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Darren Criss was born to Irish-Filipino parents in San Francisco, CA, where he began playing violin, guitar, piano and drums at an early age. The future star joined his brother Chuck's band as the drummer while a student at St. Ignatius College Preparatory in San Francisco. Criss graduated from the University of Michigan in 2009, where he majored in performance and acting. He was a member of the college's theater group, Team StarKid, which produced musical comedies inspired by J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter" book series (1997-2007). Criss starred as the boy wizard and co-wrote half the songs in a two-act production titled "A Very Potter Musical." A few months later, Team StarKid posted the entire musical on YouTube, where it became a viral hit. The success of their first production led to "A Very Potter Sequel," which also starred Criss as Harry. The aspiring entertainer also wrote all the songs for the sequel that premiered at a Harry Potter conference in 2010, and which was posted on YouTube shortly after. Both "A Very Potter Musical" and "A Very Potter Sequel" collectively garnered over 25 million views on YouTube less than a year after they were released.
Criss set his sights on an acting career while still attending U of M. One of the shows he auditioned for was "Glee," a musical comedy series about a struggling high school show choir named New Directions. Criss tried out for the part of Finn Hudson, a kindhearted high school quarterback with an affinity for singing hard rock ballads and having his heart torn between the talented overachiever (Lea Michele) and the cheer captain (Dianna Agron). The role eventually went to Canadian actor, Cory Monteith, who shot to fame overnight because of "Glee." Criss eventually made his television debut with a recurring role on the short-lived series "Eastwick" (ABC, 2009), opposite Rebecca Romijn and Lindsay Price. When a second audition for "Glee" came up, Criss found another chance to showcase his talent. He performed the Rogers and Hart standard "Where or When" (1937) and an a-cappella version of Britney Spears' 1998 hit "Baby One More Time," nailing his audition.
In 2010, Criss landed a recurring role on "Glee" as the star vocalist at Dalton Academy, an all-boys school and the rival choir of New Directions. During the November 2010 episode titled "Never Been Kissed," his openly gay character becomes a mentor and love interest to New Directions member Kurt Hummel (Chris Colfer). Criss' debut on "Glee" featured his cover of Katy Perry's upbeat ballad "Teenage Dream;" a version which was subsequently released and reached the No. 1 spot on the Billboard and iTunes digital downloads charts. In fact, Criss' "Teenage Dream" earned the highest first-day sales of any "Glee" single and trumped the show's former record-holder, the cast's cover of Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" that was released on iTunes in 2009. Fueled by his onscreen charisma, his character's perfect chemistry with Colfer, and the success of "Teenage Dream," Criss was reportedly promoted to series regular for "Glee's" third season.