Glee Project Winner Damian McGinty Talks Sinatra, Jane Lynch, and His Almost Elimination

Season 3 of Glee will have a little international flavor when Irish-born Damian McGinty joins the cast for a seven-episode arc that was the grand prize for his win on Season 1 of Oxygen’s reality series The Glee Project. (McGinty shared top honors with fellow finalist Samuel Larsen.) TVLine caught up with McGinty the morning after his win, and while he says it’s still a mystery what role Glee executive producer Ryan Murphy is cooking up for him, that didn’t stop him from speculating some scenarios that would put him opposite popular cast members Jane Lynch (Sue Sylvester) and Heather Morris (Brittany). McGinty also talked in depth about his near elimination during Top 6 week, the pros and cons of his previous work touring with Irish vocal group Celtic Thunder, and the one Glee Project performance he wishes he had a chance to do over.

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TVLINE | Vocal coach Nikki Anders said to you moments before your final performance in front of Ryan Murphy and the judges that you weren’t the best singer, dancer, or actor, but that it was easy to root for you. What was it like getting such a tough comment seconds before the most pivotal point of the competition?
From day one, The Glee Project wasn’t an easy ride. And it goes without saying — and I’m sure people would agree — I had the toughest journey on the show. The best advice I ever got was that you don’t believe bad critiques, but you don’t believe good ones either. And I feel like if you follow that, you will stay true to yourself. When Nikki said that, you know…[Laughs] Alex and Lindsay have [great] voices, and Samuel as well, but Alex has a voice like I’ve never heard in my life. And obviously I’m not the best dancer. But the show was about embracing who you are, embracing the spirit of Glee, and embracing performing. We knew from day one it wasn’t a singing, acting, or dancing contest; this was a contest to get a character created for you, and to show Ryan Murphy you have it — whatever it is.

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TVLINE | In Top 6 week, you discovered the judges were planning to send you home, but you were spared when Cameron dropped out of the competition. Did that make you feel defeated, like it was only a matter of time before you’d go home, or did you find a way to turn it into a motivator?
There were two sides of a coin, really. I had lost my best mate in Cameron. We had really supported each other through the competition. When one person was struggling, the other would really help. And you know, the other side of it was if Cameron hadn’t quit, then I’d have been on that bike. So it was certainly one of the weirdest states I’ve been in. Mentally, it was really tough, because in my head I was thinking they obviously don’t like me and believe in me that much because they’re willing to send me home. But you also know that for some reason, somebody gave you a second chance. I had to be as professional as possible. And I had to get over the fact that if Cameron hadn’t quit, I’d have been sent home. And I had to get over that quite quickly, and move on and battle and fight, and prove to them they would’ve made a huge mistake sending me home, and that I was the person they were looking for.

TVLINE | And you did.
Well, it was certainly a fairytale ending to one helluva roller coaster.

TVLINE | You’ve talked about a positive attitude and professionalism being important to your success. Did you learn a lot of that from your experiences as part of Celtic Thunder?
Well, you can have all the talent in the world, but if you don’t have the work ethic, the right attitude, and the willingness to accept critiques and work hard so you can improve, then it’s not gonna work out and it’s not gonna happen for you. So the No. 1 point is you have to work hard. Every performer can get better. It’s not about staying with what God gave you and doing nothing with it for the rest of your life. Going into the competition with my experience with Celtic Thunder in my back pocket, in ways it was a huge help, and in ways it was a hindrance. It was a hindrance because of the fact that with Celtic Thunder, everything had to be big, performance-wise. We played arenas of three- or four-thousand people. On TV, which I didn’t realize [initially], it has to be so small. The smallest thing on TV looks so big. So for me, it was almost as if I had to strip down the performer I had learned to be in the last four years, and build up a new performer to save my behind every week. It was interesting because we all know Glee is about the underdog, and I feel like they may have looked at the 12 contestants on a piece of paper and thought, “Can we focus on two or three of these and try to make them the underdogs? Which ones can cope with [that role] the best, the pressure?” And I feel like there was an element where they looked at me and thought, “This guy has a lot of experience. Maybe he can cope with the pressure.” And you know, that was proven: I was in the bottom three on four or five occasions, and had to sing for Ryan like six times. Mentally, it’s so tough. It took a lot of character, it took a lot of courage. I’m honred, and I’m flattered, and it was a phenomenal, phenomenal experience.

TVLINE | It was funny, in the second-to-last episode, there was a discussion among the judges that if you won a role on Glee, your character could interact with Heather Morris’s Brittany, who wouldn’t be able to understand a single word coming out of your mouth. Have you thought about that at all?
You know, it sounds very realistic. I was actually asked the question today, “Who would you like your [character’s] love interest to be?” And when I got thinking about it, it struck me that Ryan and Ian and Zach and Robert have been talking about introducing me as a freshman, so obviously I would be the baby on Glee. And I was thinking, wouldn’t it be weird if I ended up with Quinn or Rachel? Are they pushing a pram there? So maybe the only realistic relationship that could happen would be with Brittany. It could be a lot of fun, but I’m guessing, the public’s guessing, the media’s guessing. We’ll find out.

