Glee Project's Aylin Bayramoglu on Muslim Stereotypes, Showmances and Adele Worship

aylin bayramogluAylin Bayramoglu may have gotten tantalizing close to scoring a seven-episode arc on Glee, only to fall just shy of her goal, but you won’t hear her complaining. The co-runner-up on Season 2 of The Glee Project says that the competition “literally was a life-changing experience” that’s refocused her goals on landing a TV role and becoming a role model for young Muslim women who don’t often see themselves represented positively on the small screen.

TVLine caught up with Bayramoglu to talk about whether or not her Glee Project showmance was legit, how her family reacted to some of her racier moments on the show, and what it feels like to have Amber Riley praise your vocal ability.

TVLINE | So before we take a deep dive into the season, I’ve got to be honest with you: I was surprised you didn’t win Season 2, given your fantastic final performance of “Rolling in the Deep.”
I think a lot of people were shocked.

TVLINE | Tell me about that performance. Obviously, tackling Adele is a tricky proposition. If you pull it off, great. If you don’t, it’s got the potential to be disastrous. Did you consider other songs?
Adele and Amy Winehouse have been huge influences for me musically. And “Rolling in the Deep” was a song that I could really emotionally connect to. It was between that and “The One That Got Away” by Katy Perry, but [the latter song]…it just didn’t fit.

TVLINE | What was it like watching the episode and seeing Amber Riley sitting in the audience, making a face that essentially said, “Uh-huh. She’s killing it.”
Oh my God, that was amazing. Amber is so talented, and I am in love with her voice, and have looked up to her ever since the beginning of Glee. And hearing her say all of that about me was just like a dream. And she Tweeted me and Ali. I was on Cloud 9. It was a true fan-girling moment.

TVLINE | So, let’s take it back to the beginning of The Glee Project. You get there, you’ve got a 1-in-14 shot of being on Glee, and then in the first week wind up in the Bottom 3. Did that shake your confidence?
It was really scary. My confidence was shaken right when I got into the house, alongside 13 other, extremely talented people who were all fighting for the same thing. For some reason I just couldn’t get it together the first week. I think that’s why the mentors were like, “Where’s the fire that we saw in you before?” Being in the bottom, although it was terrifying, was the best thing that ever could have happened to me at that point in the competition, because it re-lit my fire, and I was like, “There’s no way I’m going home today. This is it. I’ve got to prove to them why I should stay.”

TVLINE | Very early in the season, you described yourself as “a spunky, bad-ass, Turkish Muslim,” and continued to repeat essentially the same description on several other occasions. Knowing that in Season 1 of The Glee Project, the judges often talked about whether or not a contestant could inspire the folks in the Glee writers’ room, were you purposely trying to drive home the point that, yeah, there was an interesting character percolating within?
I never really thought about it. Honestly, when I first got on the show, I was like, “What do they see in me? Like, what is so special about me that they want on the show?” And then, the feedback I got in the first week really opened up my eyes to it, and I was like, wait, Ryan [Murphy] is right, there is no one like me on TV. So let me inspire people.

TVLINE | Backtracking for a minute, what were you doing prior to The Glee Project?
I was in college studying vocal jazz performance at Roosevelt University in Chicago.

TVLINE | So this was your first foray into the world of auditioning for a major TV show, or even being on reality television?
Absolutely. This was my break.

TVLINE | We saw a showmance percolating with you and fellow contestant Charlie from very early in the competition. How much of that was a real connection, versus the inevitable result of you guys being isolated from everything and everyone you know, stuck in one place together, and under the intense pressure of the fighting for a spot on Glee under the glare of the cameras?
Being in the house without outside communication, and only being able to talk to each other, that was the spark to the whole thing. But it turned into something totally real. I mean, when Charlie left the show, I got really, really upset. And we still care about each other a lot. I mean he’s totally at my apartment right now, chilling with Lily in the other room. So, it definitely wasn’t fake. I know some viewers said I wasn’t into it, or I was just playing it up for the cameras, but that’s absolutely not true. I was in a different mindset in the beginning of the show, and very focused on winning and being on Glee, but then I just let myself feel this way with Charlie, and it turned out to be something great.

TVLINE | Did you guys ever talk about how inevitable it was that you’d end up in the Bottom 3 together, because obviously, it’s a reality television show, and you’re a couple, and…?
That’s exactly what I told Charlie when we first started this thing. I’m like, “Do you think that we’re going to end up in the bottom together?” He was like, “No, I don’t think so.” And then it happened, and it really, really sucked. It was horrible, but I knew that I had to give one hell of a performance. And I even told Charlie, “you’d better give me like all that you have. If I lose, I would rather lose to your best, than lose to your worst. So, please, don’t hold anything back,” and I didn’t either.

TVLINE | Also on a personal note, you’d mentioned a few times throughout the competition that you weren’t how your family, as Turkish Muslims, would react to some of the racier challenges you participated in, or to some of the more outrageous statements you made during confessionals? Now that the season has aired, was there anything that upset them particularly?
I tried to prepare my mom as best I could for everything. Actability Week was hard for her, when I was pregnant, and then making out with Michael, but dating Blake. And then I had to be a lesbian with Shanna, and with Lily, during Romanticality Week. Stuff like that was a little bit hard for my mom, but she understood that it was acting, and I was doing what I had to do.

