Michele was born in the Bronx, New York City. She is the only daughter of Edith, a nurse, and Marc Sarfati, a delicatessen owner.Her mother is Italian American and Roman Catholic, while her father is a Spanish Sephardic Jew. Michele was raised Catholic, and has stated that her father "gladly" attends church with her and her mother. She grew up in Tenafly, New Jersey. She attendedRockland Country Day School for elementary school in New York and then Tenafly High School. Michele was home schooled one year while working in Toronto, Ontario on Ragtime. She attended Stagedoor Manor in the Catskills, a center for performing arts training. She was then later accepted to the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, but opted instead to continue working professionally on the stage.
Michele adopted her stage name at an early age; when she went on her first audition, she gave her name as "Lea Michele," and has used it ever since. She has stated that she changed it because she was teased about the pronunciation of her last name.
Michele made her Broadway debut in 1995, as a replacement in the role of Young Cosette in Les Misérables. This was followed by the role of Tateh's daughter, the Little Girl, in the 1998 original Broadway cast of Ragtime. In 2004, Michele played Sphritze in the Broadway revival of the musical Fiddler on the Roof. She also sang on the 2004 Broadway revival cast recording of Fiddler on the Roof.
On May 18, 2008, Michele left Spring Awakening with her co-star Jonathan Groff. She performed in a reading of Sheik and Sater's new musical, Nero, in July 2008 at Vassar College. She portrayed Eponine in the Hollywood Bowl's Les Misérables concert in August 2008.She played the role of Wendla in Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik's musical version of Spring Awakening, starring in early workshops and Off-Broadway and finally originating the role in the Broadway production in 2006 at the age of 20. Around the same time that the show was set to go to Broadway, she was offered the role of Eponine in the Broadway revival of Les Misérables. She elected to remain with Spring Awakening, which debuted on Broadway in December 2006. She was nominated for a Drama Desk Award for her performance in Spring Awakening in the category of Outstanding Actress in a Musical.
Michele stars in the Fox television series Glee, where she plays the star singer of a high school glee club, Rachel Berry. She has won a Screen Actors Guild Award for an outstanding ensemble performance and the 2009 Satellite Award for best actress. Michele received the People's Choice award of Best Actress in a Comedy in 2012. She also received nominations for an Emmy Award, two nominations for a Golden Globe Award, and Teen Choice Award for her performance in the role. In December 2010 Lea Michele received Billboard's First-Ever Triple Threat Award.Several of her solo covers have reached the top 40 on the US Billboard Hot 100, including "Gives You Hell" by The All-American Rejects, "The Only Exception" by Paramore, "Firework" by Katy Perry, "Without You" by David Guetta feat. Usher, and the original song "Get It Right". Michele is the featured lead singer in 14 of the top 25 selling Glee songs as of Feb. 2012. Also as of Feb. 2012, over 70 songs featuring Michele as a lead have reached the Billboard charts, more than any other cast member.
Michele was included in TIME magazine's 2010 list of the 100 Most Influential People In the World. FHM named her No.7 on 2010 Sexiest Women List. Michele was named to People Magazine's Best Dressed List of 2010 as "The Newbie" and she was voted "2010 Most Stylish Star" by E! Online. She was ranked 28th on the Maxim 2011 Hot 100. She was number 10 on the AfterEllenhot 100 list for 2011. Michele ranked 14th on the 2012 Maxim Hot 100.  Women's Health Magazine placed Lea Michele as the 3rd Best 2012 Summer Bodies. 
In 2010, Michele joined the cast of the animated film Dorothy of Oz, voicing the lead role of Dorothy Gale. She filmed a role inGarry Marshall's romantic comedy New Year's Eve, which was released in 2011.
Before Super Bowl XLV, on February 6, 2011, she performed "America the Beautiful" with the Air Force Tops In Blue.
Candie's announced in 2012 that Lea will be the new spokesperson for their clothing/footwear brand.