When it comes to modern day shows, there are plenty that excel at casting great guest stars, and one of my personal favorites is Glee. Though there have been other shows with awesome guest stars, such as 30 Rock, or The Office, I really don’t think any other modern television show was as good as Glee (created by TV royalty, Ryan Murphy) at giving us great guest appearances.
While the show had its good and not-so-good moments, the guest stars were always some of the best parts of the series. Today, we’re going to go over the twelve best Glee guest stars that we seriously can’t stop thinking about, even more than a decade after the show debuted.
Neil Patrick Harris
I have to put Neil Patrick Harris on here first, because he's one of my favorites to speak about. In the Season 1 episode of Glee, “Dream On,” Harris shows up as a former rival to Will Schuester, and wow what a performance. I always knew Harris was talented in musical theater and singing - as he has starred on Broadway and done other amazing things - but his time in Glee was something else.
He managed to go toe-to-toe with Matthew Morrison while singing a cover of “Dream On” and jeez, I still listen to it years later, because I just can’t believe that Neil Patrick Harris hit that high note. He ended up winning an Emmy Award for his guest performance, so you know it was good. Such a talented star.
Another Season 1 guest star was Kristin Chenoweth. The actress is a Broadway legend, and has currently been in many things on television such as Disney’s Descendants series, as well as being a part of the Schimigadoon! cast. But watching the Season 1 episode, “The Rhodes Not Taken,” was something else, and hearing her version of “Maybe This Time” is just astounding.
Her character, Amber Rhodes, would return for subsequent episodes, but nothing beats her first appearance on the show.
Talk about a legendary guest star. In one of Glee’s more popular episodes, “Britney/Brittany,” the pop princess herself, Britney Spears, ended up making an appearance in several of the kids' dream sequences as they were getting their teeth done and were put on laughing gas.
While Spears didn’t have many lines, just seeing her show up in these musical sequences alongside the rest of the Glee cast was truly amazing, and I loved the moments where she would have interactions with the others. I wish she'd spoken more.
Also appearing for the first time in “Britney/Brittany” was legendary TV actor John Stamos. You might know Stamos from his iconic role as Uncle Jesse in the family sitcom, Full House, but in Glee, he ended up playing Carl in Season 2, a love interest for Emma (Jayma Mays). He doesn’t have many singing scenes, but there’s no denying that his charisma is there in full effect, and I loved it so much.
He would also show up in later episodes, as well, until his relationship with Emma ended, but what a time to be alive and watch him on Glee.
Idina Menzel has been famous since her starring roles in hit musicals like Maureen Johnson in Rent and Elphaba in Wicked, the latter of which she won a Tony Award for. She later gained even more fame when she voiced Elsa in both Frozen and Frozen 2 and annoyed parents everywhere as their children kept listening to “Let It Go.” Let’s hope a Frozen 3 happens.
However, for her guest role on Glee, she actually played Rachel’s (Lea Michele) biological mother, Shelby Corcoran. She first showed up in the Season 1 episode, “Hell-O,” and while the beginning of them getting to know each other was rocky, as Idina Menzel was literally coaching Rachel’s competitors, they did end up on the right foot eventually.
Together, they performed several amazing songs together. My personal favorite was “Poker Face,” where it’s not as fast as the original song by Lady Gaga, but a slow ballad that seems to blend both their powerhouse voices so well. Menzel did appear in several episodes – and even had a relationship with a student in Season 3 that I don’t want to talk about – but after that, she was nowhere to be seen.
I still wish she had come around again during Seasons 5 or 6 when Rachel was having problems in her life, but it’s not the end of the world. I know she was out doing star-studded things.
Season 5 of Glee was, ah, something.
It’s funny, because I was never a big fan of the show when it was at its height. I actually binged the first three seasons on Netflix and became a fan around Season 4
– and I really liked Season 4, just for the fact that I was a New Yorker and liked that they took the show there. But Season 5 was, um…not as great.
However, the guest stars in Season 5 of Glee were top notch, and while I could talk about one who really rocked my socks off, Adam Lambert, I’m going to instead devote this section to Demi Lovato’s guest role, Dani.
