STAGE TO SCREENS: Winners of "The Glee Project" Revealed; Are They Future Broadway Stars?

Stage to Screens   STAGE TO SCREENS: Winners of "The Glee Project" Revealed; Are They Future Broadway Stars?
 
Gleek alert! The reality TV talent competition known as "The Glee Project" ended Aug. 21 with the surprise announcement of two winners who will star in the third season of the hit series "Glee."

Samuel Larsen
Samuel Larsen Photo by Andrew Eccles

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Damian McGinty, the deep-voiced Irish lad with a taste for the music of Dean Martin and Bobby Darin, and Samuel Larsen, the California guy with dreadlocks and a tattoo that reads "Jesus Christ," were picked as co-winners of "The Glee Project," a reality-TV talent competition that promised to give one young performer a seven-episode arc on the third season of the hit TV series "Glee."

The winners — two, not the promised one — were announced on the Aug. 21 final episode of season one of "The Glee Project," hidden away on the Oxygen network. A second season is currently in the works. The co-win was a surprise to viewers, and to the ten other booted contestants in attendance for the finale announcement, which was made by "Glee" producer and co-creator Ryan Murphy. The producers also promised two runners-up (Alex Newell and Lindsay Pearce) a two-episode spotlight in the coming "Glee" season that begins in September. It would seem a safe bet that the eight other rejects — including diminutive Matheus, self-proclaimed "big girl" Hannah, lanky indie-rock kid Cameron (named fan favorite), who all display outsider qualities — will likely resurface somehow in the "Glee" universe, though nothing to that effect has been announced.

It's well known that the Fox TV series "Glee" has crossover appeal for musical theatre fans. In a love-it or hate-it frame of mind, they faithfully watch the comedy-music series — about misfits who sing in a high school glee club — to see how songs will be used (or misused) to tell story and explore character. Classic show tunes are often reinvented on "Glee." Does "Rose's Turn" sung by a gay boy struggling with bullying make any sense? Who cares, as long as Stephen Sondheim approves? And he does. He sang the show's praises in a 2010 interview with Playbill.com

Lea Michele
FOX-TV

Broadway stars Lea Michele (Spring Awakening, Ragtime) and Matthew Morrison (Hairspray, South Pacific) went West to take roles on "Glee." The opposite migration begins this season. It was recently announced that Darren Criss, a breakout star of "Glee," who plays gay crooner Blaine Anderson, will succeed Daniel Radcliffe in Broadway's How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying in January 2012. Just as "American Idol" has fed Broadway shows, with Fantasia and Constantine Maroulis and others, it's thought that "Glee" will help populate commercial stage musicals in the future. Reality TV, unreal though it can be, occasionally picks the genuine article. Laura Osnes, who was cast as Sandy in Broadway's most recent Grease after winning a TV talent competition ("Grease: You're the One That I Want"), has surprised cynics and gained the respect of the legit community by succeeding Kelli O'Hara in Lincoln Center Theater's South Pacific, playing earnest Hope Harcourt in the current Tony Award-winning Anything Goes and finding depth as outlaw Bonnie Parker in regional tryouts of the musical Bonnie & Clyde (she'll reprise it on Broadway this fall).

Damian McGinty
photo by Andrew Eccles

McGinty, whose Irish accent was so thick that some of his scenes in "The Glee Project" were subtitled, sang "Beyond the Sea" at his final callback. He was told in that finale episode that he was not the best actor, singer or dancer of the bunch. Ouch. Larsen sang a stripped-down version of Dolly Parton's "Jolene," accompanying himself on guitar. (Like a handful of the stars of Fox's "Glee," 19-year-old Larsen looks older than a high-school kid, while 18-year-old McGinty, a veteran of the concert group Celtic Thunder, looks like a true teen, despite his baritone voice).

Lindsay Pearce, the confident 20-year-old California performer praised for her singing and acting chops, sang "Gimme, Gimme" from Thoroughly Modern Millie for her final audition. Maybe her personality and talent echoed qualities already apparent on "Glee" in the leading character of Rachel, played by Michele?

Alex Newell, 18, criticized for being a know-it-all diva in the competition, was a force of nature, displaying his rangy voice and his salty attitude with the ferocity of Effie White from Dreamgirls. Indeed, his final audition was Effie's "I Am Changing," performed in drag. It was not his first time in a dress in the series; he sang "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going," in pumps. He was brought down to earth in an uncomfortable sequence in which he was assigned the gospel song "His Eye Is On the Sparrow," which he had sung at his father's funeral. (Whatever happened to sides and a 16-bar song?)

Ryan Murphy

Every week, following the rehearsal and shooting of a music video that explored a general theme ("tenacity," "sexuality," "believability," "vulnerability," "generosity"), the "bottom three" performers (as chosen by a gentle casting director, a sympathetic choreographer and a no-nonsense vocal coach) were made to sing a "last-chance" song for "Glee" producer Murphy (who also produced this series). The contestants were also coached by some of the lesser-known stars of "Glee" — Ashley Fink, anyone? (Morrison, Michele and Emmy winner Jane Lynch were no-shows, apparently not available to offer their two cents on "believability" and other topics.)

As with casting announcements at some high schools, the names of the called-back and kicked-out players were posted on a sheet of paper in a hallway, forcing contestants to do a walk of shame that was captured, slo-mo, by cameras — with music and voiceover. Their deflation or elation was captured in close-up. "The Glee Project" had less to do with real-world audition scenarios and more to do with what makes good TV — or at least good TV for your average 14-year-old addicted to "Glee." This meant that Buddy Holly-bespectacled Cameron was judged harshly for buckling under the repeated onslaught of frozen "slushies" being splashed in his face during multiple takes of a music video. He seemed harmed by the frozen treats. (It never occurred to me that the show's iconic beverage/weapon was actually frozen; I would have guessed tapioca and gelatin. Where's SAG when you need them?)

Still, such an attack seemed like a cakewalk compared to the episode in which contestants shot a video in a mall, where they walked around in their underwear clad only in a sandwich board that declared their secret vulnerability, which was pried out of them by the professionals in the room: "gay," "numb," "anorexic," and the like.

This is exactly the kind of thing Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne had to do in their early years, so why not Damian McGinty and Samuel Larsen, too?

Follow Playbill.com managing editor Kenneth Jones on Twitter @PlaybillKenneth.

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