Criss is best known for his portrayal of Blaine Anderson on the Fox musical comedy-drama series Glee. As the lead vocalist of Glee's Dalton Academy Warblers, Criss' first number, a cover version of "Teenage Dream", became the fastest-selling Glee single, reached number eight on the Billboard Hot 100, and was certified gold in the US. The Warblers have sold over 1.3 million tracks, and the soundtrack album, Glee: The Music Presents the Warblers (2011), peaked at number two on the US Billboard 200. He was nominated for an Emmy Award in 2015 for writing the song "This Time" for the Glee finale.
Criss was born in San Francisco, California, the youngest child of Cerina and Charles William Criss, an investment banker and a patron of the arts. He has an older brother, Charles Criss, who is a member of the band Freelance Whales.
Criss is Eurasian – his mother is a native of Cebu, Philippines, while his father, a native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is of English, German, and Irish descent. Criss was raised primarily in San Francisco, apart from 1988–92, when the family resided in Honolulu, Hawaii, where Charles Criss started the EastWest Bank, serving as Chairman and CEO.
Criss attended Roman Catholic schools. He completed his elementary education at Stuart Hall for Boys, and later graduated from Saint Ignatius College Preparatory in 2005. In 2009, Criss obtained his Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Michigan, majoring in Theater Performance and minoring in Musicology and Italian.
Criss' interest in music started in his early childhood; at the age of five he began taking violin lessons and was classically trained for the next fifteen years. Criss taught himself how to play other instruments, including the guitar, piano, mandolin, harmonica, and drums. In high school, Criss immersed himself in the music scene – he held the position of concertmaster in the school orchestra, he fronted his own band, and was voted "most likely to win a Grammy" by his peers. By age fifteen, he began delving into music composition and wrote his first song, which he later used as the title track of his first EP Human, released in 2009.
Criss also demonstrated an affinity for the performing arts. At the age of ten, he was accepted into the American Conservatory Theater (Young Conservatory program) where he studied theater performance throughout his formative years. At St Ignatius he was a member of the performing arts program and acted in theater classics such as The Music Man, The Diary of Anne Frank, and Fiddler on the Roof. He was active as both an actor and director in the University of Michigan's student-run theater organization Basement Arts. In 2008, he spent a semester abroad studying Italian theater at the Accademia dell'Arte in Arezzo, Italy.
Criss made his professional stage debut at the age of ten as Cesario in 42nd Street Moon's production of Fanny (1997), then played Mauro in the Richard Rodgers and Stephen Sondheim musical Do I Hear a Waltz? (1998), and Beauregard Calhoun in Babes in Arms (1999).
Throughout his adolescence, Criss appeared in a number of the American Conservatory Theater's plays, notably A Christmas Carol, A Midsummer Night's Dream, and The Voysey Inheritance. At the University of Michigan, he performed in stage productions such as Pride and Prejudice, A Few Good Men, and The Cripple of Inishmaan.
Upon receiving his Bachelor of Fine Arts in 2009, Criss, along with some friends and classmates from the University of Michigan, co-founded StarKid Productions, a musical theater company. His most prominent acting role with StarKid has been that of Harry Potter in the musical comedies A Very Potter Musical, A Very Potter Sequel, and A Very Potter Senior Year (based on the Harry Potter series of novels by J.K. Rowling).
In January 2012, Criss made his Broadway debut, replacing Daniel Radcliffe in the role of J. Pierrepont Finch in the revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying for a three-week engagement at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre. His stint there proved to be a success: apart from Daniel Radcliffe's final week, the musical had the three most lucrative weeks of its 11-month run with Criss in the lead role, grossing more than four million dollars.
Criss took on the role of Hedwig in Hedwig and the Angry Inch from April 29, 2015 to July 19, 2015, at the Belasco Theater. He headlined the national tour in San Francisco and Los Angeles, from October 2 - November 27, 2016.
Criss started his television career with a five-episode arc playing the character of Josh Burton on Eastwick in 2009. The following year, he appeared in an episode of the series Cold Case.
Criss portrayed Blaine Anderson, on the Fox television series Glee. He made his first appearance in season two in the episode "Never Been Kissed", which aired on November 9, 2010.