While Lovato wasn’t in the show for super long, her character was essential to Santana’s (Naya Rivera) development after she'd just broken up with Brittany in Season 4 and needed to move on with her life and try and find new experiences – and Dani was that new experience. Their cover of “Here Comes The Sun” always gives me chills.
Season 5 wasn’t super great, but that cover most certainly was.
It’s sad as I write this because Olivia Newton-John, who is primarily known for her role as Sandy in the Grease cast and her astounding music career, passed away in 2022. However, I can still look back on her best roles and think that her guest spot in Glee was truly iconic.
She first showed up in the Season 1 episode, “Bad Reputation,” where I got to see her do the best cover of her song “Physical” ever, alongside the one and only Jane Lynch. But, she also shows up again as a judge in “Journey to Regionals” at the end of the season, still looking just as great as ever. It’s always fun to rewatch her role on the show.
Gwyneth Paltrow first showed up in the Season 2 episode, “The Substitute” as Holly Holliday, and forever changed my life. While she was subbing for Will Schuster for the glee club when he was sick, her cover of “Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah)” had me screaming in joy as a kid and I loved watching her perform.
Her character was so loved that she ended up making an appearance at the live Glee concerts they were doing at the time. She also won an Emmy for her role in the show – one she very much deserved.
Like I said, I actually really enjoyed Season 4 of Glee. And I feel like a lot of people don’t give Kate Hudson’s time on the show enough credit, because this woman performed her butt off. Playing Rachel’s overbearing and condescending dance instructor at NYADA, Cassandra July, Hudson was able to bring just the right amount of sass and boldness to match Rachel’s energy, and I loved it.
Seriously. Her cover of “All That Jazz” with Rachel is one of my personal favorites. She may not be everyone’s favorite guest star but I truly enjoyed her time on the show. She appeared in several episodes in Season 4, but I wanted to see her again.
The legend, Whoopi Goldberg, decided to grace Glee fans with her presence in both Season 3, Season 4, and Season 5 in sporadic guest roles throughout. She played Carmen Tibideaux, the Dean of Vocal Performance at NYADA and the person who gave Rachel a chance to come to the school after she bombed at her college audition in Season 3, and then got in thanks to their Nationals-winning performance.
Carmen, while hard on people at first, is someone I could totally respect, because she truly cared about the art of music. She wasn’t about to let in anyone who didn’t deserve it, and she made sure everyone knew. The ones she did let in would work their butts off to try and impress her. I mean, it’s Whoopi Goldberg, how can you not try and impress her? I’ll always be upset they never brought her back, but once Rachel left NYADA, I suppose it's understandable that we never saw her again.
Sarah Jessica Parker
In my personal opinion, Sarah Jessica Parker was always one of the guest cast members who felt underutilized on Glee, because I actually did enjoy her part on the show. Parker, who is known for plenty of roles, including her famous lead part in the Sex and the City cast, plays Isabelle Wright, an executive at Vogue who gives Kurt a job as an assistant.
While the idea of Kurt getting a job as a fashion assistant at Vogue with no prior experience is laughable, there’s no denying that Parker is amazing in her role here. She was amazing in the cover of “The Way You Look Tonight/You’re Never Fully Dressed,” and I loved her performance of “At The Ballet.” She was a great special guest star.
Last but not least, we have a singing legend, Ricky Martin. This singer showed up in the Season 3 episode, “The Spanish Teacher,” who was acting as Will’s night-school teacher so he could learn better Spanish. But, Will took him to the glee club that week when he decides to give the songs a Spanish music theme.
Let me tell you, you have not lived until you've heard Ricky Martin, of all people, sing LMFAO’s “Sexy and I Know It,” partially in Spanish. This was an awakening for me – and an ick at the same time, because I did not need to see Finn try to do a body roll. Either way, it was an experience to remember and one that I’m sure I’m not going to forget for a long time.
Glee aired its last episode seven years ago, which still feels crazy to think about, and the cast has now done many other things. But, I can still look back on this show and think of all the fun I had with these guest stars – and enjoy the heck out of their covers on my playlist.
Big nerd and lover of Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire. Will forever hate season eight. Superhero and horror geek. And please don't debate me on The Last of Us 2, it was amazing!
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