When Glee first arrived on the scene in 2009 when it first premiered on Fox, it became a huge hit almost instantly. It was bright and quirky and full of life. Not only did it get great ratings, the show also received a Golden Globe Award for Best Television Series – Musical or Comedy in 2010. In 2011, Glee actually surpassed Elvis Presley as the act with the most songs placed on the Billboard Hot 100 chart...though it's not quite fair considering that about one-fourth of the songs didn't chart for more than one week. The members of the lead cast were all equally promising performers and within the first few seasons, they became some of the most famous up-and-coming young stars.
Though it got off to a great start, as the show went on, fans began noticing inconsistencies in the plot and it eventually became a bit of a laughing stock in its final years. Still, its cultural impact was not lost on us and it is still appreciated as an influential show that dealt with serious issues such as race, LGBTQ issues, and relationships. Some of the actors have gone on to work on high-profile projects (one of them became a New York Times best-selling author and another stars in one of the most highly anticipated shows of 2018). However, many of the actors have failed to keep their careers afloat after Glee came to an end in 2015. Let's take a look at who is down and out and who is doing better than ever.
15 Lea Michele: Don't Stop Believin'
Lea Michele's role as Rachel Berry on Glee was her breakout television role and she had not done much in the way of TV or movie acting before 2009. However, she had performed on Broadway since she was just a child, appearing in appearing in productions of Les Misérables, Ragtime, Fiddler on the Roof, and Spring Awakening. Her starring role in Glee helped her to land the part of Ashton Kutcher's love interest in the mainstream movie, New Year's Eve...and she was also the voice of Dorothy in the American-Indian 3D animated movie Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return. But since Glee ended in 2015, she has had some trouble landing a role on a TV show that wasn't almost immediately canceled. After Glee, Michele appeared on Ryan Murphy's Scream Queens which was canceled after two seasons then she landed a role on ABC's The Mayor which was canceled after only one season. Better luck next time, Lea.
14 Kevin McHale: Schedule Was Too Busy to Book Other Gigs
Before Kevin McHale appeared on Glee as Artie Abrams, he appeared on an episode of All That, he was Dooley Thibodeaux in Zoey 101, and then went from Nickelodeon to HBO by appearing in a few episodes of True Blood. Though his role on Glee was his big break, he's had some trouble landing any recurring roles in other TV shows and his role in the 2014 film Boychoir has been his only role in a feature film to date. In 2016, McHale starred in ABC's mini-series about the gay rights movement, When We Rise. Most recently he voiced a character in the video game The Inpatient. According to McHale, casting directors gave up on hiring members from the cast of Glee because their schedules were so busy and hectic for the six years that the show was on the air. However, he has plenty of free time now, but casting directors still don't seem to be very interested.
13 Dianna Agron: Once a Cheerleader, Always a Cheerleader
Kevin McHale may say that it was difficult for the Glee actors to land roles in other projects because of their schedules but Dianna Agron proved that this was not necessarily the case--at least for her. Despite her busy Glee schedule, Agron managed to land multiple roles in TV shows and movies alike while playing cheerleader, Quinn Fabray on Glee. In 2010, she appeared in Burlesque alongside Cher and Christina Aguilera, she starred in I Am Number Four in 2011 alongside Alex Pettyfer (who she dated briefly), and she is starring as a CIA operative in the upcoming action thriller, Headlock. Before Glee, her first role was actually as a cheerleader in When a Stranger Calls (though she was uncredited) and she also appeared on Drake & Josh, Veronica Mars, and Heroes. In 2016, Agron married the Mumford & Sons banjoist, Winston Marshall.
12 Chris Colfer: Now a New York Times Best Selling Author
Chris Colfer got a lot of attention and accolades for portraying the role of Kurt Hummel on Glee including a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor in a Series, Miniseries or Television Film n 2011 and was also named one of the Time 100, Time's list of the 100 most influential people. In 2012, Colfer wrote and published his first book, The Wishing Spell, which would also make him a New York Times bestselling author. He also wrote and released six more books in the series over the next few years. Colfer even wrote, starred in, produced, and novelized his first film, Struck by Lightning, which debuted at the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival. If the Glee actors' schedules were really so busy, how did he manage to do all that? His newest novel, Stranger Than Fanfiction, was published in February 2017. It was recently announced that Twentieth Century Fox would be developing a film based on his book The Wishing Well and Colfer is set to write the screenplay.
