Glee Project Winner 'Not Who You'd Expect,' Says Ryan Murphy

Ryan Murphy’s résumé includes everything from Nip/Tuck and Popular to Eat Pray Love and Running With Scissors. But his latest endeavor, The Glee Project, which airs Sundays 9/8 c on Oxygen, ranks as “one of my favorite things I’ve ever done,” says the writer-director-producer. Not only will the winner of this fledgling reality competition score a seven-episode arc on Glee‘s upcoming season, explains Murphy, but the reality spinoff has had the unexpected bonus of inspiring his fictional writing, too. Specifically, Sunday’s Glee Project episode involves a shocking revelation by a contestant that Murphy says he expects to inspire a future story arc on the Glee mothership. Murphy shared some added tidbits about what to expect over the course of the Glee Project season:

If you think you’ve already pegged the eventual Glee Project winner, you’re probably wrong. | “The person that we ended up picking is not who you would expect, but is so talented that it’s really inspired us as writers,” says Murphy. “The person who wins is not necessarily the best singer or the best dancer. It’s the person who can serve Glee best. What kind of character did we need for next season? That’s the person who won.”

You won’t have to wait long for the winning contestant to make his or her Glee debut. | “Our first episode back [on Glee] is always auditions,” Murphy says, and that’s exactly when you should expect The Glee Project champ to turn up as a McKinley High student who’ll try to earn a spot on the New Directions squad “in a different and unusual way than what we’ve done before.”

Murphy didn’t concern himself with whether contestants were naughty or nice outside of challenges. | “I don’t care if you’re likable, but what I do care about is ‘Are you professional? Do you have a good attitude?’ That’s really important to me,” he explains. To that end, the first two contestants to get the boot this season — Bryce and Ellis — both had minor clashes with Glee‘s behind-the-scenes gurus during the course of the show. “The person we’ve chosen has a great work ethic, really wants to be there, and having hung out with that person now quite a bit, is actually very lovable,” says Murphy. “People are going to go crazy for them.”

Murphy admits he wasn’t a perfect Glee Project judge. | “I made a huge mistake at one point in the season,” confesses the producer, who arrives each week to see the Bottom 3 contestants perform a song, and then confers with his fellow judges about which one to cut. While editing one particular episode, though, says Murphy, and seeing the doomed contestant’s full contributions, “I was like, ‘Holy s***! I make a big mistake!’ The episode was one where that person was having a bad day, and got voted off; I look back and I think, ‘I wish I would have kept that person on.” Asked if he invites said contestant to make a return to the competition at any point, though, Murphy remains coy: “Maybe I do. Maybe not.”

The Glee Project champ got the stamp of approval from the current Glee cast. | Murphy explains that by using Glee staples like Darren Criss, Dot Marie Jones, and Idina Menzel as Glee Project mentors, he was able to get a better idea about which hopefuls had “the potential to be really big breakout stars” and which ones his current cast “would want to hang out with day to day.”

Because he was casting for an undetermined role, Murphy says the contestants’ abilities to inspire the creation of potential characters became particularly important. | “It wasn’t really just a talent competition but also a personality competition,” he expains. “Show us who you are. Let me see as many facets to you as I can. Let me be inspired by that. And thus create a character which shows off quite frankly not just the best of who you are but also your flaws.” Murphy says it’s not unusual for him to draw off the experiences of his current cast when he’s writing a script, either. “Lea Michele has learned not to tell me anything about her life because I’ll put it into the script,” he says with a laugh. “You write what you know, as they say.”

Are you watching The Glee Project? What do you think of it thus far? Who are you rooting for and against? Sound off below, and for all my Glee Project news and recaps, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV.