Whether you love or hate Glee, there’s no denying it’s a series that wears its emotions like a slushie on a sweater — loudly, explosively, and in vibrant primary colors. Which is why I was a little flummoxed by the series premiere of its reality spinoff, The Glee Project, which painted the search for the mothership’s next great character in shades of beige, tan, and gray.
Part of the problem might be that Glee truly tries to celebrate specific (if not 100 percent realistic) misfit toys, whereas The Glee Project‘s cast comes off like a merry band of quirkily good-looking “types” sent straight from central casting, directly to a studio, where they’ll be Auto-Tuned, airbrushed, and directed into the background of the next Lea Michele-Cory Monteith duet. And then, of course, there’s the conundrum posted by Glee casting director Robert Ulrich that choosing actors for a TV show is a “completely subjective” process; that could make the judging portion of the show a hard thing to truly appreciate.
Whatever the case, the battle for a seven-episode arc on Glee — “an incredible gift,” said Ulrich, leading me to wonder whether or not the winning actor will get paid for “winning” — kicked off with the 12 contestants being asked to bring “individuality” to their lines on a group performance of Stevie Wonder’s “Signed Sealed Delivered.” The vocals for this challenge felt a way over-produced to me, and only two singers stood out: diminutive Matheus and power-vocalist McKynleigh (who I’m guessing was either cast for her name’s resemblance to Glee‘s McKinley High, or changed her stage name to catch the attention of Team Ryan Murphy). As guest mentor Darren Criss pointed out, Matheus tailored his vocal line to suit his voice, and that added howl at the end was playful and intriguing — much like the contestant himself.
With Matheus scoring extra mentoring time with Criss, the contestants then formed a therapy circle of sorts to discuss what character they wanted to portray if they took home the big prize. Babyfaced Ellis declared herself as “most likely to be a child forever,” and thereby became the contestant most likely to haunt my waking nightmares. I mean, honestly, floppy hat + infant vocalization = Hostel sequel, not Glee breakout, right? Emily, meanwhile, came off as a teensy bit crass declaring her role as “the best swimsuit model I could be,” but at least she cooked up something specific and memorable. Matheus again stood out by declaring himself most likely to become a personal trainer, flashing his abs for “the ladies” and generally trying to dismiss the notion that hunks can’t come in tiny packages and equipped with braces.
The contestants then worked with a vocal coach, a choreographer, and a director as part of the main challenge, a video shoot to Katy Perry’s “Firework,” but it’s hard to get a true read on who’s succeeding and who’s failing when you’re trying to follow 12 new contestants performing two- or three-line song snippets.
I suppose the judges honed in on the right trio as candidates for elimination. Ellis’ creepy baby-doll dress and “Home Alone-face” would have Emma Pillsbury reaching for a slushie; without his accent, Irish lad Damian (a veteran of a Celtic Thunder tour!) might as well have been trapped in a locker for the entire telecast; and poor, handsome Bryce immediately painted himself as a mini-diva by telling the “Firework” director and choreographer how to do their jobs. (Dude had a point, but still…)
The three at-risk contestants then got to perform a song for Ryan Murphy, Ulrich, and choreographer Zach Woodlee. Damian scored copious unintentional laughs by botching a classic Rick Springfield chorus, turning “I wish that I had Jesse’s girl” into “I wish that I was Jesse’s girl.” Ellis wore white stockings, a yellow skirt, and pearls for a rendition of “Big Spender.” And Bryce sang Bruno Mars’ “Just the Way You Are” after an actorly moment of confessing his insecurities to vocal coach Nikki Anders — while never looking away from his mirror.
I liked the way the producers revealed the contestants’ fates by posting callbacks on a bulletin board, though perhaps for future episodes, they could go for something a little more spontaneous, and a little less like a dramatic operating-room montage at the end of Grey’s Anatomy. In the end, it was Bryce who paid the price — while Damian and Ellis will live to respectively bore and terrify us another day.
What did you think of The Glee Project? Did it meet your expectations? Will you go back for a second helping next week? Sound off in the comments, and for all my reality recaps, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!