THE GLEE PROJECT—Vulnerability

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.

Dot-Marie Jones & GLEE casting director Robert Ulrich

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.



  • Reply
    June 28, 2011 at 12:31 pm

    I haven’t seen the show, ’cause they’re airing it here in weird hours and I haven’t been able to catch it. But I have heard some good stuff about it…

    About this vulnerability thing, many of the words the kids used actually rang true with me: “fake”, “rejected”, “misunderstood”, “fat”. They brought me back to elementary & junior high, and the stuff the bullies did to me back in the day.

    I have to say, right now -and specially after the big pile of manure I’ve been through the last few months-, the word which strikes deeper is “irresponsible” or “careless”. Hearing those words makes me angry, though I know they ain’t true. Funny, isn’t it?

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      June 28, 2011 at 3:54 pm

      Out of the words the kids used, “rejected” resonated the most with me.

      From what I know about you and what you went through recently, I don’t think “irresponsible” or “careless” applies to you, but you know that already since you said they’re not true.

      • Reply
        June 30, 2011 at 2:11 am

        I just saw the ep., and I have to say that those kids had a hard time. I remember when I took a theater class in highschool that the professor made us tap into a painful memory for a monologue and soon the class turned into a tearfest. It’s like they’re trying to crash-course these guys through an acting major. Whatever…

        I must say there were two of ’em who stood out for me.

        First and foremost, I think Marissa’s choice to change her board was not only honest but brave… that girl has some b$%&s. I mean, of all the words, “Anorexic” is one that carries a lot of -other peoples’- judgements and criticism, mainly because few people really understand the reality of an eating disorder. I wasn’t very fond of Marissa in the previous episodes, but for that thing alone, the girl’s become a hero.

        Also, though I know she’s out, Emily’s confession broke my heart. I actually did break in tears when she told her story. And I understand why she “went in and out of character”: that thing that happened to her is bloody tough and her defenses are always up. It just makes me angry there are people like that in the world.

        Anyway, now that I’ve watched the show I see the fun of it. I do feel like it’s scripted but I don’t care… it’s not like I’m in it.

        BTW… I like Hannah, Cameron & Damian. I loved Emily’s voice, but there already is a Santana in the show, and Lindsey seems like the second coming of Rachel, haha.

  • Reply
    June 28, 2011 at 12:58 pm

    Thought I was the only one watching this. Admittedly, it is low wattage as far as interest goes and I don’t believe most people even know where to find the Oxygen network. This last ep bothered me. I understand what Ryan Murphy and Robert Ulrich are trying to do, but I am frustrated with the fact they are asking for real acting chops from non-actors while there are millions of real actors out there who could use a break and would deliver the talent Murphy is looking for. I think it’s a dangerous precedent to try and merge manipulated “reality” TV with scripted programming. It leads me to believe Murphy and Ulrich have exhausted all other avenues to find talent for a hit show. It’s seems lazy of them. I refuse to believe they couldn’t find the right balance of a trained actor who wants to act professionally with the misfit-vibe they are looking to add to the Glee cast. The even bigger question is what are they going to do with this non-actor misfit when they start performing on the show and the show comes to an end? Think other new shows are going to say, “Hey, let’s use that non-actor that was on Glee for a while.” No, they are going to audition that actor, see they haven’t any real talent as an actor and then cast them aside, then watch this non-celeb crash and burn while they turn to drugs and drinking and end up destitute and living on the street. Oh, wait, a minute…they can always have a stint on Celebrity Rehab, right?! And the network still doesn’t have to pay them what a real actor would have earned and no need to pay them residuals either. Win-Win for network and Ryan Murphy and Lose-Lose for real actors with training and these non-actors who are just seeking their 15 minutes of fame.

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      June 28, 2011 at 4:05 pm

      I agree with you on one level, but also want to point out that’s how some of the current GLEE kids were discovered. Apparently Chris Colfer was cast right out of high school and impressed Murphy so much in his audition, Murphy created Kurt for him. And I think Colfer might have a career after GLEE, if not in acting then maybe in publishing since he has a two-book deal writing children’s books.

  • Reply
    June 28, 2011 at 6:42 pm

    And let me point out first that Chris Colfer has done a ton of theater before he was discovered by Glee.

    As for the people on the Glee Project, you can’t tell me that a professionally trained actor (no matter what age) can’t tap into basic emotions such as what is seemingly beyond their grasp on that show.

  • Reply
    Shell Sherree
    June 29, 2011 at 12:52 am

    It’s not on here {maybe buried somewhere on cable, which I don’t have} but it’s an interesting concept. I have a feeling I’d rather not see what they go through in order to make it onto the show ~ just let me see them in their roles and pretend they really are their characters. Does that sound weird? Probably. Maybe my sandwich board would read “Nutty.”

  • Reply
    June 29, 2011 at 10:39 pm

    There are MANY other alternate challenges and exercises that THE GLEE PROJECT executives COULD HAVE executed vs. the video that you posted, PCN. I can only think of one word when watching the video: degrading. (Ironically, that’s what I believe the executives were going for).

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