Having sat through every episode of High School Musical: Get in the Picture, I was a little reluctant to try out The Glee Project. After all – once you’ve seen one reality show about casting a triple-threat unknown to enter a popular franchise as a guest star, you’ve seen them all.
But unlike that aforementioned disaster, The Glee Project is a breath of fresh air. The Oxygen reality show pits 12 hopefuls between the ages of 18 and 22 against one another, all competing for a chance to star in a six-episode arch on Glee’s third season. And guess what? By showcasing underdog energy, raw talent, and high school-drama, The Glee Project is proving to be a better show than it’s parent product.
It’s all about the little guy
Glee, in its conception, is a show about underdogs – a cast of outcasts trying to make a place for themselves in the hard-knocked halls of high school. But long-time Glee viewers might be hard-pressed to find any of the New Directions crowd really struggling to fit in at McKinley High these days. Sure, there’s the occasional gay-bashing, teasing, and slushy to the face. But for the most part, producers seem too focused on flashy performances, cliché plotlines, and superstar guest stars these days to actually maintain the urgency for acceptance on which this show was built.
The Glee Project changes all that. Our 12 contestants aren’t looking to just fit in with one another – they’re looking to fit in with the judges. The sense of isolation and self-doubt built into the competition is exactly what’s needed to raise the stakes. It’s fear. No matter how many friends they make, there’s always going to be that point in the show where one of them has to go. We’re three episodes in and I can’t tell you how many insecure confessionals we’ve had already. If you’ve ever been a loser in high school, you’ll know that’s completely true to life. What a way to bring that underdog spirit back to Glee!
It’s filled with real people playing themselves
The kids on The Glee Project are all competing for a guest-starring role on Glee… that hasn’t been written yet. It’s up to them to “inspire” Ryan Murphy and company to give them a part. Each week, they’re tasked at showing they can master another Glee lesson (“Individuality,” “Theatricality,” etc). But they don’t do so by creating new characters – they do so by playing up on their own character traits.
From the very first episode, where they were asked to pick their senior superlatives (“Class Clown,” “Most Likely to be a Swimsuit Model, etc”), to the most recent episode where they walked around wearing cut-out boards announcing their biggest insecurities (“Fat,” “Gay,” “Anorexic,” etc), the contestants have been pushed to be themselves. This can be troublesome when you’re not that interesting (last week, hipster Cameron was at risk because he was too well-adjusted and couldn’t tap into any personal issues for his “Vulnerability” lesson. The week before, McKynleigh was in the bottom for simply being too boring). If you want to stand out, you need to embrace who you are.
The contestants have strong leadership
Let’s face it, Gleeks: Mr. Schuester is a terrible coach. Every week he throws a theme at the kids and then kind of… disappears while they figure it out. When’s the last time you’ve heard him actually criticize one of his singers? Try and help them find a harmony? Or work out blocking to a new routine? I mean, hell, he wasn’t even there to help them rehearse for Regionals! No wonder they lost!
But on The Glee Project, our hopefuls have a great group of mentors working with them each day. Glee’s casting director, Robert Ulrich. Choreographer Zach Woodlee. Vocal producer Nikki Anders. Music video director Erik White. Each week, they’re joined but a Glee cast-member (so far Darrin Criss, Idina Menzel, and Dot-Marie Jones). Oh, and on elimination day, creator Ryan Murphy shows up to pick who from the bottom three stays or goes.
These folks aren’t just watching by while our cast walks through the process. They’re coaching them through each rehearsal and performance. Most importantly: contestants get tips on how to grow. Now if only Mr. Shue was around to take notes.
They’re an actual singing group
Isn’t it strange how Blaine seems to be the only one ever singing lead with The Warblers? Or how Rachel and Finn always seem to take the male and female leads during competitions? Well, you won’t see any singling out here. Each week we get two group numbers – a short homework challenge and then a larger music video. And both times, they perform as a group. Everyone is showcased on an individual line of a song, and there’s plenty of opportunity for the bigger voices to riff and belt at ease. But at the end of the day, they’re performing as a group together. Which also means…
They actually rehearse
The New Directions crowd seems to pick up their songs and dance routines so quickly! Here, we get to see actual rehearsals: from flubbed dance routines to pitchy song choices. Nice to see it all doesn’t come so easy.