Blaine attended Dalton Academy and was lead singer of its glee club, The Dalton Academy Warblers. Blaine initially served as a friend and mentor for Kurt, the bullied gay member of the Warblers' rival glee club, New Directions. Chemistry between the two characters, combined with fan support for the potential couple, led series co-creator Ryan Murphy to pair them romantically onscreen. At the beginning of the third season, Blaine transfers to McKinley High and joins New Directions; concurrently, Criss was promoted from recurring guest star to the show's main cast.
In the subsequent seasons, Blaine goes off to college and later returns to Dalton to become the vocal director of the Warblers. In the final season, he marries his long-time love, Kurt. Discussing public response to his character, Criss stated that he particularly enjoyed comments from "people from parts of the world who are maybe not as exposed to certain ideologies", but had reconsidered their stance on relationships and human rights as a result of the Blaine and Kurt storyline. He called this response "phenomenal" and said, "I was a straight kid growing up in a very gay community and it's something that I've had to watch so many friends have to struggle with and have no place to go to identify in kind of a grander media culture. To be a small piece of that machine is incredibly wonderful."
In 2017, Criss reunited with Glee creator Ryan Murphy to portray Andrew Cunanan in the second season of Murphy's anthology series American Crime Story.
On September 7, 2012, Criss made his feature film debut in the comedy Girl Most Likely. It premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and was released nationwide on July 19, 2013. Previously titled Imogene, the film starred Kristen Wiig, Annette Bening, and Matt Dillon.
Criss began his solo music career while attending the University of Michigan. Playing in small venues, he developed his own musical repertoire which today consists of standards from the Great American Songbook, contemporary songs, Disney classics, and his own compositions.
On July 20, 2010, Criss released an independently-produced EP called Human. Describing his album as "soul-folk" to Entertainment Weekly, it peaked at No. 17 on the Billboard Top Heatseekers Albums chart. On December 10, 2010, Criss became the 400,000th member of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP). In April 2011, he signed with Sony Music Entertainment. He is in the process of recording a full-length studio album, with a release date yet to be determined.
In January 2013, Criss performed for US President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, and Vice President Joe Biden at the inaugural balls of the 57th Presidential Inauguration.
During a benefit concert for public school arts on April 14, 2013, Criss was made an honorary member of Yale University's a cappella singing group The Whiffenpoofs.
Criss' first solo music tour visited 17 cities in the United States, Canada, and France from May 29–June 30, 2013, and included songs from Glee, StarKid, his Human EP, and new material from his upcoming solo album.
Criss is credited as one of the primary songwriters and composers for StarKid Productions. He has contributed songs to A Very Potter Musical, Me and My Dick (which became the first-ever student-produced college musical to reach Billboard, debuting at No. 11 on the Top Cast Albums chart), Little White Lie, and A Very Potter Senior Year. Subsequently, Criss solely composed all the songs and music for A Very Potter Sequel, its companion album A Very StarKid Album, and Starship, which landed at No. 1 on the Billboard Top Cast Albums chart, and at No. 134 on the Billboard 200 chart.
In November 2011, Criss participated in StarKid's first national concert tour, The SPACE Tour, for the New York and Boston shows, and, in the summer of 2012, he joined them again for their second national tour, Apocalyptour, for the Los Angeles and New York shows.
As Blaine, Criss features in many musical performances on Glee, which have been released as singles, available for download. His first performance, "Teenage Dream" by Katy Perry, was featured on the soundtrack album Glee: The Music, Volume 4. It reached number eight on the Billboard Hot 100 in the week ending November 27, 2010, and number one on the Billboard Digital Songs chart.
It was the best-selling song in the US that week, selling 214,000 copies, the largest figure for a Glee title. It was only the second US-certified gold single in the show's history. Both Billboard's Jillian Mapes and Erica Futterman of Rolling Stone deemed "Teenage Dream" the best song of "Never Been Kissed", the episode in which it featured.
The New York Daily News's Anthony Benigno gave the song an "A", and noted that it was "flawless" and improved on Perry's original. The performance was nominated for the Best Gay Moment of the Year and Favorite Music Video awards at the 2010 AfterElton.com Visibility Awards. A Billboard cover-feature on Criss noted that the performance "arguably ushered in the trend of more current pop hits being reworked by the [Glee] cast."
