Once upon a time Ryan, Ian, and Brad created Glee, a show about (mostly) outcast students who were members of the New Directions glee club at William McKinley High School in Lima Ohio. The show as super popular, but they realized that they could not have the same actors playing the same characters forever. They had to graduate eventually, and part of the appeal of the existing cast was that they were relatively unknown actors, and they utilized traits of the actual actors in the characters that they played making them more real.
Season One was lightening in a bottle, and almost all of the cast proved to be loved by the fans, and came back for season 2 (poor Matt!). However, some of the actors hired to supplement the cast during season two didn’t go over as well as they had hoped, so they decided to hire people that were not regular actors at all and write characters around them. Ryan, along with Casting Director Robert Ulrich decided to open up casting to literally the entire world through an online audition process, and large open casting cals in several American cities; and The Glee Project was born.
If you’re not that familiar with The Glee Project, you’re not alone. I had heard of it, but didn’t really know much about it until I managed to find the episodes online a while back and did some reading on it.
Robert and his entire staff combed through all of the audition videos submitted online or recorded at the casting sessions, and selected 70 odd people to fly in for an in person audition. Over the period of two days, Robert, Zach Woodly (choreographer), Brooke Lipton (asst choreographer), Nikki Anders (vocal producer), and Brad Ellis (on camera accompaniest) worked with them to see what they could do in group sessions and as indivduals. Robert, Zach, and Nikki selected 25 people to perform for Ryan Murphy, who further cut the group down to 12 individuals who would be in the show.
Each season lasted 11 episodes (a casting special, nine lesson weeks, and a finale). Each weekly lesson was focused around a theme such as Individuality, Tenacity, Actability, or Sexuality.
The performers would be given about a day to rehearse before preforming a “homework assignment” group number that they had to organize and choreograph on their own for Robert and a “guest mentor” from the Glee cast. The guest mentor would then critique the performance as a whole, as well as individual performers, and select a “winner” who would win a standout role in the main assignment for the week as well as an individual mentoring session with the guest mentor.
They would then be introduced to the main assignment for the week which was a music video inspired by the performances on Glee. Then they were off to choreography with Zach and/or Brooke, followed by vocal sessions in the recording booth with Nikki, both of whom would work with them to improve there performances. When that was done they would report to the music video shoot with the famous music video director Eric White who, along with Robert, Zack, and Nikki would coach the contenders and observe the process.
Following the completion of the music vide shoot the contenders would line up on stage and have their performances during the week critiqued, and they would be informed who was immediately ‘called back’ for the following week based upon their performances during the week. The three contenders who seemed to struggle the most during the week were selected to perform ‘Last Chance Performances’ later that night for Ryan, who would select one contender to be ‘not called back’ and therefor be sent home. The mentors would assign a song for the contender to perform solo (a couple times there were duets), supposedly to help the contender show them something about themselves that they hadn’t shown yet (though that wasn’t always the case in practice) and they were given two hours to rehearse.
Following their performances Ryan, Robert, Zach (and Nikki during season 2) would critique the performances and discuss the week with the contender. Once the contenders left, the three of them would discuss everything and Ryan would make his decision.
As originally intended the 12 contenders would be eliminated one by one until there was only one left, and that person would win a minimum seven episode arc on Glee, a recording contract, and the ability to tour. But they changed the rules as they went. Most weeks one person was sent home, but there were also times when two would go, or all of them would be surprisingly called back.
During season one, Ryan and Ian Brennan could not make up their minds, and selected two winners and two runners up. The winners were Samuel Larson and Damien McGinty, who you probably recognize as Joe “Teen Jesus” Hart, and foreign exchange student Rory “Irish” Flanagan. The runners up were Alex Newel (Wade “Unique” Adams), and Lindsay Pierce (Harmony aka “The Gerber Baby”). The winners won the promised seven episodes, but ended up doing many more. The two runners up were awarded 2 episodes each, though Alex was brought back as a regular in season four of Glee.
All in all it was a very successful season. The Glee Project was renewed for a second season, but this time the produces at Oxygen told Ryan that he absolutely had to select only one winner this time. The whole process started all over again and even more people were auditioned; and the final cut was 14 contenders instead of 12. There were even more truly talented people who could have easily had a role on Glee in one form or another, but unfortunately Ryan was forced to choose only one: Blake Jenner, who ended up portraying Ryder Lynn. There was no official runner up, but one of the final three Ali Stroker was later cast as Artie’s wheelchair bound hookup Betty Pillsbury on one episode.
Both seasons of The Glee Project were full of talented and memorable personalities, but unfortunately none of the rest of them were seen on glee (except two — Elis and Dani — who appeared as non speaking extras).
One of the reasons that I don’t create a lot of original characters is that I take a lot of my inspiration as a writer from the performance of the character in the show itself and the real life actor who portrayed them. This obviously doesn’t exist with completely original characters. After watching both seasons of The Glee Project through twice, I began to see how many of these people could have fit into the show, and was inspired to create characters for them. In some cases I envisioned them portraying characters I had already created, and in others I created completely new characters for them.
The following is a list of the Glee Project contenders who will appear in The Wildebrams Saga stories in some form:
- Blake Jenner (TGP2 Winner) will continue to portray Ryder Lynn in all of the installments
- Ali Stroker (TGP2 Runner Up) will reprise her role as Betty Pillsbury in New Beginnings and New New Directions, when her character transfers to McKinley against her wishes
- Alex Newel (TGP Runner Up) will continue to play Unique up through New New Directions when she is set to graduate
- Samuel Larson (TGP Winner) will continue to play Joe Hart until his character graduates at the end of New Beginnings
- Damien McGinty (TGP Winner) will make a guest appearance in the Christmas episode of The Ballad of Kitty and Artie, and may show later up as his character Rory Flanagan if it fits a story, but Glee had him return to Ireland after season 3
- Aylin (TGP2) will play Kitty’s friend and later nemesis cheerleader Celeste Green, originally introduced in my version of The New Rachel, through New New Directions
- Shanna Henderson (TGP2) will play Kitty’s friend and later nemesis cheerleader Suzanne Martin, originally introduced in my version of The New Rachel, through New New Directions
- Marissa von Bleiken (TGP) will play the mentioned, but never seen cheerleader Missy Gunderson through New New Directions
- Michael Weisman (TGP2) will portray the original character Brian, a male cheerleader
- Hannah McLalwin (TGP) will portray Tabitha, a drama club member
- Lily Mae Harrington (TGP2) will portray Samantha Hughes, a new member of The New Directions in New New Directions
- Nellie Veitenheimer (TGP2) will portray Tamara Watson, a (former) cheerleader
- Abraham Lim (TGP2) will play a yet to be named rival glee club lead
Other characters based upon characters from either season of TGP could possibly show up as well if it seems to fit a story.
What do you think? Did your favorite TGP Contender make the cut?
Are there any other TGP Contenders that you’d like to see?
Let me know!