Over 9 million people tuned into to watch the pilot of Glee when it premiered on FOX on May 19, 2009. It was given the coveted time slot after American Idol, and the network was so sure that it had such a hit on their hands, they gave viewers just a taste that night, before launching the full series in the fall. They were quite right; almost overnight, Glee ensured that Journey’s ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ was blaring out of every car radio, and made bonafide stars out of a relatively unknown cast filled with Broadway talents, child stars, a backup dancer for Beyonce, and Idol rejects. Over the course of six seasons, the cast enjoyed EMMY and SAG nominations, performing for President Obama, and even performing at the World Series. Now, ten years later, we caught up with some of the stars who were with the show from the very first season, and asked to share their favorite memories.
“We could probably use a show like Glee now,” Jane Lynch admitted while chatting with us at Steven Tyler’s Grammy Party Benefiting Janie’s Fund this past February. “It’s a place where these kids can go, everybody has their back, and can raise their voice in song… I think it’s a show that many people re-watch it, but it’s a show where no matter who you are, you’re safe and you’re loved and you’re embraced in the choir room.” Jane, whose portrayal as ruthless cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester won her numerous awards, including a Golden Globe and an Emmy, admits that filming the pilot episode of the historic series sticks out as a favorite memory of hers. “My favorite memory is when we were doing ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ and the kids were doing it on that bare stage, just wearing red t-shirts. No costumes. It was just very raw and emotional and I remember watching them shoot that going, ‘Wow, this is special.’ “
Someone else who was there for that very special pilot episode was Matthew Morrison, who played lovable Glee club director Will Schuester. He, like Jane, remembers filming that first episode, and really the entire first season, fondly. “When we shot the first 13 episodes, I loved that moment,” he explained to us in a recent interview. “It wasn’t everyone else’s show yet. It felt special, we had so much fun with it. When it became a huge thing, it was like the world took a piece of it in a beautiful way… Now, when looking back, the show stood for something. There are so many people whose lives were affected because of the show, it helped people come out of the closet.”
Speaking of which, Kevin McHale, who came out last year after playing wheelchair bound Artie on Glee from the very first episode to the very last on March 20, 2015, shared with us when we caught up with him at the 2019 Billboard Music Awards that what he remembers best about his time on the show was the ‘whirlwind’ that came along with popularity of the show. “We did go through a once in a lifetime whirlwind doing the most insane things,” he said. “I have to say, there was a weekend where we did Oprah. It was the last season of the Oprah Show on a Saturday and then on Sunday, we went to the White House and did the Easter egg roll thing they do every year… Amber [Riley] sang the National Anthem, standing next to the Obama’s and I had her phone recording it. And in my head I was like, ‘This is the greatest thing that will ever happen to me!’ — and I wasn’t even doing it! It was the most insane, like I don’t know how we got there moment … It’s like, you go on a audition, you hope you get a job, and the next thing you know, you’re at the White House, just hanging out with J.K. Rowling and the Obama’s! It was very surreal”
“I’m so proud of Glee,” Kristin Chenoweth added when caught up with her this past February at the Paley Center event, Kristin Chenoweth: In Conversation With Bryan Fuller. “That [Glee creator] Ryan Murphy put so many different styles of music on television — I’m really proud of that.” Kristin was the show’s first major Broadway guest star, guest-spotting in the first season — and then almost every season after that — as the often drunk and always flirty former classmate of Will’s, April Rhodes. Though the role became recurring, Kristin remembers her first day on set with the cast most fondly. “The very first day, I walked on to that set and all these kids were just like, ‘Wow!'” she said. “That’s when you know you’ve lived a second. Chris Colfer said, ‘Jesus Christ’ and I said, ‘Never, ever – don’t compare anyone to Jesus!'”
But for all the great memories the cast shared over six seasons, perhaps the best may be yet to come. While Naya Rivera couldn’t quite land on a favorite memory from the hit show when we caught up with her at the Women’s Guild Cedars-Sinai Annual Gala on May 2, she did confess that the show is due for a comeback. “Of course!” she exclaimed when we asked her if the show should get a reboot. “I think it was awesome and everybody still loves it. Especially with it being on Netflix now, everyone gets to watch it. I feel the fans keep getting younger and younger! It’s like, ‘How do you know [about the show]?’ And they are like, ‘Netflix!’ (laughs) So yeah, I feel like anything is possible!”
Additional reporting by Russ Weakland, Allison Swan, Lanae Brody, and Elana Rubin