Glee Project's Lindsay Pearce on Her 'Villain Edit,' 'God-Given' Gift, and 'Kissing Bandit' Rep

Lindsay Pearce says she’s not about to pretend she doesn’t have a God-given talent for acting and singing, but The Glee Project finalist also understands she has a lot of room for growth — both personally and professionally. Lindsay, whose Top 4 finish on Oxygen’s recently concluded reality competition earned her a consolation prize of a two-episode arc on Season 3 of Glee, chatted with TVLine about how she coped with the not-always-flattering way she was portrayed on the show, why she was happy to have to have her emotional walls broken down by Glee creator Ryan Murphy, and what really happened during that “spontaneous” kissing incident with fellow contestant Cameron Mitchell.

TVLINE | You head an interesting run from the beginning of Glee Project all the way to the end…
[Laughs] Yeah, right?

TVLINE | How did you feel watching the season unfold and realizing there were instances where you were getting the classic, reality TV “villain edit”?
I had no idea what the show was gonna look like, or what my or anybody’s edit was going to portray. But I remember I called my mom after episode 3 [in which contestants had to reveal their biggest vulnerabilities], when they didn’t really give the full [story] for a lot of people. On my end and with a few others, it wasn’t actually what we had shared, and I called my mom and was like “Why are they doing this? I don’t understand!” [Laughs] I was just so upset. And she was like, “It’s gonna be okay. There’s a reason. You’re gonna get redeemed.” The people that know me and love me know that’s not who I am or what I’m like. It was a rough go at the beginning. And I had no idea it was going to be that way, but it all turned out okay in the end.

TVLINE | What was the vulnerability you actually revealed that we didn’t get to see?
I had shared — and it’s on the Oxygen blog and on my fan page — that I was abused by a boyfriend in the past. So it kind of gave me a fear of men, and that kind of fear caused me to put on that mask of “I’m okay, I’m okay, I’m okay,” when I’d never really addressed the issue. And I wasn’t okay, I just pretended like I was, ’cause that’s how I am. You be tough, you be strong, and you get through things when sometimes it’s not the best way to handle any kind of trauma. You have to get the skeleton out of the closet, and then keep it out.

TVLINE | It’s a strange show because so much of the judging seemed to be about whether Ryan and his team could see who you were as a person, and whether you inspired them to write, as opposed to a normal casting process of whether you could be convincing in a particular role.
It was definitely interesting to find that we would have to bare so much of ourselves, when it wasn’t exactly what we wanted to do. On Glee, they do portray characters, but a lot of the characters are written around the actors themselves. Like, for example, Rachel Berry having a big nose and that being an insecurity, that actually happened to Lea [Michele]. She was one of the only girls in her area growing up that didn’t get a nose job. She could have, but she didn’t. And liking boys, I’m sure Chris Colfer went through that. So I understood it was a personal thing to have to do, but at the same time I’m sure Ryan Murphy knows a lot of intimate details about his actors. And so he chooses to pull from that actual life experience for the roles, and that’s why Glee is so relatable. The characters are in part factual, not fictional.

TVLINE | You got a lot of feedback from the judges and coaches that you were the strongest actor among the finalists, and there wasn’t really much questioning of your singing skills, either, so that had to feel good, at least.
You know, honestly, they could tell me that I was a great singer or the best actor of the group, blah blah blah blah blah. But in the end, all I needed to hear from Ryan was that he saw me and I was a light. That made me win. The minute he said that, I was like, “I’m good.” Because I’ve gone through that in my life where I meet people and they don’t understand me at first, just because they don’t take the time to look. They take the time to judge, but not to look, to really look. And every single person who’s forced to take the time, or takes the time themselves, ends up as a dear friend. It’s not hard to be my friend. It’s not. I’m open and extremely friendly. So Ryan saying to me, “Lindsay, I feel like I finally saw you tonight, and out of all of them you have grown the most. I’ve given you the hardest road and you succeeded.” That’s all I needed. He saw me for more than my talent. ‘Cause I was told the entire competition and for a lot of my life that my talent is the best thing about me, when it’s really not.

TVLINE | I suppose as a person, you don’t want to be completely defined by your career skills.
I would never dispute that I’ve been given a gift by God. That’s something I’ve been raised to believe. I’m not an idiot: I know that I can sing and I know that I can act. Am I the best? No. Do I have a lot to learn? Absolutely. Is there a lot of room for growth? You betcha. But it is nice to break out of that old skin of mine. It came to the point where I was evaluating myself just as a talent and not as a person, when I am a human being. And it’s okay to be human. And I had to remember that. For a little while, I became a machine. “Yeah, talent! Watch my high kick! Hear me belt!” Ryan doesn’t care about that. It’s impressive, yeah, but he wants to know about you. He’s like, “I don’t give a care about what note you can sing, or whether you have a split or not, or if you can make me cry with your acting. I want to know who you are, what makes you tick.” That made the experience special to me.

