children charity.
Criss has performed at various charity benefits including American Conservatory Theater, AIDS Project Los Angeles, New Conservatory Theatre Center, Toys for Tots, City of Hope National Medical Center, Motion Picture & Television Fund, Public School Arts, MusiCares Foundation, The Old Vic, UCLA's Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, Young Storytellers Foundation, and the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation.
Criss has appeared on the magazine covers of Billboard,Out,Playbill,TV Guide,Da Man,GT,Prestige,Essential Homme, and Entertainment Weekly. Criss is featured in the fall ad campaign (2011) for Uniqlo, a Japanese clothing line. Criss was named one of People's Sexiest Men Alive (2011), and was ranked No. 1 on AfterElton's "Hot 100" list (2011 & 2012), and No. 1 on GQ Magazine's "30 Under 30: The Most Stylish Young Men In Hollywood" list (2012).
Criss is an investor and partner of The Motley, a California-based men's grooming e-tailer.
In 2012, Criss became the spokesperson for the Festival of New American Musicals. The organization's mission is "to foster the creators, to train and showcase the performers and in the process also to help build the next generation of musical theater audience and support." Its honorary co-chairs are Stephen Sondheim, Stephen Schwartz, Jerry Herman, Angela Lansbury, and Jason Alexander.
I Adora You
Short film, minor role
The Chicago 8
Glee: The 3D Concert Movie
Girl Most Likely
Feature film debut
Stan Lee's Mighty 7
The Wind Rises
Recurring role, 5 episodes
Episode: "Free Love"
Recurring role (Season 2) 14 episodes,
Series regular (Seasons 3, 4 & 5)
Mikey and Tommy
Episode: "Placebo Effect" (voice role)
The Glee Project
Episodes: "Individuality", "Pairability", and "Glee-ality" (Season 1), "Romanticality" (Season 2)
Glee: Don't Stop Believing
Documentary on Glee
The Cleveland Show
Episode: "Jesus Walks" (voice role)
Episodes: "Long Distance Lovers", "Losing Followers", "Closer When We're Apart" (Season 3)
Teen Choice Awards
Co-hosted with Lucy Hale
Six by Sondheim
HBO documentary about the life of legendary composer Stephen Sondheim, interwoven with 6 of his most iconic songs.
Whose Line Is It Anyway?
Various roles of improvisational comedy
Voice-over role for animated TV series.
42nd Street Moon production - Stage debut
Do I Hear a Waltz?
42nd Street Moon production
Babes in Arms
42nd Street Moon production
Shed a Little Light: The Music of James Taylor
Singer and Musician
American Conservatory Theater
Zeitgeist Artworks production
A Very Potter Musical
StarKid Productions - Lead role, Co-songwriter and composer,
Me and My Dick
Italian restaurant owner
StarKid Productions - Cameo (voice only), Co-songwriter and composer, guitarist
A Very Potter Sequel
StarKid Productions - Lead role, Sole songwriter and composer, Co-producer
How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying
J. Pierrepont Finch
Broadway debut - Lead role
A Very Potter Senior Year
StarKid Productions - Lead role, Co-songwriter and composer
That Media Show
3 episodes (No. 1, No. 2, No. 5),
Series about Hollywood, filmmaking, and visual effects.
Little White Lie
StarKid Productions - Web series, Main role, Co-songwriter and musical producer
Life of Leopold
Funny or Die - Web series, Lead, Voice role
Broadway.com Audience Choice Awards
Benefit for The Trevor Project. In 2010, Criss sang "Not Alone" and "Teenage Dream" with Glee's Dalton Academy Warblers and Katy Perry, in 2011, he sang Tom Jones' hit, "It's Not Unusual", in 2012 he sang an acoustic version of Katy Perry's "Part of Me", and in 2013, he co-sang lead, with the cast of Glee, the Charlie Chaplin song '"Smile".
MusiCares Person of the Year
Criss and Glee's Dalton Academy Warblers performed for Barbra Streisand, in honor of her being named MusiCares Person of the Year by the MusiCares Foundation.
Glee Live! In Concert!
U.S.A., Canada, England, Ireland
The 16th most successful concert tour of 2011, grossing more than $40 million, with total attendance topping 485,000. All 40 dates sold out, including shows at Staples Center, Nassau Coliseum, and The O2 Arenas in London and Dublin.
ASCAP Pop Music Awards
Criss paid tribute to Rod Stewart by singing a ballad version of Stewart's classic song "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?", while accompanying himself on piano.
Billboard / Hollywood Reporter Film & TV Music Conference
Criss honored composer Alan Menken with a medley of his own Disney songs, singing alongside Broadway star Lea Salonga.
The SPACE Tour
New York & Boston
StarKid Productions' first national concert tour. Majority of songs performed were written and composed by Criss.
Sing Out, Raise Hope, Benefit Concert
Criss performed at Lincoln Center with the a capella singing groups of Harvard University's Krokodiloes, Princeton University's Nassoons, and Yale University's The Whiffenpoofs, at a benefit concert for the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation and The Trevor Project.
E! Entertainment pre-Oscar Show
Criss sang "The Rainbow Connection" with Kermit the Frog for the pre-show of the 84th Academy Awards.
New York & Los Angeles
StarKid Productions' second national concert tour.
Fundraiser for Barack Obama
Criss performed for the President of the United States at an LGBT-sponsored campaign fundraising gala.
57th Presidential Inauguration
Kids' Inaugural Concert, hosted by First Lady Michelle Obama and Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden - Criss sang his own song "Not Alone", joined by the Soul Children of Chicago choir. He also accompanied Naya Rivera on guitar as she sang the hit "Valerie".,
Vice President Joe Biden Inaugural event - Criss sang "Teenage Dream" and Carole King's "One Fine Day".,
The Presidential Inaugural Ball - Criss performed the Disney classic "When You Wish Upon A Star".,
Listen Up Tour
U.S.A., Canada & France
Criss headlined his first solo music tour, which visited 18 cities from May 29 - June 30. The set included songs from Glee, StarKid, his Human EP, and new material from his upcoming solo album.
A Capitol Fourth
Criss co-headlined the 4th of July celebration concert on the National Mall.
* Note: This is a selection of Criss' musical performances, not a complete list.