TV Review: The Glee Project

The Glee Project is a new reality TV series on Oxygen. Twelve young acting, singing, and dancing hopefuls are competing for the chance to be cast on the Fox musical comedy show Glee. They have to compete in various challenges inspired by teacher Will Schuester's weekly lessons with the glee club, like vulnerability and theatricality. They record songs, learn choreography, and shoot music videos before the bottom three have to sing for their lives in front of show creator Ryan Murphy. The Glee Project gets a lot of things right. For starters, all of these kids can sing. Some of them sing better than the series regulars. They have unique voices and could all easily sustain the show's initial prize of a six episode arc on Glee by virtue of bringing something new to the table. Ellis, for example, has a smoky jazz voice perfect for a cabaret show. Damian is a professional Irish singer (he tours with Celtic Thunder) who brings a level of maturity and technique sorely missing from the actual show. Alex has the range of Chris Colfer/Kurt but actual pop sensibilities and a high belt that can compete with some of the best singing actors in the business right now.

Another big thing the show gets right is the elimination process. Spoilers abound. So far, in the three weeks the show has been on the air, the three eliminated contestants were the ones with the worst professional behavior on set. Week one cast off Bryce refused to do staging because he thought it emasculated his character choice. Week two eliminee Ellis had a negative attitude on set and unintentionally criticized the choreographers for making her look foolish. Week three saw Emily sent home for not being able to stay in character between takes. While the contestants have to sing and undergo grilling from Ryan Murphy, so far, all of the eliminations have used the week's performances as the bigger deciding factor. If you can't act professionally during the rehearsal process, you're not going to consistently act professionally on set. Glee is a hard enough show to shoot already; Fox doesn't need to be wasting money waiting for someone to turn the diva off and actually do their job.

The format of the show is a bit of a sticking point for me. For some reason, The Glee Project is yet another reality show following the Top Chef quickfire challenge format. The contestants are each assigned a line in a song and given an acting goal, like vulnerability. They then perform the song as a group (soloists stepping forward) for a guest judge from Glee. The concept is terribly flawed on face value. For one thing, some contestants are assigned such thrilling lines as "ooh" or "yeah." For another, the guest judge is only supposed to evaluate them based on their solo line. Someone can stand in the back of the crowd, barely move their face, and then bust it out of the park and be in the top 2 on this "assignment." If they did that on an actual TV set, they would be yelled at for ruining a take.

From there, the show gets into more interesting territory dragged down by those awful Glee flashbacks. The program might show the contestants going one by one into the recording studio to work with an actual music producer on Glee. Or, they might not show any singing until someone is struggling on set and then flashback to a montage of bad moments in the recording studio. It's messy and needlessly confusing. The show would be much better if it opened with the song assignment for the video and then showed them prepare for the week: recording studio, then choreography to their recording, then shooting on set, then evaluation. That's enough content for an hour without even accounting for the elimination round with Ryan Murphy.

The Glee Project, like Glee in many cases, is just trying to do too many things at once. What could be an interesting casting reality show ala Legally Blonde The Musical: The Search for Elle Woods turns into a rushed fluffy mess that doesn't always add up to the elimination in the end. It's overly ambitious to a fault.

However, if you like Glee and want to see a singing reality TV competition with genuinely talented performers, The Glee Project can be a fun watch. It might not be the most satisfying program on TV, but it's ultimately entertaining without being trashy. That alone puts it above most of the dreck of competitive reality TV. The contestants are actually judged based on talent and the ability to be professional in front of a camera. It's a novelty that will go a long way in selling this show.

What do you think? Are you in for the long haul with this show? Or does its gooey nature repulse you like the Glee Club repulses Sue Sylvester? Sound off in the comments.

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