“The Glee Project” Recap (2.01): “Individuality”

Oh, the simultaneous thrill and anxiety of the start of a reality show! So many new characters to meet; so much uncertainty as to which ones will stay or go! Which ones will seem really nice at first and then turn out to be horrible people? Which ones will seem like horrible people and then, whoa, turn out to be amazing? We just don’t know!

There’s even more pressure riding on this Ryan Murphy-crafted reality whirlwind, as the winner of the second season of The Glee Project could become part of next season’s (real) Glee. Two co-winners as well as two runners-up from the first season of The Glee Project earned at least some sort of role or story arc this past year on Glee. And this time, there are some especially mighty shoes to be filled now that well, pretty much everyone has graduated from McKinley High. And while we will apparently still be following all of our old favorites in New York, or Chicago, or LA (because this isn’t going to get confusing, right?), someone’s got to keep Tina and Artie and Blaine company back in good ol’ Ohio.

So let’s meet our contestants, shall we?

The first person to walk onto our TV screen is Dani Shay. Yay Dani! Dani is our girl! Did you read Trish Bendrix’s interview with Dani yesterday? You should, because it’ll help explain why she’s our girl. Besides being an out lesbian, she would like to play an androgynous character on Glee if given the opportunity, and anyone who uses the word androgynous wins in my book.

So Dani is adorable and 23 and from Florida and has both the fortunate and unfortunate luck of arriving first — fortunate because you get to choose the best bed, unfortunate because you have to wander around awkwardly until someone else arrives to make equally awkward conversation with. Dani finds a Rubik’s Cube inspired side table, saying, “Oh my God, is this real?” And I’m with her — that thing is cool. Is there a place where you can buy all the cool stuff you see furnishing reality TV show sets? Because I always want all of it.

Next we meet Charlie from Chicago, who rushes in and swings Dani around in a big joyful hug. Okay, so that was less awkward than expected. It appears that most of the contestants will already know each other from the call backs process that got them this far. So everyone’s probably going to be really nice and chummy and comfortable already. That is a little disappointing.

Then there’s Abraham With The Red Hair — you need to cling on to distinct characteristics at this point in the game when there are so many folks to keep track of who’s who — from San Diego. More hugging. Then Sweet Ali from New York City comes in, who I’m deeming Sweet Ali because she just seems so sweet, y’all. (Oh man, I bet she turns evil!) She and Dani also share the most adorable, genuine-seeming hug. Best hug so far, although I know there’s still so many more to come!

A wrap-up of everyone else joining the group, to move this along:

Competitive Lily, 19, Cape Cod. Hugs. Lots of other people coming in, lots of screaming and hugging, but we apparently don’t get to know their names yet but will shortly. Then a LOT of screaming — there is also a decent amount of jumping up and down by Abraham With The Red Hair — when a clear crowd favorite, Mario from Maryland, walks in.

Mario has one of the most magnificent, humongous smiles I have ever seen, and it makes me believe that diamonds will start falling from the sky to grant us all happiness. He also happens to be blind.

Shanna, 21, Alabama. I don’t know enough about you to give you a nickname yet, Shanna, and your name doesn’t alliterate with where you’re from, which is sad. “Never Lived With Strangers” Taryn, 22, Detroit. Yep, that’s going to go well. Tyler, 22, Florida, who is transgender. Even though the alliteration of Transgender Tyler is so obvious, I won’t do that, Tyler! Just give me a minute to meet you.

Pumped-About-the-Hot-Guys Aylin, 19, Chicago, Turkish Muslim. No Nickname For You Yet Either Nellie, 19, Tacoma, Washington. Kind of a Math Geek Michael, 18, Chicago. Maxfield the N00b, 22, Nashville, only been singing seriously for six months. Blake Which Is So Close to Blaine, 19, Miami. And that’s everyone! Yes, you will lose track of them in five seconds. It’s okay.

Robert Ulrich, Glee casting director and the guy who makes everyone nervous and excited and scared, walks in and introduces the first week’s theme: individuality. The first “homework” assignment song? Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way.” Duh! Did you know this song makes me cry, and that I feel kind of silly that it makes me cry? Now you do.

Robert says, essentially, figure out your own arrangement and your own choreography, see you dudes later, peace. I must interject here that I’ve spent the last two weeks working with a bunch of 7th and 8th grade students who are attempting to film their own music videos, and we also gave them free reign to arrange and choreograph as a group as they saw fit. The only thing my dear middle schoolers really seemed to accomplish were a lot of ideas that no one could agree on, a lot of pouting, and a lot of headaches for me. So this idea is giving me mild heart palpitations, but I’m having faith these Glee kids will be better at this.

After a bit of awkward rehearsing — there’s some of that awkwardness I was hoping for! — the contestants are in a new room being introduced to their first guest mentors. First, there’s Mr. Ryan Murphy himself. Kids seem nervous. Then, dun, dun, dun, there she is — Lea Michele! Kids seem REAL excited! Competitive Lily especially! Yay!

And there’s that smile from Mario From Maryland again! Diamonds and rainbows! Guh!

Lea says hello, and then Ryan Murphy gives some speech about how this competition isn’t about talent, it’s about inspiration. Um, sure. Right. And you will all get paid in gumdrops and moonbeams!

Lea tells the contestants to “let their geek flag fly,” which I like, and all the while everyone is staring at her like she is the best thing they have ever seen in their lives, which I suppose she very well may be, and it is all so earnest and adorable and oh my gosh I can’t believe one of them is going to lose so soon!

