Stephanie Petit
May 01, 2017 02:15 PM

Lea Michele may be missing from your TV screen lately, but it’s for a good reason — she’s been busy working on her second album, Places, distraction-free.

“Being able to really just focus on just this album this year and not working on a television show where I’m also singing at the same time was the key to making this album incredibly personal and specific to exactly what I was wanting it to be,” she says in a special making of video, premiering exclusively on PEOPLE.

Although she’s best known for belting out pop songs on Glee, the 30-year-old says this new record went back to her roots in musical theater. She recalls first auditioning for a role in the Broadway production of Les Miserables when she was 8. Two weeks later, she was performing on the Great White Way.

“I walked off stage I turned to my mom and dad and I said to them, ‘This is what I want to do for the rest of my life and don’t ever let me stop,’ ” she explains.

Michele went on to star in the musical Spring Awakening before landing roles on Glee and Scream Queens, but her heart remained at the theater.

“Now I think it’s so important for me at this point of my life to just really embrace the parts of my sound and my look and my artistry should just be so true to who I am and where I come from. I come from Broadway and I come from New York,” she says. “I have a very theatrical voice. I grew up listening to Barbra Streisand and Céline Dion. I mean, that was all I wanted to listen to. That was my inspiration for this record.”

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She adds, “If it sounds too theatrical or whatever, this is just me. Everyone’s like, ‘What does your album sound like?’ It’s like, ‘I don’t know. It just sounds like me.’ ”

Michele explains that she feels most comfortable through singing and can’t wait to show her work to her fans.

“If you want to know what’s going on in my life, just listen to my music,” she says. “Just listen to my songs because that’s where I really feel like I can open up. I’m excited to be able to share these parts of my life with the people who have been with me and following me over these past years.”

Places is available now via Columbia Records.

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