Meet the Asian 'Gleek:' Jenna Ushkowitz

Frederick M. Brown Getty ImagesThe token Asian TV character is an overused stereotype: academically talented, socially challenged and usually has terrible fashion sense. So imagine my glee at finding an Asian American character who not only sings well, but is edgy without suspenders or glasses in sight. Meet Tina Cohen-Chang, played by Jenna Ushkowitz on this fall’s FOX TV show, “Glee.”

The premise of “Glee” is simple: it’s the traditional underdog story where a dedicated teacher tries to bring the school’s glee club, full of outcasts, back to its old glory. “Glee” has already been called one of the top 10 most promising new TV shows of the fall, in part thanks to its masterful use of satire and its dynamic, idiosyncratic cast.

This is apparent within the first 10 minutes of the pilot (which you can watch online at Hulu here), as Tina bursts into the scene with chains, blue streaks in her hair, and an eyebrow-lifting audition of Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl.”

“I think what’s great is that each character is really complex,” said Ushkowitz in an interview. “We all break out of the stereotypical high school role. Tina’s not all doom and gloom as she cracks out to be at first. Each character has heart and that’s what really makes us care for them. There’s someone for everyone.”

Carin Baer FOXUshkowitz was born in Seoul, South Korea, but adopted and raised in New York City, where she attended a high school known for its theater department. She had a role in the 1996 Broadway revival of “The King and I” and was an understudy for the musical “Spring Awakening.”

After years of seeing stereotypes on the screen (Long Duck Dong, anyone?), there is anticipation that Ushkowitz will bring new depth and heart to Asian American teen TV characters. “Glee” premieres this Wednesday, Sept. 9 at 9 p.m. EST on FOX. You can also follow Ushkowitz on Twitter and become a fan of Tina Cohen-Chang on Facebook.

Here’s a video of a Jenna Ushkowtiz on a “Glee” photoshoot:

Photo (top) by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images; (bottom) courtesy of FOX