11 Darren Criss: From Hogwarts to McKinley High
It's hard to believe that the star of StarKid's musical production, A Very Potter Musical, became the big star that he is today but stranger things have happened. Darren Criss got his start writing most of the lyrics and music for the viral sensation A Very Potter Musical and also played the lead role of Harry Potter. He even replaced Daniel Radcliffe in the role of J. Pierrepont Finch in the revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying on Broadway in 2012. However, it was in 2010 when Criss got his big break with the role of Blaine Anderson on Glee and he starred in the show until it ended in 2015. Ryan Murphy seems to really like Criss because he gave him the role of Andrew Cunanan in his newest show American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace. Criss and his longtime girlfriend Mia Swier became engaged in January of 2018.
10 Naya Rivera: She Got Kicked Off the Set of Glee
Naya Rivera has been acting since she was just a kid, starting as a recurring character on The Royal Family in 1991 and went on to appear in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Family Matters, Baywatch, and The Bernie Mac Show. In 2009, she landed the role of Santana Lopez which proved to be her breakout role. During her stint on Glee, Rivera managed to stir up a lot of drama with her relationship with Big Sean. Rivera and Big Sean were engaged until 2014 when he broke it off to be with Ariana Grande. According to Rivera's memoir, Sorry Not Sorry: Dreams, Mistakes, and Growing Up she claimed that she caught her fiance cheating on her with Grande but that may not be true. After stirring up drama with costar Lea Michele, Rivera was fired from the show, she quickly marred Ryan Dorsey, got divorced from Dorsey in 2016, and then was spotted canoodling with David Spade in 2017. To make matters even worse, she was arrested for domestic violence...Yikes!
9 Heather Morris: She Danced Her Way to the Stars
Heather Morris is first and foremost a dancer and her first acting gig was as an uncredited disco dancer in the CBS series Swingtown which aired in 2008. She also appeared as a dancer in ABC's Eli Stone, the 2008 movie Bedtime Stories, and How I Met Your Mother. She went on to appear in Glee as Brittany S. Pierce who eventually becomes Santana Lopez' love interest. After Glee ended, Morris competed on Dancing With the Stars despite the unfair advantage she had as a professional dancer. However, she was allowed to compete because she did not have any ballroom or partnering experience. She and her partner Maksim Chmerkovskiy were eliminated in the sixth week despite getting the first perfect score in the season. Morris married her longtime boyfriend, Taylor Hubbell, who she met while they were both in college. The couple have two sons, Elijah and Owen.
8 Grant Gustin: From Villain to Superhero
Before Grant Gustin became The Flash (aka Barry Allen), he was the scheming Sebastian Smythe on Glee between 2011 and 2013. After appearing on Glee, it was announced that Gustin would be playing The Flash in the second season of Arrow. Originally Gustin was only supposed to appear in three episodes of Arrow with the third serving as a backdoor pilot (in this case backdoor pilot refers to an episode that served to introduce a spin-off). Instead, The Flash got its very own stand-alone pilot which aired in 2014 and it was so successful that the CW immediately ordered a full season. It is currently on its fourth season. Gustin is also set to star in William H. Macy's Krystal alongside Rosario Dawson and Kathy Bates. The Flash star began dating Andrea "LA" Thoma in 2016 and they announced their engagement in April of 2017.
7 Melissa Benoist: Supergirl Went to McKinley High
Speaking of superheroes, not only was The Flash on Glee but so was Supergirl! Melissa Benoist played Marley Rose, a transfer student to McKinley High, in the fourth season of Glee. She only appeared on the show for two seasons. After her stint on Glee, she appeared in the movies Danny Collins and Band of Robbers and also as Miles Teller's love interest in Damien Chazelle's Whiplash. In 2015, Benoist landed the lead role of Kara Zor-El (aka Kara Danvers aka Supergirl) in CBS' Supergirl which moved to the CW for season 2. Supergirl is the first show in the Arrowverse which has a female lead. Most recently she starred in the Paramount Network's Waco, a miniseries based on the true story of the Waco siege in 1993. Benoist stars as Rachel Koresh, the legal wife of Branch Davidian leader David Koresh, played by Taylor Kitsch.
