Alex Newell
Mackenzie Stroh—Contour RA/Getty Images

If you don’t know who Alex Newell is yet, you will soon. I was privileged to spend three years working with Alex. I sat next to them at the first read-through of our TV series. Bad move. I was so dazzled by Alex’s talent that I couldn’t focus on anything. Years later, I still shake my head in wonder.

More from TIME

Logic might tell you that growing up as Alex might not have been easy. As they said in their Tony Awards acceptance speech earlier this year: “I should not be up here as a queer, nonbinary, fat, Black little baby from Massachusetts. And to anyone that thinks that they can’t do it, I’m going to look you dead in your face [and tell you] that you can do anything you put your mind to.” Was it their amazing mother, their church, or some kind of genetic alchemy that caused their voice to emerge so powerful, unafraid, and divine?

When Alex stands on stage in Shucked and sings “Independently Owned,” the song that helped them win the Tony, you can literally feel the audience’s breathlessness. As someone who is honored to call Alex my friend, I couldn’t be prouder. They are my shining hero.

Steenburgen is an Oscar-winning actor

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at

Jalen Hurts
Ice Spice
Rachel Zegler
Paul Mescal
David Moinina Sengeh
5 stories