'The Glee Project' brings fun, musical side to reality TV competition shows with high school flashback
But nothing on TV (that’s not in reruns) makes me feel more like a teenager than watching “Glee“ and its reality TV show competition counterpart “The Glee Project.“
Watching those awkward teenage years played on screen with music reminds me of the angst and the drama and the singing along at the top of my lungs to a song that “really meant something” to me because it “spoke to me.” I have a very vivid memory of screaming all the words of the All-American Rejects’ “Swing Swing” with two of my friends as we drove around my hometown in the green minivan I shared with my brother. That’s the kind of awkward, geeky moment that doesn’t cut it on those CW dramas about high school, but kind of does on “Glee.”
You’re probably familiar with “Glee,” the musical-comedy-drama TV series about a high school glee club that’s almost as omnipresent on Fox as Kiefer Sutherland. Unless you’re a dedicated Gleek or a frequent Oxygen watcher, you might not have heard about “The Glee Project.” The show features a bunch of 18- to 24-year-olds who are competing for a seven-episode arc on “Glee.”
The reality show premiered its second season June 5 and airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on Oxygen.
“The Glee Project” isn’t about finding the best singer though. Or the best actor. Or the best dancer. On the first episode of this season, “Glee” co-creator and executive producer Ryan Murphy called it an “inspiration contest.” Murphy went on to say, “we are looking for people to inspire young people.” He told the contestants to “Be yourself, because the very thing that you think is the worst part about you is probably the thing that I will, as a writer, probably like the most.”
Last year, two winners — Damian McGinty and Samuel Larsen — were awarded seven-episode arcs, and two “Project” runners-up — Lindsay Pearce and Alex Newell — were given two-episode arcs. Fan-favorite McGinty was cast as Rory Flanagan, an Irish foreign exchange student. Mr. Smoldering Eyes (a.k.a. Larsen) was cast as dreadlocked, “God Squad” member Joe Hart. Pearce was given the role of Rachel Berry (Lea Michele) foil Harmony. Newell made a memorable appearance as rival choir member Wade Adams, who performed in drag as Unique at the all-important nationals.
This year, Murphy started out the season by announcing only one winner would be selected from among the 14 finalists.
Nitty-grittyThe show repeats the basic format of its first season. Each show has a theme and is crafted around that. They get assigned a “homework assignment,” a song that they learn and practice then perform in front of a mystery guest judge from the cast of “Glee.” The guest judge picks a winner who gets a one-on-one mentoring session and a featured role in the group performance music video that the contestants create. They practice choreography with “Glee” choreographer Zach Woodlee and vocals with Nikki Anders. Next they shoot a video with music video director Erik White. Their performances in the video and are set are used the primary criteria for who gets a callback. At callbacks, the bottom three are revealed. Those three then do individual performances before Ryan Murphy to try to convince him to keep them on the show. Final callbacks, entail a final casting list and a mournful appearance by “Glee” casting director Robert Ulrich telling the bottom three “the list is up.” The eliminated contestants then sing the lead vocals on Avril Lavigne’s “Keep Holding On” during the usual I’m-leaving-a-reality-show spiel of goodbyes, reflections on their time on the show, and speech about how it wasn’t there time to leave yet.
I’m pretty down with all that coming back with the exception of “Keep Holding On.” I was hoping they’d come up with something fresh this year, but hey it’s a shtick and they’re keeping it. I’m glad to see mentors Nikki, Zach and Robert return. They’re likeable, make frank assessments of the contestants, and seem like they’re genuinely trying to help the contenders to do their best. Frankly, other than watching the contenders rise and fall, the best parts of the show for me is listening to their comments about the contestants and the often harsh and to-the-point evaluations by Ryan Murphy.
The guest judges brought different insight to “The Glee Project” last season, and this year probably will be similar. The first guest judge was Lea Michele. When she stepped into the choir room, I thought some of the contestants were going to cry or faint. Frankly, Lea looked a bit terrified by the over-the-top reactions.
ContestantsAnd then there’s the contestants. They were introduced in a casting special where a huge field of contenders was narrowed down to 14 (on the outset it was supposed to be 12 but Ryan Murphy liked 14, so it was 14), seven girls and seven boys looking for their big break. There’s way too many to talk about right now but I’ll give some basic details on my favorites.
My favoritesMario Bonds, 24, who’s blind and confident about his talents.
Quote: “I’m hella talented. I will sing and dance my blind way into ‘Glee.’”
Charlie Lubeck, 22, who’s rocking severe ADHD and a mild autistism spectrum disorder.
Quote: “I’ve always been a little left of center, but in so many ways it’s been a gift because it was got me into acting in the first place.”
Aylin Bayramoglu, 19, a spitfire Turkish Muslim who’s a total flirt.
Quote: “I’m not even allowed to use tampons, because my mom thinks they like ‘take away your virginity.’ She doesn’t even know I’ve like kissed a boy.”
Ali Stoker, 24, a bubbly blonde who happens to be in a wheelchair.
Quote: “If I won ... I could be the girl ‘who sang and did shows’ and I wouldn’t have to be the ‘girl in the wheelchair.’”
I could do without some of the contestants (the Justin Bieber look-alike girl for one), but it’s a little too early to really tell if any of the contestants will be able to hack it. The big drawback of these early shows is that there are so many contestants that many of the contenders only get a line or two in each song and a few moments of screen time in the video.
Up nextI am very excited to catch tonight’s Danceability episode, though the previews online website are giving away a ton. You can even check out the entire music video performance. This week it’s LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem,” and it’s definitely showing a different side of the contenders.
Though my high school years never involved spin the bottle, I'm sure I'll find something to relate to in tonight's episode. I always do.
Catch the Final 14 casting special on Hulu here.
Check out the first episode on Hulu or on Oxygen’s website.
If you're into the show I'd also recommend checking out its YouTube channel for behind-the-scenes stuff, interviews, previews, and more.
Let me know what you think of this week’s developments by email or Twitter. Just please no spoilers on who goes home. My work schedule here at The News-Herald keeps me from watching the show until Wednesday. I'll tweet about the show as I watch it all season long.