Welcome to your official Glee Project recaps, friends. Now that the 14 contestants on this show have been set up (by Saturday's episode 0, did you notice?!) one of these young hopefuls is going to sing, dance, and dramatize his or her way into a 7-episode arc on the next season of Glee—which is good, because this past season a lot of its stars graduated. Time for new blood! But can any of these kids cut it? Over the summer months, we're gonna see.
If you're not familiar with this show, each hour-long episode (last night's had a bonus 15 minutes BTW) is divided into basically three segments: (1) the "homework," where the contestants have to learn to sing a song and perform it for Glee casting director Robert Ulrich and a "guest mentor" from the show (2) the music video, where the kids on the show film a music video with director Erik White, and (3) last chance callbacks, where the bottom three performers from that week sing for Ryan Murphy in an attempt to not be sent home. As our first post on this show explained, there's actually a whole lot of juicy drama involved in watching these kids try to make their dreams come true… although, like with most reality shows, this season has started off pretty innocently. Let's run down last night's events, shall we?
The Beginning: This season's 14 contenders settle into what shall henceforth be known as the "Glee House." They explore their bedrooms and common areas and make nice with each other. It looks like this season might spend a little more time on interpersonal dynamics than last year did, because the show really wanted us to see their house.
It should be noted that pretty much all the contestants already love Mario, the blind dude we talked about a few days ago. He's crazy talented and has an amazing story… this show is pretty much his to win, isn't it? There's also a little establishment of some of these kids' more prevalent traits, like with Aylin, the Muslim girl who's super boy-crazy. ("They sure did a great job casting so many hot guys," she says to the camera.)
The Homework (featured song: Lady Gaga's "Born This Way"): Every episode of Glee Project has a theme its contestants have to embody, and this one is "originality," so it makes sense that the kids would have to sing and dance to Gaga's anthem to being yourself. ADHD/autistic contestant Charlie makes himself known early on as a strong choreographer; he can just visualize things well, says he.
The contestants are "graded" on their "homework" "that's enough quotes" by a guest mentor from the actual Glee show. Glee Project has stepped up its game this year and snagged Queen Glee herself, Lea Michele, for the first episode. Michele, Robert Ulrich, and Ryan Murphy watch the kids sing and dance and then pick a winner. This has always seemed kinda arbitrary; it's hard to really judge someone from like 10 seconds of singing, but maybe that's the point. Anyway, Michele thinks the best performer of the bunch was Shanna, a 21-year old from Alabama who, honestly, can sing her head off. Shanna wins a private coaching session with Michele; the rest win the opportunity to have been in the same room as her, which, judging by their reactions, was a pretty sweet prize.
The Video (featured song: Whitesnake's "Here I Go Again"): There's this Family Guy joke where Meg asks "What's Whitesnake?" and Lois replies "the music mommies and daddies listened to." This is a weird choice for a song. Glee rarely dives into pop metal; they've knocked out a few Bon Jovi and Van Halen songs, but otherwise, not so much. Still, this is kinda cool if you're someone who actually cares about Whitesnake.
But enough about Whitesnake. (Is it ever enough?) Every video session is broken into a few segments. The kids do choreography with Zach Woodlee (who also runs it on Glee), and it should be noted that so far they're not looking too hot in the dancing department. It's pretty interesting to watch Mario learn the moves by putting his hands on a dancer's feet or arms and feeling how they move… he's far from the worst dancer of the bunch, actually. Transgender contestant Tyler (who just underwent sex-change surgery a few months prior to filming and confesses to growing pains) actually takes the cake for that, a fact he's willing to admit himself.
Along with choreography, the contestants also have to go into the recording studio with Glee music producer and vocal coach Nikki Anders. Nikki's harsh as ever with feedback, telling Taryn, for instance, that she's got "good timing, no confidence." Yikes. In the studio, 22-year-old Nashville resident Maxfield struggles with delivering his lines, while Shanna knocks the song's high note out of the park.
With choreography and singing down, it's time to film the video. Here we learn that 19-year-old Blake from Miami is kind of a natural; Robert Ulrich describes him as a classically handsome guy with a bit of a Jim Carrey streak (he actually looks a lot like Clark Kent on Smallville). Homework winner Shanna basically kills it both singing and dancing; she's clearly riding the high of her win and session with Michele. Tyler and Maxfield continue to struggle with their roles; neither looks especially comfortable on-screen which is, you know, a problem when you want to be on a TV show.
Last-Chance Callbacks (featured songs: David Guetta's "Without You," Jackson 5's "ABC," Willie Nelson's "Always on my Mind"): When it's time for the kids to find out how they did, Shanna's the first to be told she's clear. Then seven others are set free. Mario and another girl, Lily, are held back for a second to be given a few pointers but then are sent on their way (come on, there's NO WAY Mario is going home). The final three are revealed to be Maxfield, Aylin, and Tyler, which is not much of a surprise.
These three are given songs to sing that, in theory, match the best parts of their personalities… though this is a little suspect, since the judges say they like Aylin's flirty side and then give her a slow, ballady and not very fun version of "Without You"… but whatever. Maxfield gets "Always on my Mind," a country tune that should be right in his wheelhouse, and Tyler gets "ABC" to show how wacky he is.
The three contestants have two hours to prepare their songs (whether or not they're familiar with the material) and then sing for Zach, Nikki, and Ryan. The three then debate who goes home. In this case, the performances make clear that Aylin will be safe for another week; she salvages a fairly lifeless turn at Whitesnake with her sassy "Without You." Murphy even considers sending both Maxfield and Tyler home, though for different reasons—Maxfield is just ridiculously uncomfortable, while Tyler is not too good a singer. "I'm very moved by your story. I don't know that I'm moved by your talent," says Mr. Murphy to Mr. Tyler. Geez.
The Elimination: Anyway, in not too surprising a move, Murphy opts to send home Maxfield. It's understandable, but a shame—it's always a bummer to be the first kicked off a show. Maxfield has a great voice but no presence. And, as Murphy keeps reiterating, the Glee writers are looking for someone whose story they can tell. Maxfield just wasn't presenting one good enough for them to write to.
The Favorites: Again, it's too early to tell, but Mario has got to be in the top three; even Lea Michele loves him ("What I enjoyed the most about you is you GAVE it to me," she says to him after he sings Gaga)! Rounding out our picks this week: 24-year-old San Diegan Abraham (he's a sleeper, I'm telling you!), and homework winner Shanna. But the tables could easily turn at this point.