TVLINE | Talk to me about the experience of a “sing for your life” performance.
I remember Samuel and I talking and saying, “God I wish I was in the Bottom 3 more often, because it would’ve given us some sort of insight on what the heck to do.” We had similar journeys in the sense that we had to be tough, and were always trying to please depending on the role. We’ve been auditioning for a long time and that’s what you do: You go into an audition saying “I’m this character! This is me, and I’m the best at this character.” But while I wish I’d been in the Bottom 3 a lot more, I can’t say I look back and say I regret any of the Bottom 3 performances, because they helped me grow. In the moment, “Maybe This Time,” I remember walking off that stage and I bawled my eyes out. I was like, “That’s it for me.” They didn’t show half the stuff Ryan said to us, but I was like, “And I’m defeated. And that’s it for me. This has been great. I love you guys and I’ll miss you.” But looking back on it, I’m glad it went the way it did, because they brought me to where I was and helped me personally grow.

TVLINE | Ryan actually talked at one point about how he never found himself rooting for you.
The sweet thing is that everyone who’s watched the show says to me, “But I do root for you. And I do strive for perfection. And I do understand.” And that almost completely paints over the observation Ryan made that he can’t root for me because I strive for perfection, because that’s not what people root for, that people don’t want to be perfect. Because actually, some people do. And I personally have been getting over that need to be perfect, but the hard work will never cease with me. What I’ve learned is you don’t have to strive for perfection, but you do have to strive to be a very hard worker. There’s a big difference. Hearing it from Ryan, if you watch the episode, my face looks like I got kicked in the stomach. It wasn’t even about the competition. He said that not to push me down — that’s never Ryan’s intention — but he said it in a way to completely shatter all those walls in my brain that keep me strong and tough. That’s something I needed, but it wasn’t exactly easy. But that’s what makes him so good at what he does. He’s able to look at me and say, “You know it’s really great that you’re a great singer. But I don’t give a care! Who are you? Stop being who you think I want you to be, and be you. That should be enough.” To hear that from him, it makes me think completely differently as a performer, and as a person, too, I suppose. It made me take a step back, and go, “Wait. Time out. How can you want to know who I am when I don’t even know who I am? I’m not even 20 yet.” I was 19 during the competition. I was like, “I’m just a kid. I have no idea who I am: I can tell you my favorite color is green, and I love musical theater and the Beatles, and I like ice cream.” But it helped me grow, and will continue to make me grow. It was so monumental for me.

TVLINE  | I wanted to ask you about the video shoot for “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” where you spontaneously decided to kiss Cameron at the end, and he went into something of an existential and moral tailspin.
It’s so funny the amount of near death threats and negative feedback I got, when that moment was directed. They didn’t show it, but you can read our blogs or talk to both of us: [Director Erik White asked] for it. I didn’t want to kiss him. It was one of those things where we didn’t discuss it [beforehand] because we didn’t know it was going to be asked of us. And had I known he would be even a little uncomfortable… Erik was like “I just need you to kiss him, but don’t tell him.” I was so nervous, and I remember pulling away and seeing his face and being like, “Oh, God! Oh, God! This sucks.” He had my red lipstick all over his mouth, and then the poor kid gets told by Erik in the next take, it’s his turn to kiss me, and he was just shaking. I had a boyfriend, too. It wasn’t one of those “Marissa did it so I have to do it!” moments. I don’t enjoy kissing boys I’m not dating. We walked off the set and were like “That sucked!”

TVLINE | So you’re not a kissing bandit?
I’m not a kissing fiend. I’m not the quote-unquote slut of the show.

TVLINE | Tell me about the season finale, where you found out you weren’t the winner, but almost just as quickly discovered both you and Alex were getting two-episode arcs, in addition to Damian and Samuel getting seven-episode arcs as the co-winners.
I wasn’t expecting anything. I thought it would be “Sorry, but at least you got your foot in the door.” Ryan didn’t have to give us two episodes. We already had this incredible audition. There’s so much footage of Alex and I at our best and at our worst, and that is priceless for the two of us. But then to be told we’re going to have an opportunity at something we worked so hard for: Whether it’s two episodes or I’m just that awkward kick-dancer in the background, I wouldn’t care at all. It’s just something we wanted to experience. I still look back on the finale and say “Oh God, that was so cool!” [Laughs] Seven episodes or two, we all won.

TVLINE | That’s not what you expect in a reality TV scenario. You expect one person to win, and everyone else to endure a tearful defeat.
Well, it was a very Glee ending. Finally the underdogs get a freaking chance. [Laughs]

TVLINE | So, any intel on the character you’ll be playing?
I don’t know anything. It’s one of those things where you desperately want to know, but it’s all about “Let his people contact you.” I can say that I’m extremely excited, and I’ve been calling the boys and asking “Have you heard anything?” [Laughs]

TVLINE | So you have not seen a script or been told who or what you’ll be playing?
I can neither confirm nor deny, unfortunately. It’s one of those situations. I can say when the season starts, you will be pleasantly surprised. Hopefully pleasantly!

TVLINE | I understand. You’ve got a two-episode arc, and I’m sure you’d like it to go longer. You don’t want to be the one dropping spoilers.
[Laughs] I can’t shoot myself in the foot before I get in the chorus line.