Later songs performed by Blaine and the Warblers became popular enough to warrant a Warbler soundtrack album, Glee: The Music Presents the Warblers. It debuted at No. 2 on the US Billboard 200 and No. 1 on Billboard's Soundtracks chart, selling 86,000 copies in its first week. The Warbler tracks had sold over 1.3 million copies as singles by the time the album was released.
From May 21–July 3, 2011, Criss and the cast of Glee performed in Glee Live! In Concert!, touring the US, Canada, England, and Ireland. According to Billboard, it was the 16th most successful concert tour of 2011, grossing more than $40 million, with total attendance topping 485,000. All 40 dates sold out, including shows at Staples Center, Nassau Coliseum, and The O2 Arenas in London and Dublin.
For Season 6 of Glee, Criss composed "Rise" for the episode "The Rise and Fall of Sue Sylvester" and "This Time" for the series finale. Criss was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics for writing "This Time".
Criss is an advocate for LGBT rights, and is an active supporter of The Trevor Project, the leading national organization focused on suicide prevention efforts among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) youth. Criss is the recipient of Variety's Power of Youth Philanthropy award for his contributions to The Trevor Project.
Criss has been a spokesperson for various organizations, including Rock the Vote, UNICEF, We Day and Festival of New American Musicals.
Criss recorded the Bob Dylan song "New Morning", featuring his brother, Chuck Criss, for Amnesty International. It was part of the compilation album Chimes of Freedom: Songs of Bob Dylan Honoring 50 Years of Amnesty International, released on January 24, 2012.
Criss has performed at various charity benefits including American Conservatory Theater, AIDS Project Los Angeles, New Conservatory Theatre Center, Toys for Tots, City of Hope National Medical Center, Motion Picture & Television Fund, Public School Arts, MusiCares Foundation, The Old Vic, UCLA's Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, Young Storytellers Foundation, and the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation.
Criss has appeared on the magazine covers of Billboard, Entertainment Weekly, Out, Playbill, TV Guide, Da Man, GT, Prestige, and Essential Homme. Criss is featured in the fall ad campaign (2011) for Uniqlo, a Japanese clothing line. Criss was named one of People's Sexiest Men Alive (2011), and was ranked No. 1 on AfterElton's "Hot 100" list (2011 & 2012), and No. 1 on GQ Magazine's "30 Under 30: The Most Stylish Young Men In Hollywood" list (2012).
Criss is an investor and partner of The Motley, a California-based men's grooming e-tailer.
Criss is a co-founder of Elsie Fest, a music festival which features Broadway and pop music acts. The first annual show was held on September 27, 2015, in New York City.Solo EP
2010: Glee: The Music, The Christmas Album
2010: Glee: The Music, Volume 4
2011: Glee: The Music, Volume 5
2011: Glee: The Music Presents the Warblers
2011: Glee: The Music, Volume 6
2011: Glee: The 3D Concert Movie
2011: Glee: The Music, The Christmas Album Volume 2
2011: Glee: The Music, Volume 7
2012: Glee: The Music, The Graduation Album
2012: Glee: The Music, Season 4, Volume 1
2012: Glee: The Music, The Christmas Album Volume 3'
2013: Glee Sings the Beatles
2013: Glee: The Music – Celebrating 100 Episodes
StarKid Productions albums2009: Little White Lie
2009: A Very Potter Musical
2010: Me and My Dick (A New Musical)
2010: A Very StarKid Album
2010: A Very Potter Sequel
2012: The SPACE Tour
2012: A Very StarKid Senior Year
Independent songs2008: "Skin and Bones" – Duet with Charlene Kaye – Things I Will Need in the Past (album)
2011: "Dress and Tie" – Duet with Charlene Kaye
2012: '"New Morning" – Chimes of Freedom: Songs of Bob Dylan Honoring 50 Years of Amnesty International (album)
2017: Lost Boys Life
Music videos2009: "Skin and Bones" – Charlene Kaye
2009: "Magnolia Wine" – Charlene Kaye
2009: "Roll with Me" – Montgomery Gentry
2011: '"Dress and Tie" – Charlene Kaye
2011: "Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)" – Katy Perry
2012: '"New Morning" – Amnesty International
2012: "Dress You Up" – Vogue's "Fashion Night Out"
2013: "Kangaroo Court" – Capital Cities
2013: "Songify the News 3" — The Gregory Brothers
2014: "I Sold My Bed, But Not My Stereo" – Capital Cities
2014: "Already Home" — A Great Big World