The Beginning: The theme of this week's show is tenacity. Sadly, no Tenacious D songs will be performed. Despite that, the kids are somehow still really psyched for the week; as casting director Robert Ulrich points out, they're all pretty much experts in it by now. In keeping with the theme, Robert hands them Destiny's Child's classic anthem "Survivor" for their weekly "homework assignment," another announcement that makes the kids go nuts. If these details seem kind of boring, it's because this pre-competition segment has a little less juicy stuff than usual this week, although in a talking head interview we do learn the very odd fact that Abraham was supposed to be a lawyer. Really?!
The Homework (featured song: "Survivor" by Destiny's Child): Robert mentions that the kids' guest judge this week has personal experience with their song, which is a pretty dead giveaway for regular Glee viewers—the kids'll be judged by Ms. Amber Riley, who plays Mercedes on the show and who sung the song last season. Amber's advice to the contestants definitely falls into more generic territory; she tells them she wants to see "tenacity," which they probably deduced when Robert told them the theme of the week was "tenacity." Oh well.
Everyone does a really good job performing the song; it's tough to see any standouts good or bad. Amber makes a few observations, though she too compliments the whole group. She thinks Abraham embraced his diva side too much, Lily has a great voice but didn't connect physically with the song, and Aylin can really sing. Well, obviously. In the end, though, Riley picks Ali as the winner, saying that she felt Ali moved more than any of the other contestants despite her being in a wheelchair. This puts Ali on a two-week winning streak.
Robert then announces the music video song for the week, which has a nice connection to the homework. Where their choir room assignment was named "Survivor," this time that's the band whose song they'll be performing—Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger" from Rocky III, the most classic of jock jams. As vocal coach Nikki Anders observes, this song has a really high vocal line that's outside basically all the contestants' ranges, so it'll be interesting to see who has the tenacity to come out on top. Besides the challenge of the song, though, Robert reveals that the shoot for the video's all going to be in one take, so if anyone messes up, they have to do the whole thing over again. Yikes.
The Video (featured song: "Eye of the Tiger" by Survivor): Despite Nikki's worries about this song's vocal challenges, most of the kids do a fine job when they're in the booth. Exceptions are Abraham, who has a tough time hitting a high note, and Michael, who can never seem to ace it when he's put in front of a mic. On the plus side, Shanna knocks her lines out of the park, as does Blake, who definitely seems to be a Nikki favorite; she even says he's the guy to beat in the competition. There's a little tension when all seven remaining contenders come in for a group vocal at the end; Lily overpowers everyone in volume, and Aylin makes a joke about it, which really makes Lily mad—though, to be fair, Nikki, too, tells Lily to back off the mic a bit.
Of course, the actual video shoot's a good deal more taxing than the recording studio. Basically, all the contestants have to complete one physical challenge—running up and down stairs, diving through hoops, jumping hurdles, all while lip-syncing!—then set themselves for their next challenge. Then they all come together at the end to form a pyramid, and Ali has to shoot a basketball into a hoop backwards while placed in front of them. It's kind of hard to describe since it's so physical and crazy, but watch the video and you'll see what we mean.
Obviously this takes more than one attempt; in fact, after a handful of tries it's clear that four contestants—Michael, Abraham, Aylin, and Lily—are getting stuck at a part where they're meant to double-dutch jump rope. Eventually video director Erik White makes the call to take it down to one rope, which makes that segment go a lot smoother. Also troubling, on take 12, Abraham wipes out while running around and twists his ankle. He plays through the pain, but some contestants think he's milking it a bit.
By the time the video hits take 25, the kids manage to fight their way to the end. It all comes down to Ali making a backwards basket… and she misses. This happens again at take 29 and take 33. After 29, the camera shows that Shanna's starting to crack, though you wouldn't know it; she runs off to hurl backstage before returning to the shoot with a smile on her face. When Ali messes up on take 33, she has a little breakdown backstage herself, and Shanna and Blake give her a nice pep talk. At that point it's decided that the rest of the contestants should just lift Ali to the basket, letting her dunk the ball. On take 34, this works, and the kids are finally done.
