Whether or not you're still on the Glee bandwagon after three seasons, you've got to admit there's something really special at the heart of that show. The dreams of youth, the harsh realities of failure... that's captivating stuff. It's certainly over-dramatized at times, but there are a few episodes of that show that qualify as perfect television. Ocassionally the show hits us right in the gut with some heavy emotion that maybe feels too true.
This is why Oxygen's Glee Project is so great. Here is a reality show where the struggles of Glee's characters are transposed onto real flesh and blood people. In this show, now in its second season, 14 young hopefuls (ages 18-24) compete to win a multi-episode guest appearance on the Fox dramedy. For these kids, success and failure isn't scripted… it's the very real outcome of playing the show's game, which involves singing, dancing, acting, and generally having a personality that will make Glee co-creator Ryan Murphy want to write about you. It's a pretty tough competition with a pretty solid reward, and over the next few weeks we're gonna be covering it.
This Saturday, the show's second season got a sneak preview with an episode that detailed the audition process and the paring down of thousands of contestants to the final 14 (it should've been 12, but Ryan Murphy liked too many of the kids, so…). Generally, this episode stays pretty close to most reality TV competitions… auditions are held in several cities (New York, Nashville, Chicago… sorry, west coast), and the best of those rounds (80 in total) are shipped to Los Angeles for callbacks. In LA, the 80 are brought down to 30, then 16 of those are cut to make the show's official contestant list.
Though pretty standard, even this preview episode gives us a taste of what sets The Glee Project apart from other singing shows. For one, its judges are actually important people to the show Glee, including casting director Robert Ulrich, choreographer Zach Woodlee, and music producer Nikki Anders. These three both coach the kids and make the cuts, though Ryan Murphy also has a hand in the latter. Like last season, the three of them seem like mostly agreeable people, except that Zach and Nikki definitely don't go easy on criticism, and they certainly don't put up with people slacking (it will be fun to see if either gets super angry this year).
Also, like its parent show, Glee Project is all about diversity. There's a huge range of people represented in the tryouts… people in wheelchairs (really, not faked like with Artie on the show), a few blind people, many members of the LGBT community, etc. A few of these contestants make it to the final 14, including the guy who seems to be the show's early standout, Mario Bonds—a blind 24-year old from a family of nine that was raised by his grandmother after his parents died. Wow. Not only does he have a stunning voice, but he's got a really touching—and, let's remember, not made-up—story.
This might be what really sets Glee Project apart as a reality show, so let's keep this in mind throughout the season: most reality TV is all about slotting people into preexisting roles. "Sassy gay guy," "angry housewife," etc.... these are well-worn paths. But Glee Project seems to want its contestants to make their OWN stories, create their own roles. In fact, this is literally the prize they win… their own role. It's fitting that a show celebrating diversity would encourage its contestants to be themselves, and that's probably why this show is so good, and not just in a trashy reality TV way.
The Songs: In the coming weeks our recaps will run down each episode's guest stars, challenges, songs and whatnot, but there isn't much to go over here. For those keeping track, though, the episode DID end with a music video of Lady Gaga's "Edge of Glory" as covered by all the contestants, which you can watch below.
The Favorites: It's really too early to tell, but again, Mario is definitely one to watch (0:36 in "Edge of Glory." Also, Abraham (0:42).
Starting Wednesday we'll be back with regular weekly recaps. 'Til then, catch the Glee Project season 2 preview episode on the Oxygen network!