Anybody watching this on Oxygen Sunday nights? It’s a mildly diverting show which documents the process of the creative team behind Glee trying to find an actor or actress for a seven-episode arc on the series next season. The twelve kids who made it onto the show have been given challenges every week, and the three who perform most poorly have to sing for Glee creator Ryan Murphy before he and his colleagues, casting director Robert Ulrich and choreographer Zach Woodlee, decide on the one who doesn’t get a callback that week. I like that it’s a swift decision without calls or texts from viewers to save their favorite contestants.
Murphy isn’t just looking for a good actor and singer; he wants someone with a unique personality he can create a new character for. Therefore, each challenge is designed to make the contenders reveal different aspects of themselves. The first episode had them play up their individuality, the second their theatricality, and the third episode, with Dot-Marie Jones (Coach Beiste) as guest mentor, had them put their vulnerability on display. Literally.
The kids were asked to come up with a word that described the one thing they’re most insecure or vulnerable about. Then they had to wear that word on a sandwich board and walk around in public while singing “Mad World” and being filmed for a music video. I was surprised by how moved I was. The singers came up with some raw words (see video below), showing that you’re never too young to experience damage. It made me wonder what I’d put on my board and whether I’d have the courage to walk outside with it on.
I had a problem, though, with the results of the challenge. Ulrich and Woodlee faulted Cameron, a nerdy cool singer with a smooth-as-silk voice, for not doing the exercise well because he is “comfortable with himself,” “so well-adjusted” and “doesn’t have any big issues.” How dare he be normal? I think this sends the wrong message to the show’s youthful audience that you have to be completely effed up in order to make it in show business or just to be an artistic person. (I find it especially objectionable since Cameron is my 10-year-old niece’s favorite contestant and I’d applauded her for picking the most seemingly grounded person to idolize.)
I would have had no problem if the creative team had phrased their comments more tactfully, by perhaps saying Cameron doesn’t have the acting chops to convey emotion without having something real and traumatic to tap into. Blame the talent or lack thereof, not the person, especially a healthy one. I’m nitpicking but the kids watching at home can be impressionable and they absorb everything adults say. I like Cameron and hope he stays well-adjusted forever.
My favorite contender, though, is Irish boy Damian. This 18-year-old crooner with the lilting brogue is so adorable, I want to bring him home and make him cabbage. He was also in the bottom three because his word was “numb,” which apparently wasn’t a flashy enough flaw for the judges. He admitted he doesn’t cry often, that he keeps his feelings in check. So he got “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” to sing for Murphy. Damian promptly broke down because the song apparently brought back memories of his breakup with his girlfriend whom he’d known since he was eleven. He performed an emotional rendition for Murphy, who gave him high marks.
I would have been more upset about Damian and Cameron being in the bottom three if it weren’t for the fact I got to see them sing whole songs. During the challenges, everyone performs together, with each singer getting only one or two solo lines. Ironically, being in the bottom allows contestants to shine and improve their chances at staying on the show.
Who are you rooting for? What word would be on your sandwich board? If you haven’t been watching, you can view whole episodes here (select the show, then the episode) or just watch the “Mad World” video below and tell me if it doesn’t make your throat a little lumpy.