On his new single, the Kanye-inspired "Nobody to Love," actor/singer Alex Newell channels this history of diva house with effortless panache and a 2014 edge. The track is a cover of post-drum'n'bass/breaks duo Sigma's tune of the same name, an interpolation of West's "Bound 2" interpolation that hit No. 1 in the UK in April. Newell says that while he loves Kimye, he didn't exactly channel the power couple in the studio.
"I think I went to my own place," he tells THUMP. "You know when you're in a lucid dream and you don't know if you're asleep or awake? You have to connect with it so you have to go somewhere."
As the track embeds itself onto summertime playlists, Newell is preparing for a month of performances at Gay Pride festivals across the country, even if he's not yet sure what he'll be singing.
"I'm always very last minute when it comes to these things," he explains. "You would think, after doing Pride for three summers, I would know how to prepare, but I still don't. It's the teenager still in me."
Newell came to prominence by playing a teenager on TV, the musically driven and twerk-loving transgender high schooler Unique on "Glee." He has been a natural fit for the Pride circuit ever since. With "Nobody to Love," he reinforces that connection by paying homage to house vocalists —from Loleatta Holloway to Martha Wash— who defined the gay house scene of the 90s, even if Newell himself never experienced the scene first hand.
"My mother would only let me watch PBS," says Newell. "Anything with an orchestra or any original Broadway cast musical. That's literally all I knew from the time I can remember from up until I was ten. Then it started to be Whitney Houston and Brandy and the oldies that my mom would listen to like Donna and Aretha and Patti."
While they were once primarily platforms for social issues, Pride events now tend to be more bacchanal than political rally. Newell admits he might partake in the festivities, within moderation.
"I love to turn up at all times," he confesses. "I can't when I'm traveling and performing. It just gets in the way. I literally lose, like, an octave, if I drink too much the night before. I go from singing like Mariah Carey to singing like Barry White or something, within a couple seconds. It's terrible."
"I'm a firm believer that you can still have fun without getting extremely inebriated," he adds.
As the final season of "Glee" approaches, Newell is ready to focus on his music career. After signing to Atlantic Records last fall, he has been steadily at work on a debut album that he promises will be a mix of pop, R&B and "EDM dance tracks with a big, giant vocal on top." Still, the legacy of Unique won't be far behind.
"You have to be proud of who you are and the community," he says about his upcoming performances. "Just seeing everyone with so much pride and joy because of who they are and being accepted for who they are with everyone else that's there—I'm excited!"
"Nobody To Love" is available on iTunes today.