TVLINE | After the romantic scene with Shanna, both of you wound up in the Bottom 3. You got feedback that your interaction looked more like dancing than a real relationship. Given that The Glee Project emphasizes singing and video shoots — and there are fewer pure acting challenges — were you concerned at all that the judges didn’t think you’d succeeded in showing on-screen chemistry with somebody?
Well, I don’t think it was about the chemistry, because I think Shanna and I did have it. We both know what it’s like to really like someone, how to look into their eyes, have them be the only person you’re thinking about. But in terms of the choreography, I am a dancer. I’ve been dancing my entire life. So, if you give me choreography, I’m going to do it the way you taught it to me. And Shanna’s a perfectionist. I think that’s what messed us up, because we wanted it to be perfect.

TVLINE Was it terrifying to be up for elimination alongside Shanna and Blake, arguably the two most consistent people in the competition? How did you approach your last-chance performance of “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”?
We were shocked to be up there — I considered the three of us the front-runners. So when I found out the Bottom 3, I was like, “I’m going home. Blake is amazing, Blake is Blake, they’re not sending him home. And Shanna’s never been in the Bottom 3, so they’re not sending her home. I’m the seasoned vet, so they’re going to cut me.” But in the end, even though I messed up the words — which I was really upset about — I actually dedicated that song to Charlie. They didn’t show it on air, but I did.

TVLINE | Tell me about Actability Week, where your character had to wear a Muslim headscarf. Did that come as a surprise to you when the mentors asked you to put it on?
They hadn’t done anything like that, and we were at Week 10, so I wasn’t really expecting it. But once they brought it up, I was like, “Of course. Here we go.” And then I put the headscarf on, and the emotions just flowed out of me. I looked in the mirror, and I didn’t see myself anymore, and I think that’s what really had me crying.

TVLINE | Growing up, did any of the women in your family wear headscarves, leaving you to buck that trend, or was this pretty foreign territory to your life experience?
I’ve got relatives that pray, and that do wear them, but it’s not really like a big thing in my family. My family is like really old-school Turkish. Most of us don’t wear headscarves. I just wasn’t used to seeing myself like that.

TVLINE | You had heavy stuff to portray in that shoot, too. How did you feel watching those scenes back, the faux movie trailer you guys did for Actability?
We didn’t film everything in sequence. So I would have to be in a romantic scene with Blake, and then I would have to be pregnant, and then I would have to be [flirting with Blake’s character’s best friend] Michael. It was hard. I really had to concentrate. But I was pleasantly surprised with the way things turned out, because I have no acting experience. The mentors told me throughout the competition that I have great instincts as an actress, but I don’t particularly think I understood that until I watched the Actability episode.

TVLINE | A number of times when you had to perform for Ryan Murphy, and especially in the finale, this notion arose that you could be a role model for Muslim girls, that you could represent the kind of girl who is not usually portrayed on television. Honestly, how big a deal do you think it would be to see some kind of representation of Muslim culture on television in an interesting and positive way?
It’s a pretty big deal. After 9/11, people are just afraid of Muslims, and I am completely not that stereotype. I think I could change a lot of minds, and maybe inspire people. When I grew up, I never saw anybody on television that even looked remotely like me. Like, I can’t even say I have a celebrity lookalike. So I had a lot of self-confidence issues, and I never used to think that I was pretty. Me being on TV would inspire girls that don’t think they’re pretty, or are not like the typical sweet American girl. These girls are beautiful too, but they’re not represented at all.

TVLINE | So where do you go from here? Has a fire been lit to pursue this acting thing, or will you head back to college in the fall?
No. I left school. I moved to Los Angeles with [fellow Glee Project contestant] Lily [Mae Harrington]. I definitely want to take acting classes, and hopefully will be doing that very soon, and also going out and auditioning. I’m so ready. This definitely isn’t the last anyone has seen of me. I can promise you that.

TVLINE | How hard is it to get so close to a role on Glee, to have a 1-in-3 shot, then lose it right at the very end?
You know, I wanted it so bad. I wanted it so bad, but I can’t even be upset, because I love Blake so much. He is just an incredible person. Of course I would have wanted it for myself, but I’m very, very proud of him. He’s come a long way.

TVLINE | And given the fact that you’re living in L.A. with Lily, should we assume that some of the rivalry and harsh comments between you guys were slightly trumped up in terms of editing?
We don’t hate each other at all. She’s one of my closest friends. We love the crap out of each other. The funny thing is though, we did say those things about each other [to the cameras], but right afterward, we would go up to the other person and be like, “This is what I just said about you. Like, deal with it.” We have that kind of relationship. It’s great.

TVLINE | So, what do you think: Are we going to see you on Glee in Season 4? Are you going to fight your way onto that show, damnit?
I’m not giving up hope. I have absolutely no idea what’s going to happen in the future, but a role on Glee would be amazing. Either way, I have to thank everybody involved with the show, especially Ryan Murphy and the mentors, because [acting] has been a dream of mine since I was a little kid, and I couldn’t have asked for a better way to get into this business.