Do you want to know something that never fails to make me cry? Watching someone do what they were born to do. Not just something they’re good at—or even great at—but to paraphrase A League of Their Own, something that gets inside of them and lights them up. There’s nothing quite like watching someone with a God-given gift bask in the joy they feel while using that gift. It’s a feeling of pride for someone you’ll never know, a strange sense of secondhand accomplishment.
It’s the feeling I get every time I watch a Rachel Berry solo on Glee. Lea Michele is truly a once-in-a-generation talent; she was born to sing big songs on big stages to big ovations. And I love that she has always infused her portrayal of Rachel with that same sense of devotion to performing. The stage is and always will be Rachel’s first love—her happy place, her home. And there’s something so moving about watching this character—who has dreamed of being something special her whole life—find the one place where there is no one better, no one more special, than she is.
Everyone has their favorite Rachel Berry solo, and mine is “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now.” I’ve been a fan of that song since I was a little girl, and to hear it sung with such passion and such strength made me fall in love with it all over again. But this moment is about so much more than the song choice. It’s about a love story deeper than any other Glee has ever tried to sell: the love Rachel has for the stage.
Michele glows in this performance; her inability to contain her own happiness is what makes this scene so powerful. You know you’re not just watching a character do what they love; you’re watching an actress do what she loves, too.
The moment when Rachel sees Carmen Tibideaux sit down to watch her is my favorite moment in the whole scene. As soon as she sees the woman behind her rejection from NYADA, Rachel turns her performance up to another level, almost daring Carmen to continue to doubt her. That confidence is something this character almost lost after that rejection, so to see it come back in such a definite way was incredible. Rachel may doubt a lot of things about herself, but she knows she’s a great performer—and it’s beautiful to watch her prove her greatness on the biggest stage.
The joy of performing is something nearly impossible to describe. It’s something that can only be felt, and only the best of the best can translate that joy into something tangible for audiences to latch on to. Michele is so good at making you feel everything Rachel feels as she’s singing—whether it’s pain or joy. In this moment, she’s feeling a kind of joy and sense of purpose unlike any she’s ever experienced, and if that’s not a powerful thing to behold, then I don’t know what is.