TVLINE | Looking back at your run on the show, was there any performance you wish you could’ve had the chance to do over?
Without question for me, “Danny Boy” was atrocious. I’ve never given a performance where I felt like I wasn’t in control, but “Danny Boy” was weird. Of all the times I was in the bottom three, that was the one week where I felt I possibly didn’t deserve to be [at risk of elimination], and that’s the truth of it. It’s the one week I would’ve appealed against the decision. And when I heard I got “Danny Boy,” I was so tired and so mentally drained, that quite honestly I’d had enough. But I got on with it, and I tried to stay strong. Nikki came to the dressing room and I sung “Danny Boy,” and Nikki began to cry. Then when I did it on stage, whatever I had in the dressing room, I just lost. It was a weird situation, like Cameron quitting and saving me was always gonna happen. It’s hard to explain, but a lot of it was fate.

TVLINE | In the finale, you dedicated your performance of “Beyond the Sea” to Cameron and Hannah, which was one of the sweetest moments of the season. Was that spontaneous, or had you planned it all along?
We didn’t know there was gonna be an audience, so when we walked out on stage it was a shock. I just thought to myself, “It feels right.” It just came to me. I don’t know why or how. Well, I know why, because myself, Hannah and Cameron, we had a real bond and a real relationship. But in a way, saying that, a lot of us did. The 12 [contestants] — we grew really close, particularly the boys. The girls had their issues, but they’re girls; it’s what they do. The guys in general, we were so close, we never fought. Myself and Samuel, our beds were next to each other. We’d go to bed talking and we woke up talking. So it was in the heat of the moment, dedicating my final performance to Cameron and Hannah, because I felt like I was doing it for them. We always said we hoped one of the three of us would win.

TVLINE | During the time you were with Celtic Thunder, had you always dreamed about branching out into acting?
Growing up, I always wanted to sing. I want to sell millions of albums, I want to possibly be the next Frank Sinatra, that is what I want to do. I wanna be on stage. And someday when I’m in my 30s, I want to have a big band behind me. That is my ultimate dream. I’ve never really acted in my life, to be honest, but it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I never realized it was a realistic possibility. Acting-wise, I have a lot to learn. It’s new to me, but I’m going to be like a sponge, absorb everything, take it all in. I want to improve, and this is the best way to do that. I’m going to be working with professionals who have seen it all and done it all — incredibly talented people — and I’m just excited to get going.

TVLINE | Were there any embarrassing moments watching the show back, any surprises in how you were edited?
To be honest, I feel like my particular edit on the show was 100 percent truthful to who I am. I’m one of the people on the show who got a totally truthful edit. But I’m not sure they could’ve done it any other way, because that is the way I am. It’s just me, y’know? There’s funny moments on the show, and sad moments. I don’t like seeing myself cry like I did during Vulnerability week. It’s not something I normally do, to be honest, and that was a sad, awkward moment. Watching yourself go through pain is hard. But apart from that, I’m not going to find anything too embarrassing because I don’t take myself too seriously. I have really enjoyed watching The Glee Project. It’s a product I’m really proud of, and I’m extremely proud of the journey I’ve been on. I walked in and I knew I wasn’t the best performer there. And that’s realistic. I live in Derry, a little town in Ireland, and I don’t have the background of Hollywood or Broadway. But I improved, I kept improving, and I battled my way through, and in the end I came out on top, and I’m incredibly proud of that.

TVLINE | Okay, so how about some intel on your character or spoilers on Season 3 of Glee?
[Laughs] We actually know nothing. We haven’t heard a word. So everybody’s guessing, and we are also guessing. I think we’re meeting Ryan later this week, so maybe we’ll find out more then.

TVLINE | Well, Ryan Murphy did say previously he envisioned the Glee Project winner as a potential nemesis for Sue Sylvester. Obviously with two winners, it probably won’t be both of you, but if you were in charge, who would you pit against Sue: Yourself or Samuel?
No matter what, myself and Samuel, we 100% trust Ryan. He’s written two seasons of the biggest show in the world, and no matter what happens, we’re really happy. But in saying that, I have a feeling the whole Sue Sylvester thing will be me. I could be very wrong. She could hate Samuel for his hair, obviously, but the hair thing has been done with Matthew Morrison on the show. But you could just imagine Sue Sylvester hating this new Irish kid and not understanding a word he says. It sounds like it could be a very true storyline.

TVLINE | So does that mean you’re ready to go up against Jane Lynch?
[Laughs] Bring it on!