Ready or not, “The Glee Project” is back.
Fourteen new contestants are vying for the same old prize — a recurring role on “Glee.” But now that we’ve seen a full season of the post-“Glee Project” “Glee” there are new questions to consider: Is this a prize worth competing for? And is it a prize that benefits “Glee”?
Last year’s inaugural “Glee Project” gave us not just one but four separate winners. Baby-faced Irish lad Damian McGinty and dreadlocked devout Christian Samuel Larsen were the official champs, and each was guaranteed a “seven episode arc.” The runner-ups — flamboyant drama queen Alex Newell and passionate prima donna Lindsay Pearce — were each told to expect a “two episode arc.”
Here’s what actually happened: Damian debuted in the fourth episode of season three and was rewarded with a significant amount of screen time right out of the gate. He performed two solos in that first episode alone. Although he receded into the background almost immediately, he wound up appearing in 17 episodes (sometimes to do little more than sit in a chair and smile) and had two more solos.
Samuel didn’t start until the thirteenth episode but returned for every episode after that for a total of 10. He never had a solo, but he did get to romance Dianna Agron’s Quinn and sing a duet with her during the Whitney Houston tribute episode.
Alex wound up in three episodes with a semi-significant storyline as the transgendered lead singer of glee club rivals Vocal Adrenaline. He had three solos.
Lindsay turned up first — in the season premiere — as Rachel Berry’s very Rachel Berry-like competition, but she never really had much of a role. She simply sang two songs (very nicely) in her two episodes and that was that.
Was it worth it? I’m sure Damian, Samuel, Alex and Lindsay wouldn’t complain about the opportunity or the exposure, but their benefit to the show was negligible. “Glee” isn’t hurting for characters, it’s one of the most over-crowded shows on TV and the writers are barely able to keep up with their full-time regulars. Shoehorning in four winners from a reality show was a problem no one really needed. Damian was the most charming, Alex the most unnecessary (and more than a little silly when channeling Nicki Minaj), but you could remove them all and little about the season would have changed. Maybe Tina or Artie would’ve had an extra line or two.
There’s no guarantee we’ll see any of them in season four, and I’m not sure how many people will even notice if we don’t.
So why am I spending so much time on last year’s contenders when we met a whole new crew tonight? Two reasons: there’s no way to properly introduce 14 people in a single hour (or 75 minutes) of television. No reality show does it well, “Glee Project” is no exception. So we barely know the newbies yet, and I want at least one more week to start sorting out who has potential and who’s a dud.
Also, it’s important to remember there’s a good chance they’re all competing for something a lot less exciting than it sounds.
With that in mind, here’s a quick rundown of what happened on the premiere…
Homework song: Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way”
Guest Mentor: Lea Michele
Yes, each of the 14 contestants was expected to express their “individuality” through a single line of Gaga’s self-empowerment anthem. The exercise was as trite as it sounds, and we didn’t learn anything about anyone that goes beyond labels: there’s a blind guy (Mario), a girl in a wheelchair (Ali), a guy with ADHD and a “low level autism spectral disorder” (Charlie), a transgendered young man (Tyler), a sassy Turkish Muslim from a traditional family (Aylin) and a girl who looks like Justin Bieber (Dani).
Some of them sounded serviceable delivering their single line, others not so much. At any rate, Lea Michele obviously doesn’t want to crush anyone’s dreams so she diplomatically declared everyone amazing (dwelling perhaps a little too much on Dani’s androgynous looks and the hard sell of Mario’s Deeply Inspiring existence). Her choice for the showdown winner: Shanna, a bubbly 21-year-old from Alabama with a big voice.
This week’s music video: Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again”
Again, everyone gets a line to sing (except Shanna who gets a couple lines because Lea Michele liked her best). But the video also requires them to “act” just a bit.
Based on how the wannabes do in the video, recording sessions with “Glee” vocal producer Nikki Anders and dance rehearsals with choreographer Zach Woodlee, a bottom three is selected to compete in “Last Chance Performances” for executive producer Ryan Murphy.
This week’s last chance performers: Aylin, Tyler and country boy Maxfield
One by one they take the stage to impress Murphy by performing songs selected for them.
Aylin goes first on David Guetta and Usher’s “Without You” (performed on “Glee” by Michele). She pretty much knocks it out of the park and in her post-performance banter session with Murphy displays plenty of the flirty spunk the panel said they were hoping she’d bring to the show. Since we haven’t seen much actual singing on the show yet, Aylin actually got a boost by winding up on the bottom.
Tyler is next up with The Jackson Five’s “ABC” and from the dancing to the singing to the facial expressions it’s all kinds of awkward. His explanation: his body is still adjusting to gender transition and the testosterone he’s been taking is causing his voice to change. Murphy finds this interesting, although he also slams Tyler’s dubious “talent” as a lot less interesting.
Maxfield closes it out with Willie Nelson’s “Always On My Mind.” He sounds good but he’s a snooze. Also, he’s not transgendered or a Turkish Muslim and there are other nondescript white boys who avoided the bottom three this week. We’ve already been reminded several times that winning “The Glee Project” isn’t just about “talent,” it’s about “inspiring” the audience and inspiring Murphy to write a specific character. So Maxfield seems like a goner.
When casting director Robert Ulrich posts the “callback sheet” all three of the bottom dwellers step up to look for their name.
Who’s not called back? Maxfield
And then it’s confirmed we’ll spend another season saying goodbye to the contestants via Avril Lavigne’s “Keep Holding On.”
Farewell, Maxfield, we hardly knew ya. Hopefully we won’t be saying the same for those you’re leaving behind.
Do you already have a new “Glee Project” favorite? How do you think last year’s winners actually fared on “Glee”? And can we really trust that this season will have only one winner?