20 Glee Secrets Revealed: On-Set Romances, Devastating Tragedy and Unbreakable Bonds

Fox's hit musical comedy that launched the careers of Lea Michele and Darren Criss premiered 10 years ago; look back on the ups and downs of the Gleeks

By Tierney Bricker May 17, 2019 4:00 PMTags
Watch: Throwback! See the "Glee" Set in 2009

Can you believe it's been 10 gleekin' years?!

That's right, Glee premiered 10 years ago on May 19, 2009, introducing us to stars like Lea Michele and Darren Criss, made being a theater nerd cool, and, most importantly, raised awareness for the LGBTQ community and arts education. And it did all of this while simultaneously making its rabid fanbase laugh and cry on a regular basis. 

At the height of its popularity, the Fox hit series, created by Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan, was a pop culture phenomenon, delivering record ratings, attracting an endless line-up of A-list guest stars and even breaking Elvis Presley's long-standing record for the most appearances on "Billboard's" Hot 100 chart.

It seemed like everyone was gleek, listening to the cast's catchy covers and quoting every biting one-line spit out by the eternally track-suited Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch). 

20 Shocking Glee Secrets Revealed

But with the really high highs came some lows, including the devastating death of the show's leading man, and in-fighting amongst the cast as they grappled with their rapid rise to mega-fame, with some of them not even old enough to drink when they became household names. 

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Plus, some of the most beloved onscreen pairings were actually dating behind-the-scenes, blurring the lines between TV and reality for the fans.

So what did you (maybe) miss on Glee after it debuted 10 years ago, with New Directions immediately winning us over with their iconic cover of "Don't Stop Believin'"? We've compiled some of the series' surprising secrets and facts for you to enjoy along with your celebratory Slushie—just don't throw it on anyone—before tuning into E! News on May 17 at 7 p.m. for behind-the-scenes secrets straight from the cast...

Ryan's Regrets and Reveals

A few years after Glee ended, Ryan Murphy reflected on the pop culture phenomenon and revealed how chaotic things were behind the scenes. 

"It was the best time in my life and the worst time in my life," he told Entertainment Weekly, going on to admit, "There was a lot of infighting. There was a lot of people sleeping together and breaking up. It was good training for being a parent, I'll tell you that much."

He also reflected on his time on the show, looking back with some regret on how he handled things as the showrunner. 

"I was there with them all day long, and then we'd finish work and we'd go out and have fun all night, and I guess in a weird, twisted way, I was trying to relive the childhood I never had," he told THR. "I thought they wanted a parent, and they didn't. They didn't want me to tell them what to f—king do. They didn't want me to tell them how to treat each other or what the world was like at the end of the day. I wish I could go back and do that differently with a lot of those actors. Some of them I'm still very close to: Lea Michele, Chord Overstreet, Darren Criss — but there were some that didn't work out well, and I regret that. I guess I just wish I had been able to let them figure it out for themselves."

Going on to create Scream Queens, American Horror Story, Pose and other hit series, Murphy said Glee "was a great lesson in what not to do moving forward." 

Casting Changes

Fun fact: Ryan Murphy wrote the role of Rachel Berry with Lea Michele, a Broadway standout thanks to Spring Awakening, in mind. But not every cast member's journey to becoming a Gleek was so easy.

Before he was cast as Blaine, Criss auditioned for the role of Finn, the lead quarterback. 

"It was the first audition I ever had. I auditioned for the pilot," he revealed at the Paleyfest panel. "And then I remember watching the pilot to see who got the part [I went out for] and seeing Cory [Monteith got it] and thinking, oh, obviously, right."

Another star who also auditioned for a different part was Colfer, who read for Artie originally. Producers were so impressed by the teen that they created the role of Kurt specifically for him. 

In fact, Murphy revealed Colfer's audition was the inspiration behind creating The Glee Project, the show's reality competitions series that gave aspiring actors the chance to be cast on Glee.

"It's such a huge honor and I mean that's really special because I feel like if I inspired something that is giving kids a platform that is incredible," Colfer said

Last-Minute Cast Addition

The final cast member to join the show? Dianna Agron, who played head cheerleader Quinn Fabray, landing the role the day before they filmed the pilot.

Initially, Quinn was supposed to be the stereotypical mean girl, but Agron's nature ended up changing the role for the writers.