Honestly, this video is amazing. This seems like something most people would never be able to accomplish. At this point, it seems fair to say that any one of these seven kids has the tenacity necessary to be on Glee. Watch the video and judge for yourself.
Last-Chance Callbacks (featured songs: "Brick" by Ben Folds Five, ""Man in the Mirror" by Michael Jackson, "I'm the Greatest Star" from Funny Girl): Robert and fellow mentor Zach Woodlee confirm that every contestant did a good job in an especially taxing week, but, as always, someone's got to go home. Ali, Shanna, and Blake are immediately called back for next week, which is not surprising at all; even though Ali had a tough time getting the final action of the video right, she certainly displayed tenacity the whole time.
That leaves Aylin, Michael, Abraham, and Lily, the four perpetrators of the "jump rope disaster" as it should be called. All of them lacked a bit of focus and drive according to the mentors, but when their whole week was assessed, Aylin looked like she did the best job outside the video. Thus, she's spared from Glee producer Ryan Murphy's critical gaze for at least one more week. The other three are not so lucky and must perform for their lives... or, well, their future on the show.
Michael comes up first with Ben Folds Five's ballad "Brick," a song with really heavy emotional content that seems inappropriate for Glee Project, but whatever. It looks like Michael's starting a little behind in the count; right before he takes the stage, Ryan asks Nikki if she thinks Michael's a good singer. She says that he's alright, but he's no Blake. (She definitely has a crush on him, huh?) Yet Michael commands the stage with a sensitive performance of "Brick," though it's pitchy in just a couple parts. Ryan's happy with it, but plainly lays out for Michael that Blake's going to be trouble. Do you think they're playing up this rivalry on purpose? Is this some Hunger Games stuff? In the end, Ryan's advice for Michael is to take it in stride when he messes up.
Abraham's next with "Man in the Mirror" from the King of Pop, a nice but occasionally-flat performance. The judges seem happy enough, and again Ryan affirms his love for Abraham's talent, but he's starting to waver on his character: "I don't believe in everything else that's mucking him up."
Finally, Lily grabs the spotlight with a commanding performance of "I'm the Greatest Star" from the musical Funny Girl, a spectacularly appropriate song for her. This is the best performance of these three songs, if not the night, and the mentors go nuts for it. Ryan points out that even though she messed up the words (did anybody notice?) it didn't take him out of it because she performed so well. He also tells Lily that she's too good to get thrown off by a challenge. In the end, he thinks she learned her lesson about tenacity, and it looks like it's a good bet Lily will be safe this week.
But THEN: Just as Ryan and the other mentors are talking about how any one of these three kids would fit on Glee—which they see as a good sign they're running the competition well—Abraham returns to the stage unbidden. What? This is unprecedented and awkward, especially because he just kind of stands there for a minute. Then he apologizes for doing poorly during the week, and then he issues an ultimatum: "I'm not leaving until I win or until you write a role for me on Glee."
Wow. That takes brass. Ryan, to his credit, doesn't act phased and he tells Abraham that he's just not interested in talking about talent. He'd rather see it, and in fact he thought Abraham was going to offer to perform again instead. He also gives Abraham a few compliments about his tenacity that seem genuine. Abraham, placated, leaves the stage. This was all very strange.
Despite his acting out, Ryan tells the other judges that he believes Abraham has a "special energy" that he can write for. He's less impressed with Michael, who comes off as "charm on a stick without performance." Ryan also doesn't think Michael believes he can win, unlike some, like Lily, who is nothing but confidence. It really seems like Michael's week to go, doesn't it?
The Elimination: That's what I thought, but I was wrong. Without making direct reference to his outburst, Ryan decides that it's time for Abraham to pack his bags. Performance-wise, this seems like the best choice. I know a few of you guys are Michael fans, and I'm really starting to like him, so this suited me okay. I thought Abraham came out strong when the show started, but too many down weeks seem to have taken the fight out of him, despite his impressive—and impressively weird—last gasp this week.
The Favorites: Broken record, I know, but Shanna and Blake. Also, I'm still not ready to put Ali in the final two or even three, but you can't deny she's on a hot streak lately.