"Glee" actor Darren Criss attends the after party for the...

"Glee" actor Darren Criss attends the after party for the premiere of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1" in Lincoln Square in Manhattan. (Nov. 15, 2010) Credit: Getty Images

Six months ago, a few people might have recognized Darren Criss as the singing Harry Potter from the online parody "A Very Potter Musical" and its sequel, or maybe as curly-haired teen Josh on ABC's short-lived "Eastwick." Fast-forward to January, when Criss was so in demand for interviews at a party crowded with Fox stars that his publicist had to form a line. The difference: On Nov. 9, Criss made his debut as Blaine on "Glee," sending his cover of Katy Perry's "Teenage Dream" to No. 1 on iTunes and making it "Glee's" top-selling single to date.

Clean-scrubbed and rocking a dorky Dalton Academy blazer, Blaine sang his way into the heart of transfer student Kurt (Chris Colfer) - and countless "Glee" viewers.

But the magic might not have happened except for a timely haircut.

Criss had auditioned three times before for "Glee," never getting a nod.

"I had very long, curly hair," Criss, 24, said at the Fox party. "A lot of people know me for my long hair." The day before his fourth "Glee" audition, "I cut it," he said. "It had been a while." The new 'do changed his look dramatically, and he went into the audition almost like a new person.

"Normally, I'd go in, play my guitar - very beach-bum sensitive," he said. "This time, I was this very kind of straitlaced guy. I cut my hair, wore a jacket and tie, didn't bring my guitar and sang an old Rodgers and Hart tune - and here we are."

Criss grew up in San Francisco and was musical from the time he could pick up a drumstick. He acted professionally from the age of 10 in local stage musicals. At the University of Michigan, where he got his bachelor of fine arts degree in 2009, Criss and other students formed the theater company Team StarKid, whose "A Very Potter Musical" became popular on YouTube. Criss wrote many of the songs and played the lead; for "A Very Potter Sequel," he repeated as Harry and composed all the songs.

At Fox's party, Criss was excited about the next Team StarKid production, "Starship" - about a planet of large bugs - that premiered onstage in Chicago this month. He's writing the music but won't perform because of "Glee." With so much on his resumé, Criss won't completely concede that "Glee," and especially "Teenage Dream," made him a star, or put him on the map.

"I never assume I'm on anyone's map," he said. "But there's no denying the leaps and bounds. A couple of hundred thousand people worldwide is very different from a couple of million." (Almost 11 million people watched his "Glee" debut, and his "Teenage Dream" has been watched 10.8 million times on YouTube.)

"Never Been Kissed," which introduced Criss as Blaine, carried a strong anti-bullying message as Kurt, threatened by a football player, visited Dalton and was surprised to find not only that the glee club was considered cool, but that bullying was not tolerated.

Blaine, also gay, encouraged Kurt to be proud of who he is, the first time Kurt had heard that message from someone his age. Kurt may have fallen in love at that very moment; although he and Blaine are just friends, many fans hope for more.

After bantering throughout an interview, Criss - who is straight - got serious when asked about playing Blaine, who could serve as a role model for gay teens and maybe even encourage acceptance for them.

"I feel very energized by what I get to do," he said. "It's very empowering."

If he has become an overnight sensation, "if that's what we're calling it, I like to think it's for a reason I'm proud of," he said. "I'm playing a character I believe in on a show I think is fantastic."

And he adds: "I really hope I don't screw it up."

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