"When we cast Dianna as Quinn, she ruined the part for me," Murphy told Rolling Stone. "She was supposed to be the Cybill Shepherd, Last Picture Show c—, so to speak, but she humanized it. She can cry at the drop of a hat. So now her character has a conscience, a soul and great vulnerability."

Agron would leave the show after season three, returning only for the 100th episode.

On-Set Romances

Just like in the hallways of McKinley High, the Glee set featured a lot of flirtation and relationships between its young stars. (And even before the show, as Lea Michele revealed in her 2014 memoir Brunette Ambition that she and Matthew Morrison "actually dated back in for the day for a Broadway beat.")

Michele and Cory Monteith, whose characters were one of the show's most iconic couples," dated for several years before Monteith's tragic death in 2013, while Blake Jenner and Melissa Benoist, who now stars on Supergirl, married in 2015 after meeting on the set in 2012 when they also played love interests; they split in 2016 and their divorce was finalized the following year.  

Naya Rivera and Mark Salling briefly dated in the show's earlier days and it wasn't an amicable split, as Rivera would write in her 2016 memoir, "I think everyone should have that one relationship where you look back and ask yourself, 'What the hell was I thinking?' You'll learn something and you won't regret it. Unless, of course, that relationship was with someone who had a sizable stash of child porn on his computer. Then, by all means, regret everything." Rivera was referring to Salling's child pornography indictment in 2017. In January 2018, Salling committed suicide at the age of 35.

While they first met when she guest-starred on Glee, Gwyneth Paltrow didn't begin dating future husband Brad Falchuk, one of Glee's co-creators, until she returned to the show in 2014, over a year after her split from Coldplay frontman Chris Martin

"When you're going through a divorce and you think about going out with somebody, it's a weird thing," she told Howard Stern of taking it slowly with Falchuk, a recently-divorced father of two. "So I don't think it's the same as being 23 and running into someone at a coffee shop. It's just different. You have kids, you have divorce—it's just a lot of stuff."

They got married in October 2018. 

While there were whispers of a romance between Kevin McHale (Artie) and Jenna Ushkowitz (Tina) during the show's run, it turns out they were just in a showmance, which became the new of their hit podcast.

Celebrity Feuds

Given its popularity and millions of downloads (including huge bumps for the original versions of the songs covered by the cast), you would think any band or artist would give Glee the rights to their songs. But there were several major bands that wouldn't let the glee club put their take on their tunes: Kings of Leon, with Murphy calling the band members "self-centered assholes" because they "missed the big picture" aka how the show could inspire kids to join arts education through their songs, namely their hit "Use Somebody." A mini-Twitter feud followed.  

Guns N' Roses guitarist Slash also rejected Glee's request, saying he wasn't a fan of the show. "Usually I find people who make those comments, their careers are over' they're uneducated and stupid," Murphy said.

The Foo Fighters didn't approve the show's request either, with Dave Grohl calling out Murphy in an interview with THR.

"You shouldn't have to do f--king Glee," he said. "And then the guy who created Glee is so offended that we're not, like, begging to be on his f--king show...I watched 10 minutes...it's not my thing."

Firsts and Fights During Late Nights

Colfer and Ushkowitz lived together during the show's run and often had cast parties at their apartment. 

"Those of us who were obviously over-age would drink themselves into the oblivion," McHale said on Showmance, his podcast with Ushkowitz, before Colfer chimed in, "Oh, I drank too." (During a 2013 Paleyfest panel, Colfer revealed he actually had his first drink at their apartment.)

Amber Riley (Mercedes) smoked her first and last cigarette during one of their many late nights there, with the foursome being so close they called themselves JACK (the first initial of all of their names).

They also reminisced on their wild nights out while on their concert tour, with Riley revealing she got into a fight with a random girl while in London with the cast. After realizing she had punched the girl, she told their security team who then paid the girl off to stay quiet. Colfer, still not 21 at the time, admitted to sneaking into a lot of bars.

Art Imitating Life

Because they were a young, close-knit cast, many things the stars were going through ended up on-screen, especially early on.

