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FLASH FRIDAY: Raise Your Glass For Darren Criss

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Today, as a corollary column to the super-special SOUND OFF EXCLUSIVE WORLD PREMIERE of GLEE taking on WEST SIDE STORY's "Something's Coming" by way of the show's newest breakout superstar, Darren Criss, we are putting a focus on this fresh-faced talent and all that he has abundantly achieved so far on the show as he joins the New Directions club at McKinley High in the GLEE's third season, which debuted earlier this week and continues weekly Tuesdays at 8 on Fox. As Broadway babies know, in January Criss will be doing a stint as the lead in the hit revival of HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING, originally starring HARRY POTTER star Daniel Radcliffe, so now is the perfect time to analyze what makes him a star on the rise to watch and why he could be a huge asset to Broadway in the future should his essaying of J. Pierrepont Finch prove fortuitous. We shall see for ourselves come January 3! By looking at and listening to the best performances by Criss on GLEE thus far, as well as sampling some of his solo concert appearances and some truly unique gigs that defy categorization, perhaps we can derive an even deeper understanding and appreciation for his sensational talent as he finally hits his stride on GLEE and takes Broadway by storm. So, tonight, after this, raise your glass for Darren Criss!

Loud In All The Right Ways

Stars don't come along very often, yet once in a while someone with old-school charm mixed with a modern sensibility and compounded by a swagger all his own comes along and transforms formerly mundane material into something much, much more - something more magical and more alive and more meaningful. Such is the resulting case with nearly everything that Darren Criss took on in the second season of GLEE - from his song choices to his characterization to his style and overall geniality, to name but a few admirable features. Truly every single song Blaine and the Warblers touched in Season Two on the show - the foremost highpoint of an uneven sophomore season for the huge hit - was worthwhile and, more often than not, whimsical. Many moments packed a wow factor above anything else ever even seen on this show before, which is saying something. The clean and unadorned atmosphere of the vocal sound - though, as always on the show, obviously given a series of studio enhancements - was an appreciable respite from the loud and over-adorned arrangements that crop up, whether the GLEE versions are paying tribute, direct copies or complete reinterpretations of the material. These songs provided the perfect balance and the Warblers allowed Blaine - and, therefore, Criss - the ideal entrée onto the coolest show on TV and the best launching pad for a dynamic talent like his to soar to lofty heights.

So, let's take a look at some of Blaine's best moments on the show - and the finest vocal performances so far - as we decipher what it is exactly that makes Darren Criss one of the brightest stars in the blinding GLEE galaxy of supernovas.

Of course, if you have not had the pleasure to hear it yet, here is the World Premiere Exclusive of "Something's Coming" from WEST SIDE STORY performed by Darren Criss in this First Listen Friday premiere, which comes from Tuesday's WEST SIDE STORY-centric episode, "I Am Unicorn" - also featuring a duet with Lea Michele and Idina Menzel on "Somewhere"!

Starting with his most recent song on the show, here is Criss' unmistakable take on the Tom Jones classic "It's Not Unusual" complete with fire-red pants and yellow sunglasses - and the Cheerios!

Now, check out this actual acapella capture of Criss and the Warblers covering Pink's "Raise Your Glass", followed by a glimpse of the big production number version in the smash hit international tour of GLEE from this summer - as captured in GLEE: THE 3D MOVIE. Amplified or not, Criss it too school for cool!

Next, check out this hilarious clip featuring Darren Criss and Chris Colfer in character as Kurt and Blaine - or, as gleeks call them, Klaine - alongside Heather Morris as Brittany, from a live performance of this summer's GLEE: THE TOUR in Toronto.

Here we have GLEE leading player Matthew Morrison rehearsing for his solo tour late last spring and Darren Criss joining him for an impromptu jam with them both revealing their ample abilities and ease in adaptability to seemingly any genre in the effortlessly entertaining clip - they duet on Morrison's Jason Mraz-esque single "Summer Rain" and, then, a surprisingly awesome bonus! Check it out!

Kicking off a special ROLLING STONE session triptych of clips, here is Criss with guitar-only singing a song he made famous on GLEE late in Season Two, "Somewhere Only We Know". This time, sans grand piano, he shows his fierce commitment and emotional dedication to every note and lyric.

Criss tackles a mash-up of two Maroon 5 tunes here, with "Misery/This Love". Maroon 5 and THE VOICE judge Adam Levine would certainly be pleased with this stunning take on the catchy hits.

Third in the ROLLING STONE session contingent, here Darren Criss sings "Animal" - yet another song he sang on GLEE with much success. If Criss were an animal, it would undoubtedly be a chameleon.

Now, here is a true treat and a real rarity - Darren Criss sings the Rod Stewart standard "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?" at the 2011 ASCAP Pop Awards. Judging from the response, he didn't need to ask!

Next up, here is Criss singing perhaps his most famous GLEE song - this time without the Warblers - Katy Perry's "Teenage Dream". One thing seems very clear from this clip: raw talent in full is on display! And, anyway, when you have YouTube clips this good, how can you not look back?!

Lastly, here is Darren Criss singing the famous Paul McCartney love song, appropriately titled "Silly Love Songs", taken from earlier this year and his appearance on LIVE WITH REGIS & KELLY.

As a special bonus, here is one of the finest GLEE duets of all time and perhaps the very best of all the many great Christmas episode musical numbers, the classic Frank Loesser slow-burner, "Baby, It's Cold Outside", courtesy of Darren Criss and Chris Colfer. Christmas music - and GLEE - at its most touching and heartwarming. And best!

Darren Criss has proven in a very short time that new stars are born even in this day and age of reality stars and competition also-rans and generally disposable entertainment. Just as GLEE upped the ante for TV and brought awareness to theatre in a whole new way, so, too, shall Darren Criss prove to be a versatile triple-threat to beat the band - with or without the Warblers. So, what is your favorite Criss clip so far? What can't you wait for him to do next on GLEE? What show should he star in after HOW TO SUCCEED? So very many questions - and so very much time to find out!

That's all for this week. Please remember that if you have discovered a particularly thrilling, unique, bizarre or hilarious Broadway-related clip to please send us a line at the link below. Until next week...

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Pat Cerasaro Pat Cerasaro is BroadwayWorld's Chief Interviewer and Senior Editor, contributing exclusive columns including InDepth InterViews, Sound Off, Flash Fridays as well as additional special features and extensive news coverage. His work for the site has appeared in The New York Times, US Weekly, The Biography Channel, NBC and more.