Glee Project watchers who raged against the special twist of Season 1’s finale — not one, but two winners scored seven-episode arcs, and a pair of runners-up snagged two-episode gigs — can stop planning a campaign of strongly worded Tweets to @MrRPMurphy. That’s because the penultimate episode of Season 2 found the show’s executive producer and his fellow judges swinging the axe, then swinging it again, thereby trimming the field from five down to three final contenders.
This week’s theme, “Actability,” finally asked the question that’s been hanging in the air for the last nine weeks: Are any of these kids ready to share a scene with Lea Michele or Chris Colfer or Dot-Marie Jones? (Yes, that’s me hoping that Coach Beiste — and her Emmy-nominated portrayer — stay in the mix in Season 4.) “If you can’t act, then you shouldn’t be on Glee,” Ali plainly declared, forgetting for a second that The Glee Project‘s Season 1 co-champ was Damian McGinty. (Uh-huh, I went there.)
The homework assignment turned out to be a pretty amusing affair when Dianna Agron stopped by with giant flashcards that contained the emotions the contestants needed to convey during a performance of “Addicted to Love.” Michael’s spontaneous attempt at “determined” involved some intense eye-squinting, Aylin’s “anxious” read more like “depressed,” and Lily was typically cheesy playing “scared.” Only Ali and Blake stood out in a positive way, but Dianna chose Michael (perhaps as a consolation prize for the kid who’d never won a homework assignment, yet still outlasted Shanna).
The video shoot found the contenders filming a movie trailer that wove in their rendition of Pink’s “Perfect” along with some improvised dramatic scenes. (Why they needed to tackle yet another song, and not actually memorize and deliver pre-written dialogue, remains a mystery to me.) Ali and Lily got the lesser subplot, and then the latter gal chewed up so much scenery that Ali wasn’t left with so much as a toothpick to grab onto. Still, while Lily didn’t give her scenemate much room to jump into the improvisation, I agreed with Ryan Murphy that Ali should’ve fought harder to make an impression.
Blake, meanwhile, channeled enough rage to fuel at least an eighth of a Hulk transformation, earning him the name “Darth Blake” among the mentors. His scene as an obnoxious high school quarterback berating his pregnant Muslim girlfriend Aylin crackled with tension, though I thought Aylin was just as effective using almost no words at all. The mentors seemed equally impressed with a showdown between romantic rivals Blake and Michael, but I had to fight off an urge to giggle when Michael turned up the volume to try to compete with Blake, and ended up looking as tough as a Lhasa Apso threatening a Doberman over a chew toy. Michael was a little better in his final scene with Aylin, but her tears as her character drove off to an unhappy future was the most subtle piece of acting in the entire episode. His was more “Adriiiaaaannn!”
Despite Aylin and Blake’s superior performances in the video, they were assigned last-chance performances along with all three of their rivals. In other words, no one would be safe heading into the finale, and to up the stakes, Mr. Murphy brought in five Glee writers to help with the decisionmaking process:
* Lily at least made good use of the stage on “Son of a Preacher Man,” but I found it interesting that Glee creator Ian Brennan found her performance a bit “cloying.” To me, there’s too often a whiff of “can you believe how good I am?” when Lily’s on stage that trumps any other emotion she’s trying to convey.
* Like most of Michael’s vocal performances, his Finn Hudson-esque spin on “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” was adequate and not very surprising, although I have to admit I wasn’t expecting him to break out a patented Mariah hand. I wondered as I watched if Michael’s sheepish smile at the end of the performance might save him, or if the judges would base the final cuts on talent, not oh-em-gee adorbs-ness.
* Ali’s “Here’s to Us” was far and away her best vocal this season, powerful without being melodramatic, and 40 percent less shrill than usual, too. I liked the way she bounched her wheelchair to punctuate her emotions, and I can’t lie and say I wasn’t intrigued by Mr. Brennan’s inspiration to write her as “a promiscuous bitch.”
* Blake’s acting skills and general charisma generally trump his singing voice, but I neverheless appreciated the corny/humorous dance steps he incorporated in his cover of “I’m Still Standing.” To be honest, it would’ve been daft for the judges to send home the season’s most accomplished thespian on “Actability” week, even if his last-chance number wasn’t best in show.
* There was a raggedy richness in Aylin’s cover of “Fighter” that, to my mind, proved she’s truly the triple threat of the competition. When she did that low-high-low run on the final note, she pretty much punched her ticket to the next round. Thank goodness she didn’t get ousted, as I feared she might for a moment when the writers failed to highlight her solo as one of the best of the bunch. Whew.
And so it was Michael and Lilly who were victims of the double boot — a fairly gutsy and unexpected move, but definitely the right one, too. What did you think of this week’s Glee Project? Sound off in the comments!Follow @MichaelSlezakTV