Originally published Aug. 14, 2009
Like singing in the shower? Try it in front of 25 million people.
That's how many viewers have seen a sudsy Cory Monteith crooning REO Speedwagon's Can't Fight This Feelin' in the pilot for Glee. The Victoria-raised actor has become a magnet for "Gleeks" because of his role as Finn Hudson, an American high school quarterback pressured into joining a glee club in Fox's hot new drama and musical-comedy series.
Although the show created by Ryan Murphy (Nip/Tuck) doesn't debut until September on Fox and Global, there has been huge critical buzz for the much-talked-about series since Fox aired its pilot after the American Idol finale last May.
The cast's exuberant rendition of Journey's Don't Stop Believin' became an iTunes chart-topper overnight, and Monteith already has 6,000 followers on Twitter.
Just don't describe Glee, as many have, as a small-screen High School Musical.
"That's not an accurate comparison," Monteith, 27, says. "The tone and humour and storyline is night and day. It's as if High School Musical had been punched in the stomach and had its lunch money stolen."
Murphy's edgier twist on Fame charts the challenges facing beleaguered Ohio high school teacher Will Schuester (Hairspray's Matthew Morrison) and his ragtag crew of glee club underdogs.
They include the pampered diva, the cheerleader, the wheelchair-bound trouper, the overweight gal with matching talent and the dork with the high-pitched voice.
Monteith is understandably gleeful.
"It was such a long shot, such a Hail Mary," recalls the boyish, six-foot-three actor. "I still feel like they've made a mistake and some day they're going to realize I'm the wrong guy for the job."
Although the Calgary-born actor can sing, he says he didn't think he had the chops to compete with the triple-threat competition.
"I ignored the fact they wanted me to sing," laughs Monteith, who credits his "guiding star" -- his manager Elena Kirschner -- for his success. "She told me what I had to do -- lose 10 pounds, cut my hair, wear clothes that fit."
Kirschner told him he'd have to set himself apart from the Broadway-calibre competition. That's why his audition tape shows him drumming with pencils on Tupperware, glasses and mugs in his kitchen instead of singing. It did the trick.
Monteith recalls driving "20 hours without stopping" to Los Angeles from Vancouver, where he had been guesting on TV series such as Stargate SG-1, Whistler and Supernatural and had a recurring role on ABC's Kyle XY.
"I slept on the side of the road in Oregon and learned all the songs to Rent and Billy Joel's greatest hits so I'd have something to audition with."
He says he wasn't at all like Finn Hudson when he was a teenager.
"High school wasn't my thing. I wanted to be a hooligan," admits the former Marigold Elementary and Colquitz Junior Secondary student, who attended alternative schools here before dropping out in Grade 9.
Monteith was certainly bright enough, even skipping a grade since he was reading at a Grade 4 level in kindergarten.
"My mom read to me from a young age," recalls the actor, whose parents divorced when he was seven. "I'd take encyclopedias to bed and read until I went to sleep."
Watching his mother, Ann McGregor, build an interior design business while raising him and his older brother, Shaun, inspired him to adopt the work ethic that has served him well in a profession he never thought he'd pursue.
He washed cars at Suburban Motors, was a greeter at Wal-Mart, worked at QVs and drove for Bluebird Taxi before he met casting director Maureen Webb in Nanaimo, where he was working as a roofer.
He also played drums in Porch Life, a band formed by guitarist Ted Gowans, who now plays with Tegan and Sara.
"It didn't even occur to me what actors did," recalls Monteith, who caught the acting bug after Webb saw his potential and he began studying with acting coach Andrew McIlroy at her studio.
"Three weeks later I moved to Vancouver with just a bag of T-shirts and two pairs of pants."
Monteith became fast friends with fellow student Dustin Milligan (90210), fresh in town from Yellowknife. They both worked at Vancouver's True Confections and shared an apartment on West Broadway.
Kirschner applauds Monteith's work ethic and attitude.
"He came into acting backward. He didn't walk around with stars in his eyes," she says. "He always works his butt off. He's always prepared. It's not 'I wanna be a movie star.' "
Stardom could be inevitable, though. Monteith just got a taste of it at the Teen Choice Awards when he shared the limelight with Megan Fox, Twilight's Robert Pattinson, Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens.
"It was crazy," he recalled. "Children were screaming so loud it was like an airplane taking off."
He was even nominated as best male breakout star, but lost to one of the Jonas brothers.
How's that for a sign you've arrived?