I feel like I’m playing dress up. I’m in the freaking Café Carlyle on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, and the bartender pours me a drop of wine to taste before I order a glass. Thirty minutes ago, I was freaking out over the words “chic dress code.” I’ve never followed a damn dress code in my life. This place is fancy in a way I simply will never be.
But I’m here for one reason and one reason alone.
You probably know Dianna Agron from “Glee,” or “Shiva Baby,” or being an incredibly hot Jew recently interviewed by Hey Alma. I’ve been a fan of hers since “Glee,” since I watched her sing and dance in a revealing cheerleading uniform. There aren’t many things you can pinpoint with accuracy in your life, but I’m pretty sure I can say this with full confidence: Dianna Agron made me gay.
The crowd is mixed. There are a few groups of young women, one very fashionable young guy. They all have a queer air about them, and I know I’m not just projecting: I can hear their conversations and they are gay.
At first I think most people in attendance tonight will be Gleeks, at least the young ones. I mean, why else would you pay to see Dianna Agron sing at a fancy hotel? That shit’s expensive. Later that night, when I told my friend’s mum I saw jazz at the Carlyle, she told me I got a “real New York experience.” Young people can’t afford that! Unless you’re a dedicated Gleek.
Growing up in 2009 was confusing. I was 14, and being 14 sucked. When “Glee” came along, it was funny and edgy and it was gay. So gay. I say now, only partly as a joke, that “Glee” made me gay. Not in a malicious, gay-agenda kind of way, but more in a “this is the first time I see gay people on screen and now I realize they exist” kind of way. Quinn Fabray, Agron’s character, was my favorite. And that shit was confusing. Quinn was a devout Christian, blonde and blue-eyed and villainous yet infinitely likable. I was drawn to Agron, and her character, in a way I didn’t fully understand yet. Why was I obsessed with this gorgeous, impeccable woman? Why did looking at her make my stomach flutter? I followed Agron from project to project, watching literally anything and everything she appeared in. And that includes an ad for a Nintendo 3DS. I was obsessed. And unknowingly, I was very gay.
Dianna Agron is late, by almost 15 minutes.
I’ve got nothing to do but scan the room. I’m not sure why older people are here. The folks next to me are middle-aged and seemingly heterosexual. There are elderly people at the bar across from me. There are finance guys with their done-up girlfriends. Middle-aged couples with their 20-something daughters. Queers. Me. A woman reading the Wall Street Journal. A regular swapping family updates with the bartender.
This is the power of Dianna. She brings us together.
Dinner and a show at the Carlyle seems like it exists in a different era, like I’ve stepped into a portal and come out into 19-dickety-2. Dianna has that vibe, too. That old school charm, the timelessness to her features. Like you could find her likeness in a Buzzfeed article titled “25 Pictures of Bona Fide Ellis Island Hotties.” She wouldn’t look out of place in furs and a fancy cigarette holder. I realize I’ve just described Cruella de Ville. I guess that’s my epitome of old school fancy. I try to lean in.
I order a gin and tonic and it is mostly gin. I’ve barely eaten all day and my head is starting to spin. It’s either the alcohol or my body can sense that Dianna is near.
Finding out celebrities are Jewish is always weirdly exciting. Finding out Dianna Agron is Jewish when I was 14 was like finding out Santa is real and also he’s your distant cousin. Sure, there was absolutely no reason for our paths to ever cross; the chances of successful-actress-who-lives-in-L.A. Dianna Agron meeting me, a kid from Australia who attended an all girls’ Chabad school, were literally zero. But when I realized we were both Jewish, anything felt possible: a Shabbat meal we miraculously both attend, a performance of “Fiddler” on Broadway where we happen to sit next to one another. The Jewish world is impossibly small, and by some strange twist of fate, we are both in it.
It never happens, of course. No Shabbat, no random meet-cute. The closest I get is my friend meeting her in a cafe in Jerusalem a few years ago. I think it’s for the best. Imagine getting close enough to Dianna Agron that you could talk to her; I don’t think I’d be able to cope.
I come within mere inches of Dianna Agron.
She enters the room and stands right next to me, waiting for her musical cue. Her band has already taken the stage (her violinist and cellist are HOT. Like, hot hot). Wall Street Journal Lady is watching the stage, asks me if she’s obstructing my view of the band. She literally does not realize Dianna Agron is standing right next to us. Literally, right next to us. Like I could reach out and tap her on the shoulder and ask if she comes here often.
Thank God I’m wearing a mask, I decide, as Dianna takes to the stage and starts to sing. Otherwise everyone would be able to see this dumb fucking smile that stays on my face for the rest of the night.
I’m going to be honest with you, I don’t listen to a lot of jazz. Up until this night, my favorite jazz is H. Jon Benjamin’s comedy album. But now I love jazz. Jazz is the best. It suits Dianna’s voice so perfectly. I think it’s absolutely criminal that all those years on “Glee” and she didn’t sing any jazz. She sang a funk song, but no jazz. She sang showtunes, but no jazz.
A crime. A crime against humanity and Dianna Agron stans.
Her voice has a sultry quality, and that is the first time I’ve ever used that word. She hits low notes in a way that hits me straight in the chest. She scrunches her nose as she smiles in a way that I recognize from online performances I’ve obviously watched before.