"There have been a couple of times when I have gone to Ryan Murphy and told him a couple of things that have happened to me, and then he writes it into the show," Colfer said in an interview with PR.com. "Or he'll ask me what song I would want to sing, in this situation or in that situation. I don't think any of us directly try to give input on the character or on the storyline, but they definitely steal things from us. I remember I was talking to Ryan about when I was in high school and I really wanted to sing 'Defying Gravity.' The other students in my drama class and the teachers, when we were putting on this talent show, they wouldn't let me sing it because I was a boy and it was a girl's song. And then that was made [into] an episode."

And star Chord Overstreet's (Sam) plump lips even worked their way into a storyline...and song, called "Trouty Mouth."

During a Paleyfest panel, Overstreet said, "I never even realized my lips were anything until the jokes started coming. And they wrote that freakin' song!"

A Star Is Born

While he ultimately didn't snag the role of Finn (his first audition ever!), Darren Criss ended up becoming one of the biggest breakout stars of the series when he made his debut as Head Warbler Blaine Anderson in season two. His first scene, which featured his performance of Katy Perry's "Teenage Dream," set up one of the show's most popular couples, Klaine (Kurt and Blaine), but also delivered one of Glee's most successful singles of all-time, debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. 

Criss, one of the stars and creators of the popular YouTube "A Very Potter Musical" pre-Glee (He played Harry Potter, of course!), was quickly promoted to series regular and became one of the central characters. 

And when Murphy was looking to cast the role of serial killer Andrew Cunanan for The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story, he surprised many when he chose Criss, crediting his turn on Broadway in Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

"I just knew he could do it," Murphy revealed to EW. "More than that, I knew that he was super hungry and ambitious. I think people thought of Darren as a musical comedy star first. But, when I saw Hedwig, I knew he was capable of great darkness."

Criss' performance on the FX hit series earned him a Golden Globe, Emmy and SAG Award. 

Secret Scene-Stealer

While she would go on to become one of the show's most beloved stars, Heather Morris was actually brought in by the show's choreographer just to teach Colfer how to do the "Single Ladies" dance because she was one of Beyoncé's back-up dancers. Producers then decided to cast her as a background player when they needed a third cheerleader, but they quickly realized they had a secret weapon in Morris, who had a knack for tossing out one-liners "(Did you know dolphins are just gay sharks?") and became a fan-favorite. She was promoted to series regular in season two, becoming the focus of the  Britney Spears tribute episode and one-half of one of the show's most popular couples with Naya Rivera's Santana.

For the fifth season, Morris became a recurring guest star after getting pregnant in real-life, with the actress choosing not to return as a full-time cast member.

MIA Guest Stars

At the height of its fame, it seemed like everyone appeared on Glee or wanted to appear on Glee. Some of the show's biggest guest star gets included Gwyneth Paltrow, John Stamos, Helen Mirren (via voiceover), Carol Burnett, Kate Hudson, Lindsay Lohan, Ricky Martin, Sarah Jessica Parker and Whoopi Goldberg, among many, many more.

Still, there were some announced guest stars who never ended up Gleeking out: Javier Bardem was supposed to play a rock star who befriends Artie, which never came to fruition. Anne Hathaway was set to play Kurt's lesbian aunt, but never popped up.

Jennifer Lopez also met with producers, but it never ended up materializing.

It's Britney, B--ch

After tributes to Madonna and Lady Gaga, Glee staged its most successful tribute episode: in season two: "Britney/Brittany," an homage to Britney Spears. (They did a second Brit tribute episode in season four.)

It was [Britney's] idea," Murphy said of the pop icon's response to the honor. "I think she loves what the show's about, paying tribute to pop culture in a very loving, respectful, kind way. She responded to that."

Unlike Madonna and Gaga though, Spears actually appeared as herself in the episode.

"I loved it! Thank you guys SO much for making this happen!" the "I'm A Slave 4 U" singer tweeted. 

And Spears was particularly taken with Morris, writing, "Awww Heather Morris is sooo cute! Brittany S Pearce. Ha! She was so fun to work with and was really sweet in person."

It was a major moment for Morris, who idolized Spears growing up.

"She was my idol from, like, age 12 to 16," Morris told TV Week. "I sang to her [songs] in my living room and danced to her—I learned all her moves. And I had my talent shows and I lip-synced to her. I just kept flashing back to growing up and being obsessed with her."


Glee was so popular that the main cast went on a national tour from 2010-11, selling out almost all of their 40 dates. (Eventually it went overseas as well, visiting European cities.)