They perform “Born This Way” for Lea, Ryan, and Robert, and it is charming, cohesive, sounds good. Everyone seems half-natural, half-sort-of-breathless. So much better than my middle schoolers, guys! (Dear students, I still love you.)

The first comment Lea has is to tell Dani how gorgeous she is and how she just wants to stare at her. Dani’s face contorts between “Uh, OK?” and “Do I cry?” It turns out to be a sort of back-handed compliment, though, since Lea goes on to say that she needs to take her beauty as a person and connect it to her confidence in performing.

She also then gives compliments to Shanna, Mario from Maryland — and her voice suddenly swoons when she says, “I love you!” to him, because how could you not with that smile?! — and Competitive Lily. She in fact calls Competitive Lily “strikingly beautiful,” which touches Lily because, as she explains in a one-on-one with the camera, as a bigger girl she’s always ready to hear the opposite. Then she cries. And I want to hug both of them.

Alas, Lea still picks Shanna as the winner for the day. I’ve decided to go with Smiley Shanna as Shanna’s nickname, which isn’t really my best work, but that is a great smile, so it’s what I’m going with for now. So Smiley Shanna will get some alone time with Lea, and a special singing part in the Big Group Number for the episode, which they announce is Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again.” Oh, hells yeah.

The contestants then start going over choreography with the dance coaches Brooke and Zach — everyone seems uncomfortable here — and singing individually with the vocal coach Nikki. Warning, kiddos: Nikki can be intense. Smiley Shanna continues to shine here, but she seems to lack any sense of vanity or pride about it at all, which makes you like her a lot. It’s remarkable, actually.

Also of note is an amazing moment when Pumped-About-the-Hot-Guys Aylin reveals that her devout Muslim mother won’t even let her use tampons because she thinks it’s taking away her virginity. Which she tells openly to Ryan Murphy. I kind of like you, Aylin.

Next, we’re recording a music video for “Here I Go Again” with Erik White, wherein the three main judges — Zach, Nikki, and Robert — observe and whisper to each other about how our peeps are doing. A hilarious pattern ensues where Nikki and Zach inform Robert that he needs to tell a particular contestant to stop sucking. Robert then walks up to the sucking contestant with the biggest smile and the warmest “Heyyy, you’re doing great!,” the kind of lead up that, if you have ever been approached with it, you know will only inevitably lead to a “But — stop sucking.” But he is so good/bad at this fake warmth lead up! It cracks me up each time! It’s like you can tell he just really wishes he could give them all puppies!

After making the music video — which is so enjoyable, truly! — the contestants wait to see who will be deemed the bottom three. “Never Lived With Strangers” Taryn talks about how she misses her mom. She cries. It’s clear Taryn is shy and so nervous about this whole thing — she had never even been on a plane before! — and basically I hope no one is too mean to her because I just want her to drink some tea and calm down.

And now here we are on stage, and the judges march out — dun, dun, dun! — complete with dramatic reality TV showdown music. This dramatic music is always so good. The decisions: Smiley Shanna is, not surprisingly, the overall winner. Mostly everyone else–including our girl Dani!— is safe. The bottom three are Pumped-About-the-Hot-Guys Aylin, Maxfield the N00b, and Having Some Trouble With the Dancing (all I could come up with) Tyler.

For the bottom three, the judges pick a different song for each individual to perform for the judges plus Ryan Murphy, and then the four of them make their final cut. Yikes, this is quite the complicated reality show. I mean, it’s almost as complicated as trying to follow a hundred characters’ storylines on Glee.

Having Some Trouble With the Dancing Tyler’s face when he found out his song was the Jackson Five’s “ABC,” meaning he’d have to try to sing in an octave he totally couldn’t sing in!:

Pumped-About-the-Hot-Guys Aylin totally kills her performance of “Without You,” to the point where Zach and Robert and Ryan are smiling their faces off throughout it. She is almost even more charming afterwards, when Ryan Murphy asks her what guys she’s interested in (because remember, she is really pumped about them), and she responds:

Aylin: (gasp) Like, HERE?
Ryan Murphy: Yeah!
Aylin: Blake — I mean — JESUS.

Hah! I love you! You go get ‘em, girl.

Tyler’s performance is decent, but it’s his discussion with Ryan Murphy afterwards which is quite interesting. After mentioning that his vocal range is difficult with his voice changing after his female-to-male transition, Murphy pushes him to describe his transition a bit further. Tyler eventually explains it as, “I’m coming into myself more, and coming out of myself more.”

Imagine if we had even more transgender individuals explaining such complex things on TV.

Maxfield the N00b was, eh, OK.

You can then guess what came next: Bye-bye, Max. You seemed sweet. Everyone cried.

The upshot is, the goodbye sequence of The Glee Project is one of the most gloriously dramatic goodbye sequences I’ve ever seen! After the slow-motion, high-contrast-lighting filled walk to the call-back list, and after everyone cries, he slow-motion walks out the door, and then we see a shot of him and the rest of the contestants singing Avril Lavigne’s “Keep Holding On.” This is pop music reality TV heaven!

Did any of you guys catch The Glee Project? If you missed it or you don’t get Oxygen, you can check out the full episode or clips on Oxygen’s website or Hulu. Who do you think has the most talent? Who do you think’s going to get cut next week?

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