At the 2019 Rockefeller tree lighting festivities, Christmas at Rockefeller Center on NBC, there were two performers mixed in with headliners Idina Menzel, Lea Michele, Ne-Yo, John Legend and more whom viewers might not know very well. Their names are Skylar Astin and Alex Newell and here’s why you’re going to hear all about them in 2020.
Astin and Newell are co-starring on NBC’s upcoming midseason dramedy Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, which stars Jane Levy (Suburgatory, Shameless) as computer coder Zoey Clarke, who is inside an MRI machine when it malfunctions and subsequently starts to hear the innermost thoughts of those around her through popular songs.
Since the high-concept show will feature a lot of singing, most of Levy’s co-stars need to be musically talented. And at the tree lighting ceremony, Astin and Newell showed off their chops.
Astin is best known for starring in the films Pitch Perfect and Pitch Perfect 2. He played Jesse Swanson, love interest to Beca Mitchell (Anna Kendrick) and singer in male a capella group The Treblemakers. He did not appear in the third Pitch Perfect movie because Beca and her Barden Bellas cohorts graduated from college.
In addition to the Pitch Perfect movies, Astin also appeared on several episodes each of Halt and Catch Fire, Graves, and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. He has also appeared in the Broadway production of Spring Awakening, the Hollywood Bowl productions of Rent and Into the Woods, and the Carnegie Hall production of West Side Story.
In case you’re curious, he is not related to actors and siblings Sean and Mackenzie Astin. Astin is actually Skylar’s middle name.
Astin’s partner in crime for the Rockefeller tree lighting was his new co-star Alex Newell. This singer/actor is best known for playing Unique Adams on the FOX series Glee after finishing first runner-up on The Glee Project.
He told Vice in a 2018 interview that while he does identify as a man, he really is more gender-nonconforming — but that usually causes people to assume he’s transgender, which is something even he himself is not sure about.
“I question myself [about] that all the time … I’ve lived in a world where ‘trans’ is such a beautiful, positive thing in my life. I get kids walking up to me like, ‘You helped me transition; you inspired me to transition.’ I’m like, ‘I did that!’ But then — I question. … sometimes, I’m like, ‘I’m a trans poser!’ Maybe I should just be trans.”
He added, “While I’m not 1,000 percent masculine and not 1,000 percent feminine, I know that I am heavy on the feminine. But sometimes I want to rip the hair off and be in a sweatpant!”
In 2016, Newell released an EP called Power and went on tour with Adam Lambert. Then the next year, he made his Broadway debut in Once On This Island, which earned him a Grammy nomination for Best Musical Theater Album. He also contributed music to the HBO drama series Vinyl.
Newell and Astin will next be seen when Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist premieres Jan. 7, 2020 on NBC.
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