"The response of the fans to our little show has been so immediate and so gratifying, we wanted to get out and thank them live and in person," Murphy said when the tour was announced. "And what show lends itself more to a concert than Glee?"

The tour would go on to gross $40 million, and resulted in the two-week theatrical release of Glee: The 3D Concert Movie, using footage from the cast's concert in New Jersey.

As for their music sales, the show's 16 soundtrack albums and six compilation albums had sold over 7.9 million copies by 2015, while their songs had been downloaded over 45 million times and sold 53 million copies. 

The Spinoff Controversy

You can't stay in high school, even when you're attending TV high school. Still, fans were shocked when hen Murphy told THR that the series' main trio Michele, Monteith and Colfer would not be returning for season four after their class graduated from McKinley. Rumors of a potential New York-set spinoff being explored by the producers surfaced, which would find Rachel and Kurt trying to make their Broadway dreams come true in the Big Apple.

"You can keep them on the show for six years and people will criticize you for not being realistic," Murphy said at the time, "or you can be really true to life and say when they started the show they were very clearly sophomores and they should graduate at the end of their senior year."

But the trio ended up staying on Glee, which focused on their post-college plans while also introducing new students into the mix at McKinley, with the network's then president telling reporters ahead of season four, "There will not be a Glee spinoff."

Still, season four presented a shake-up for the show, with Murphy telling Vulture he gave the original cast members the choice to exit the series if they wanted after their characters graduated. "I said to them, 'Anybody who wants to stay on the show will stay on the show,'" he explained. Almost everyone stayed but many dropped down to recurring or guest star status. 

Reality Spin-Off

During Glee's third season, The Glee Project kicked off on Oxygen, which found the contestants competing for a role on the main show.

From its two season-run, Glee brought four contestants over, including season one's winners Samuel Larsen and Damian McGinty Jr., as well as runner-ups Lindsay Pearce and Alex Newell. Blake Jenner, the winner of season two, became a series regular in season five, while the runner-up Ali Stroker made an unexpected guest appearance in season four.

Writing Credits

One of the show's breakout stars, winning a Golden Globe for his turn as Kurt, Colfer went on to write an episode of Glee in season five, later admitting he was terrified to take on the challenge despite writing several novels, as well as the film adaptation of his book Struck By Lighting

"When they first approached me I said, absolutely not," he said during a Paleyfest panel. "I'm not putting words into my costars' mouths. There was a lot of pressure."

His onscreen paramour Darren Criss also penned something for Glee during the show's run, writing an original song for the series finale called "This Time." 

"I basically wrote a love note to the entire experience," Criss explained of the song, which Michele sang in the episode. "Having Lea sing it to me is one of the most special moments of my career."

It was just as special for Michele, who said, "Darren gave me the greatest gift. Honestly. That was the day I fell to my knees and cried. I literally had to call my mother to come [get me]. It's so special, it was the most amazing memory."

The song would go on to be nominated for an Emmy. 

A Leaky Extra

In 2011, a Glee extra/fan found herself in hot water when she shared major spoilers on Twitter, revealing most of the major happenings at the prom. Co-creator Brad Falchuk put her on blast, responding, "Who are you to spoil something talented people have spent months to create?"

He then added, "hope you're qualified to do something besides work in entertainment."

The leaker Nicole Crowther, then 2, received "very, very hateful messages" from fans and said she was "black-balled" by every agency in town.

"I had no idea it would even come close to anything it's been," she told E! News. "I regret it and I can totally understand, not only where the fans are coming from, but why Brad and other people from Fox are furious with me. I can understand their point of view." 

A few years later, the show had another Twitter scandal when someone hacked Colfer's account and tweeted he was leaving the show. "Due to personal issues, I have been let go from the cast of GLEE. Explanations will come shortly..." the message read. 

After the mass hysteria from Klaine fans subsided when the show's rep denied Colfer was leaving the show, the actor appeared on Good Morning America, calling the hack "very upsetting." 

"Some jerk hacked me," he said. "It was a pain, it really was." 

Naya Rivera's Secret Struggle

In her 2016 memoir, Sorry Not Sorry: Dreams, Mistakes and Growing Up, Rivera revealed she got an abortion during the show's run.

In late 2010, Naya discovered she was pregnant just weeks after breaking up with actor Ryan Dorsey, whom she later wed in 2014 and is the father of her son, Josey Dorsey (they divorced in 2018).

