Lea Michele's melodic voice on the Fox hit tv series Glee made her famous. But these days she's becoming equally as well known for another standout quality: her stunning good looks. The 26-year-old actress recently became the new face of L'Oréal Paris, joining other unforgettable women including Beyoncé, Jennifer Lopez, Gwen Stefani and Eva Longoria. We caught up with Michele on the phone as she was getting ready for ELLE's 19th Annual Women in Hollywood Celebration and learned more about her take on her own beauty, growing up in the entertainment business, her makeup must-haves and what her new gig means to her.
We've read that you don't consider yourself a typical beauty. Clearly many of your fans and now L'Oréal Paris would disagree with that. Why don't you see yourself as a typical beauty, and what is it about your looks that you think people respond to?
I think I'm beautiful. It's just in this town and in Hollywood, I wouldn't consider myself the standard, typical type of beauty. I'm Jewish and Italian, and I have a lot of different ethnicities that add to my look being unique. I've always loved that about myself. I've always loved my background and my heritage, and how that really made me and my type of beauty different.
We've also read that an agent once told you to get a nose job. You decided to ignore this recommendation. Would you give that same advice to other aspiring actors?
I feel like people should make their own decisions. That was just my personal choice, and I think that was a great choice for me. I'm a singer and when you get a nose job you don't know how it's going to affect your voice or change your sound. So that was just a risk that I didn't want to take.
Especially with this new L'Oréal Paris contract, it's safe to say that you've become a beauty icon in your own right. Who are your personal beauty icons?
I love Sophia Loren, Barbra Streisand, Natalie Wood, Raquel Welch—all of the Old Hollywood women who were ethnic and different-looking. Those are the women I look to and try to represent in photo shoots. I love to be in shoots that are inspired by someone like one of those women.
You've been in the entertainment industry since you were a child. How has your beauty look evolved over time?
I think personally I've always kept my makeup to a minimum because I don't really know how to do makeup on myself. But now I work with an incredible makeup artist. Her name is Melanie Inglessis. I've been working with her since we started Glee, and she's done 90 percent of all my major events and appearances. We really take chances and we really have fun, and we try to make every event different. At one event, we'll do a smoky eye. At the next event, we'll do a strong lip. I really love that.
So it sounds like over time you've gotten a little more experimental with beauty, or at least when it comes to the red carpet?
We've had the same goal since the beginning. We've always been very consistent with keeping things natural and me, but still taking little risks and trying different things here and there.
Is there one particular beauty look from the red carpet that sticks out in your mind as your favorite?
Oh my god, I can't even think of one. I love the look Melanie did for the Grammys my first year in 2010. I love that beautiful smoky eye, and Mark Townsend did my hair. He also does my hair for all of my events. Melanie and I were just looking through every one we've done and there are just so many. She's knocked it out of the park every single time. I think honestly the best look she's ever done was this year when I won the People's Choice Award. She did this pink lip on me and I was like, "You're crazy. I'm not doing it. I'm not doing it." But it ended up looking so amazing. That was one of these risks we've taken and it turned out so perfectly. [Editor's note: That's Michele at the 2012 People's Choice Awards above! Inglessis used a mix of Lancôme Rouge In Love High Potency Lipcolors in Roses in Love and Violette Coquette to get her mauve-y pink pout.]
What's the one piece of beauty advice you've received that's really resonated with you?
I think you should always wash your face before you go to bed at night—especially if you have makeup on.
What are your must-have beauty products?
I'm very minimal as far as makeup is concerned. But for years I have not left my house without putting on L'Oréal mascara. It's always been the best mascara out there. The Voluminous Mascara is especially my favorite. I am also a huge fan of my Clarisonic that I use to wash my face every day. I think that that's really saved my face. For hair, I'm a really big fan of doing hair treatments. L'Oréal EverCrème has an amazing hair mask, and I also love Kérastase hair products. Those just really help me keep my hair so strong with all the damage that it goes through all the time from all the products and styling. I try to use the Kérastase deep treatment once a week.
You mentioned you're very minimal when it comes to makeup. Tell me more how your on-set look compares to your everyday off-set beauty routine?
When I'm not doing the show or on the red carpet, I really like to give my skin the chance to breathe. So I am very minimal. I actually try not to wear any makeup at all when I'm not working so that my skin can just have a break.
Even though you prefer to keep things simple when you're not working, are there any beauty products you keep with you at all times when you're on the go?
Maybe just a little lip balm, but honestly I don't really carry makeup with me because I don't like to wear makeup when I'm not working. I'll definitely keep a little mascara in my bag sometimes for a touch-up.
What does being the new face of L'Oréal Paris mean to you?
I've always wanted to be a part of the L'Oréal family. Honestly, my mother and I have been using the brand for so many years. I really love the message it has. And their commercials and print ads are always stunning and so sophisticated. So for the chance to be a part of a company that I just know and love personally so much is amazing. I'm incredibly honored to be a part of this legacy.

Photo: Getty Images