When your personality is formed by pop culture, seeing a celebrity almost feels like seeing an old friend. I know, logically, this isn’t true; Dianna Agron does not know me, and I do not know her. But I know a version of her, the version she puts on in interviews. When she laughs throughout the show, I know that laugh. I’ve seen the smile she throws at the audience dozens of times before. This is what this is, at its core, I decide. Old friends. A whole room of them, watching their queen bee.
Dianna doesn’t look like a lot of the Jews I know. It’s something the Jewish media loves to talk about, somewhat saltily. Dianna Agron, always the non-Jewish bridesmaid and never the bride under the chuppah. Obviously, I first knew her as Quinn Fabray, noted Christian, who bullies Jewish Rachel Berry with a merciless quality some may describe as “small-town antisemitism.” More recently, Agron’s character in “Shiva Baby” is the only non-Jewish character in the whole movie. There’s also that time she played a nun in one of the greatest (and gayest) nun films of all time, “Novitiate”. And who could forget when she played famous Mormon Brandon Flowers’ girlsona in the “Just Another Girl” music video? OK. I’ll stop showing off my impressive Dianna Agron knowledge now.
I’ve spent a lot of time in my life considering what it means to look like a Jew. As a woman, I never had to grow peyos, or wear a kippah and tzitzit like the boys did. My dad would cover his kippah with a baseball cap if we wandered too far from home, and my brother quickly learned to do the same. For a long time, the only way I felt identifiably Jewish was by the knee-length skirts that screamed “Modern Orthodox.” But I stopped wearing skirts years ago. The Chabad boys handing out Shabbat candles in New York only offered me some because I stopped to ask them for directions.
In the Carlyle, there’s nothing that demarcates me as “Jew.” I could, for all intents and purposes, choose to play the role of “non-Jew” for this evening’s performance. But I say a bracha (blessing) before I sip my drink. I read a d’var torah while I wait for the show to begin. And I think, somewhat simply, that actors are not the roles they inhabit.
A waiter brings a cake with a candle into the crowd, and Dianna wishes the recipient a happy birthday. Her crowd work throughout is amazing. She laughs and smirks. I remember I am gay, very gay. At one point she turns her back to the audience and throws us a look over her shoulder. My automatic internal response is “step on me.” At another moment, she tells the audience that she and the band “like applause,” and my internal voice says, “OK, Rachel Berry.” She sings “Our Day Will Come,” which was performed on season six of “Glee,” an episode that she didn’t even appear in. Still, my hand flies to my chest as I hear echoes of the “Glee” version, echoes of Naya Rivera and Darren Criss (the latter who, incidentally, I met after the show. Wild).
I wonder how hard it must be to divorce herself from “Glee,” and from the type of fandom and fans it has spawned. When you have something as big, as iconic and divisive and culturally groundbreaking, attached to your name, it must be hard to feel as though you’re maturing as a performer. Do you expect your fans to mature along with you? Do you expect to pick up more on the way?
There’s no doubt in my mind that Dianna is picking up fans tonight. WSJ Lady is all in, as are the other bar regulars. Who better to spread the gospel of Dianna than Dianna herself?
Her pianist is Jewish, it turns out, and so is her drummer. She doesn’t, like, announce it or anything, but their names are Eden and Itai, so I kind of figure it out, you know?
She tells us she found her drummer on Instagram, scrolling casually.
And yet here I remain — with several mutuals, I might add — unfollowed, Ms. Agron. What’s up with that?
My notes get fewer and farther between from this point on. I’m a few drinks in, the room is too dark and I’m too mesmerized by what’s happening on stage. But here are some important things to know:
- she sang in French
- her mom cried and she called her out for it
- she made a playlist of the songs she performed on Spotify because of course she did
- she sang an Eartha Kitt song after the audience demanded two encores
- she is wonderful.
Two things happen concurrently. I steal a pen from the hotel bar, and Dianna starts to sing “Moon River.” Without sounding like a crazed stalker, for a single moment in time, she’s singing to me. It might sound pathetic, it might sound insane, but here’s the truth of the matter:
In that moment, I am 16 again. I barely know anything about myself — I’m years away from coming out, and it’s something I’ve chosen to compartmentalize and never think about. I don’t know who I am, I just know who I don’t want to be. But through it all, there’s this person who has a Tumblr she posts on regularly, and she’s on my favorite TV show every week, and she’s pretty in a way that feels normal and Not Gay to obsess over.
Dianna sings “Moon River.” In that moment, as the last bars of the song play, I hold onto 16 as hard as I can.
Here’s the crux of the whole night. I know, when she exits the stage, she has to pass me again. I know. I deliberate all night whether to say, “Thank you, Ms. Agron,” like an absolute fool or stay quiet or what.
Obviously I go with the fool route. She rushes past me. I say thank you, not unlike a kindergartener being forced to thank their parents’ friend for something. She laughs. She says thank you to me.
There you have it. Mission accomplished. I have spoken to Dianna Agron one time.
Am I a changed person? Obviously not. I am who I was at the start of the night, just significantly drunker and with a new pen.
The WSJ lady asks me how I enjoyed it, and I tell her very much so. She also loved it. I ask her if she can airdrop me the videos she took throughout the night (even though we were told not to video!!!) and she says, “Of course!” so now I have the videos on my phone. I sent them to my friend who loves “Glee” just as much, if not more, than I do. But I don’t watch them. Why would I watch them when I experienced the magic first hand?
The Kotzker Rebbe once said that silence is the most beautiful of all sounds.
Clearly he never went to a Dianna Agron jazz show.