She chose not share the news with Dorsey at the time, instead choosing to focus on her career; she terminated the pregnancy during a day off from filming an episode of Glee.

"I think every woman should have the right to choose, and it scares me to think of a world where the decision of whether to have a child is not her choice to make," she wrote.

How Glee Honored Its Quarterback

After Monteith's sudden and tragic death from combined drug intoxication in 2013 at the age of 31, questions arose about how Glee would handle his passing and Finn's absence on the show (with Murphy telling E! News they even considered ending  the series).

After taking an extended hiatus, Glee addressed Monteith's death in "The Quarterback," a beautiful tribute episode that revealed Finn had died. It was an emotional and somber hour of television, both on-screen and off as each cast member was given a change to honor Monteith in the episode.

"Almost everything in that episode is from the first take of every performance because the actors and the crew had a really hard time shooting it,' Murphy said at the time. "I've never seen a crew that you can't continue shooting because they've left the room sobbing. It was very hard. I struggled even working on it because what they felt, not just about Finn but Cory."

The episode ended with Michele, Monteith's girlfriend, singing Bob Dylan's "Make You Feel My Love," and Rachel returning to McKinley to hang a plaque in the choir room featuring a picture of Finn and a quote from him that reads: "The show must go...all over the place...or something."

Matthew Morrison said of the filming, "[Lea] had one of the first songs we filmed for the episode and she did it so beautifully and after, she said something like, 'It can't be harder for anyone else than it was for me.' So, we knew we had to show up because our leader stepped forward and kind of gave permission to all of us to do it. I don't think we could have done it without her." 

In an In Memoriam piece penned for Entertainment Weekly in 2013, Murphy revealed the ending he and the writers originally envisioned for Finchel's journey on the show. 

"Rachel comes back to Ohio, fulfilled and yet not, and walks into Finn's glee club," he explained. "'What are you doing here?' he would ask. 'I'm home,' she would reply. Fade out. The End."

Leaving a Mark

Three of Michele's 16 tattoos are Glee-related: Michele showed off her "Finn" tattoo when she posed naked for the cover of Women's Health U.K., a tattoo Rachel had gotten on the show as a tribute to Finn after his death. Michele also has the No. 5 in honor of Monteith, which was Finn's football jersey number.

"And one more...for my Quarterback...#5," she captioned the Instagram post debuting her new body ink. 

She also has a tiny gold star on her left wrist as a nod to her character Rachel and one of her lines from the pilot episode: "You may laugh because every time I sign my name I put a gold star after it, but it's a metaphor, and metaphors are important. My gold stars are a metaphor for ME being a star."

In an interview with Rolling Stone, Michele revealed she and co-stars Ushkowitz and McHale got matching "Imagine" tattoos on their feet, a nod to The Beatles, during a night out and a few glasses of wine. 

"I'm known to be the instigator to do some more risky stuff. So we have little tattoos on our feet now," she said. "It made a lot of sense that night."

Gleeks Forever

Many of the cast members have remained since the series ended in 2015, proving once a Gleek always a Gleek.

Michele and Criss have gone on co-headlining tours together, and Michele performed at Criss' nuptials to longtime girlfriend Mia Swier in February 2019. Criss was also present Michele married Zandy Reich a month later in a ceremony officiated by Murphy. Becca Tobin, who joined Glee in season four and ow stars in E!'s Ladygang, was also present as she and Michele have continued to be best friends in the years since Glee.

When Tobin got married in 2016 Jane Lynch officiated the ceremony, which was a mini-Glee reunion with Michele, McHale, Ushkowitz, Meg DoyleMichael HitchcockMatt Hodgson and Dante Russo all in attendance.

In 2018, Morrison reunited many of the member of New Directions to meet his newborn son, Revel James Makai Morrison. "It's a GLEE-Union!!" Morrison captioned the photo of the gang, including Michele, Rivera, Riley, Morris, Colfer, Criss and more. "What a beautiful night hangin with my old kids & new kid! Ohana..."

In March, some of the Gleeks, including Crazy Rich Asians' Harry Shum Jr., reunited on-screen, competing against each other on Drop the Mic.

For more exclusive memories and never-revealed-stories about Glee, watch E! News tonight at 7 p.m. for scoop straight from the cast as they look back on the show 10 years later...