There’s real drama
It took exactly 2 minutes and 19 seconds into the second episode for the shit talking to start. “Man, Lindsay gets on my nerves,” said our spicy Latina sexpot Emily. “That girl is a phony, phony, phony chick. And I know phony. Trust me, I know phony.”
The Lindsay in question here is the real-life Rachel Berry – the “diva” of the group with a background in musical theater and backhanded compliments. Emily is right – Lindsay is a phony – though through her eyes, you’d be hard to see it. She has the whole “misunderstood talent” thing down to a tee. After a recording session in Episode 2, she returns to the greenroom with her head held high. “How’d you do?” someone asks. “Um, did you hear it?” she responds. “Yeah… that’s how I did.” Then laughs off her confidence, as if she’s just being sassy. Mind you, this is just seconds after she tells the camera, “To be honest it hasn’t felt like a competition yet.” Anyone watching knows she’s full of shit. Just like high school, it’s a total competition. And Lindsay is playing to win.
Part of playing to win means picking off the weak, and Lindsay finds no clearer target that Ellis, the “Negative Nancy” tomboy of the group.
Ellis is the perfect example of why The Glee Project is so great. Like a lot of our contestants, Ellis is an outcast. She looks like she’s 11 even though she’s 18. But even a group of outcasts needs an outcast, and Ellis is up for the part. Years and years of self-deprecation and isolation haven’t treated her well. She’s so insecure that she can’t get out of her own negative state of mind. She struggles onstage. Beats herself up offstage. And basically walks around acting like – oh, yeah – a 19-year-old! (Take note, Ryan Murphy. This is what real life is like.)
Sensing her weakness, Lindsay decides to call-out Ellis’ bad attitude in front of the whole group. The girls already had conflict that day (earlier Ellis had claimed Lindsay “ruined her life” by pointing out Ellis’ kiss with an actor was – GASP – her first!). And because no one else is standing up for Ellis, she goes into defensive attack mode:
Ellis: “Well you shouldn’t make me upset all the time.”
Lindsay: “Time out, can I just ask why you just attacked me?”
Ellis: “I’m didn’t attack you. You attack me every day.”
Lindsay: Whaaaaaaaat? How do I attack you every day Ellis? I helped you in the rehearsal hall!
The question of whether or not Lindsay did in fact help Ellis is mute. It’s the motivation behind the fight in the first place. As Ellis confesses: “I don’t know if she wants to help me or rip me apart.” Duh Ellis – she wants to do both! “I feel like I’m nice to Ellis and apparently I’m not,” Lindsay explains to the camera. “But at the same time, how do you be around someone who is just negative all the time? Stop having such an awful attitude about it!” That’s right Linds – go in for the kill!
And really, what’s more indicative of high school than an exchange like this? On Glee the fights are always love-driven (Quin hates Rachel because of Finn, Santana hates Rachel because of Puck, etc etc). But here, the arguments are about all those high school clichés we’ve come to love: who’s being fake, who’s being real, who’s a bitch, who doesn’t deserve to be here, etc, etc. This is the kind of shit we need!
Granted, the men don’t really seem at all interested in the infighting – but I’m sure that’ll change.
In the meantime, Hannah, the overweight ginger class clown, probably says it best about Lindsay: “I don’t think she’s very nice, honestly. I think she’s kind of mean.” No shit Hannah! Now move out the way before she plows through you.
So ultimately, The Glee Project turns out to be a way better viewing experience than Glee. Oh, and if you haven’t seen yet, don’t worry! You’ve only three episodes behind, and next week they’re off for 4th of July! Plenty of time to head to oxygen.com and catch-up.