6 Jonathan Groff: From Broadway to Netflix
Like Lea Michele, Jonathan Groff first rose to prominence after appearing in the original Broadway production of Spring Awakening. In the first season, he guest starred alongside his old pal Lea Michele for eight episodes. Groff played Jesse St. James, the lead of Vocal Adrenaline which was New Directions' competition. Groff appears in one of the last episodes of Glee and it is revealed in the series finale that he was Rachel's Broadway show and the two were married. In 2013, Groff was the voice of Kristoff in Disney's Frozen and also voiced the character in Lego Frozen Northern Lights and Olaf's Frozen Adventure. This may not be the most prestigious role for a successful Broadway actor but it is definitely lucrative! Groff returned to Broadway in 2015 to play King George III in Hamilton and returned to TV to play the lead in the David Fincher and Charlize Theron produced Netflix series, Mindhunter.
5 Harry Shum Jr.: A Natural Born Dancer
Like Heather Morris, Harry Shum Jr. started his career as a dancer and he first appeared as the only male dancer on BET's ComicView all the way back in 2002 and eventually became one of the lead dancers for stars like Beyoncé, Mariah Carey, Jennifer Lopez, and Jessica Simpson. He also appeared in Step Up 2: The Streets and Step Up 3D. When he starred on Glee, he played Mike Chang who is a football player who happens to be an excellent dancer. After Glee ended, Shum starred in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny and also appeared in Hulu's The Legion of Extraordinary Dancers. Shum played Magnus Bane, a recurring character in Shadowhunters: The Mortal Instruments, a show loosely based on the book series, The Mortal Instruments. He is also set to appear in the 2018 comedy film Crazy Rich Asians.
4 Amber Riley: She Won Dancing With the Stars
Amber Riley had not done much in the way of acting until she was cast as Mercedes Jones, a main member of New Directions. In season five, Riley was credited as a guest star instead of series regular like she had been for the first four seasons. In the last season, Riley was credited as a series regular again and her character returns to McKinley High with other former students to recruit new members for the glee club and in the finale, she is the opening act for Beyonce. However, in real life she hasn't exactly become the opening act for Beyonce but she was the winner of the 17th season of Dancing With the Stars. She also played Addapearle in The Wiz Live! and Brenda in Straight Outta Oz. Most recently, she landed a role on Fly, a TV series based on the first all African-American females to crew a commercial flight.
3 Chord Overstreet: Sam Turned Country Stra
Like Amber Riley, Chord Overstreet didn't have a lot of acting experience before Glee. He appeared in the short-lived web series Private and also an episode of iCarly and The Middle. Though he hadn't done much int he way of acting, he was a model for Hollister, Famous Footwear and Gap which made him perfect for Glee. Overstreet first appeared in the Glee in the first episode of season two as Sam Evans and was a member of the cast until the series finale when he became the new director of New Directions. After his stint on Glee was over, Overstreet didn't do much more acting and, instead, he grew some facial hair and began working on his music career. He signed a contract with Safehouse Records in 2015 and he released his first single "Homeland" in 2016 and opened for Demi Lovato and Nick Jonas on several tour dates of their Future Now Tour. He released his first EP entitled Tree House Tapes in 2017.
2 Jenna Ushkowitz: She's a Broadway Gal
Jenna Ushkowitz had virtually no professional acting experience in TV before she was cast as a series regular in Glee but she had already appeared on Broadway. Her first role in a Broadway musical was the revival of The King and I in 1996 and she was an understudy in Spring Awakening. She starred in Glee as the shy Tina Cohen-Chang who eventually comes out of her shell as the series progressed and in the series finale, it is revealed that she is in a relationship with Artie and she starred in a movie he directed. In real life she starred in the movie, Yellow Fever in 2017. She temporarily appeared in Waitress on Broadway in 2016 and also in Broadway's The 24 Hour Plays alongside Rachel Dratch and Tracie Thoms. She was also the co-producer of the revival of the one-act Broadway musical Once on This Island.
1 Matthew Morrison: From Link Larkin to Will Schuester
Though the cast is mostly made up of young actors playing high school students, there are a handful of actors who played adult characters, most notably Matthew Morrison. Morrison played Will Schuester (aka Mr. Schue), the Spanish teacher at McKinley High who becomes the new director of the glee club, New Directions, in the first season of the show. Like many of the other Glee cast members, Morrison got his start on Broadway. His first role on Broadway was in the musical version of Footloose in but his big break was when he landed the role of Link Larkin in the original Broadway production of Hairspray in 2002. Morrison appeared in all 121 episodes of Glee and it was revealed in the finale that his character had become the new principle of McKinley High. After Glee, Morrison has appeared on The Good Wife, Grey's Anatomy, and Younger.