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The Glee Project – Crafting the dream for young wannabes

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The Glee Project - Michael Davies, Cameron Mitchell, Lindsay Pearce, Damian McGinty, Alex Newell, Hannah McIalwain, Samuel Larsen, Zach Woodlee, Nikki Anders and Robert J Ulrich
Front Row: Michael Davies, Executive Producer, Cameron Mitchell, Lindsay Pearce, Damian McGinty, Alex Newell; Back Row: Hannah McIalwain, Samuel Larsen, Zach Woodlee, Choreography/Mentor, Nikki Anders, Vocal Producer/Mentor, Robert J Ulrich Casting Director/Mentor, during the Universal Press Tour © 2011 Oxygen

It’s the dream of millions of young wannabe stars – to win a role on the phenomenally popular series Glee. Now the creator and executive producer of the show, Ryan Murphy, has created a documentary reality series, The Glee Project that will make one person’s dream come true. Through ten weeks of auditions 12 young contenders competed for a seven week arc on their favorite show.

Michael Davies, who brought Who Wants to be a Millionaire to US television, is producing the series, and Robert J Ulrich, the casting director for Glee, is on hand as a mentor to the contestants. The show was pre-taped so a winner has been decided upon, but the audience won’t know who it is for a few weeks.

How do you determine what songs are to be performed on the show?

The Glee Project - Michael Davies
Michael Davies, Executive Producer during the Universal Press Tour © 2011 Oxygen

Michael Davies: That’s a great question.

A lot went into it. Very early on we were very inspired by the songs that Glee has chosen, and we worked with the music team, with Nikki Anders, with Adam Anders, her husband, who has been involved with Glee and the Glee tours.

We started working on songs that we felt that we could build great tracks that were to take the range of shows all the way from Broadway, standards to contemporary music.

We started to know a lot more about the kids and their voices and thinking about the characters they were going to play. We started really changing the music to reflect them, both as a group and then individuals.

I know that Ryan Murphy got the final say, not the viewing audience. Most of the show is following these kids on these challenges and you guys evaluating them. It almost seems like the challenges don’t matter, so why put these kids through it?

The Glee Project - Robert J Ulrich
Robert J Ulrich, Casting Director/ Mentor, during the Universal Press Tour © 2011 Oxygen

Robert J Ulrich: Because the [mentors] are trying to have somebody win, and we’re all rooting for them, as I do as a casting director on my day-to-day basis.

In a regular casting session of a television show, the producers or Ryan or the network, they don’t see anything that goes into getting people there, but I’m doing my hardest to make them good to get them there.

Once they get there, just as in this show, then it’s based on what Ryan sees. So it actually makes it very truthful, very realistic and authentic to the entertainment business and to how Glee is done.

Michael: And I can’t speak for Ryan, but I would say that in my observation, Ryan had all the information, so he saw everything along the way and formed his opinion, and he went on a journey.

His opinions changed. His thoughts changed. His inspirations changed, so where he finally gets to in terms of who he felt he could write for in Glee, that wasn’t pre-determined a year ago when he first started looking at casting tapes.

He went through a journey with these kids in exactly the same way. I just think he has a way of expressing himself that appears more clear-cut in that moment.

Robert: It involves so much more that obviously you don’t see. Ryan spent so much time with all of them, and there’s a great deal of discussion that went into his decision.

What is it about the final six kids that have kept them in the running?

The Glee Project - Michael Davies, Cameron Mitchell, Lindsay Pearce, Damian McGinty, Alex Newell, Hannah McIalwain, Samuel Larsen, Zach Woodlee, Nikki Anders and Robert J Ulrich
Front Row: Michael Davies, Executive Producer, Cameron Mitchell, Lindsay Pearce, Damian McGinty, Alex Newell; Back Row: Hannah McIalwain, Samuel Larsen, Zach Woodlee, Choreography/Mentor, Nikki Anders, Vocal Producer/Mentor, Robert J Ulrich Casting Director/Mentor, during the Universal Press Tour © 2011 Oxygen

Michael: One of the reasons I would say that these six kids in particular got cast, is how badly they want to be on Glee. They could see themselves on that show, where they might never try out for anything else. This is all about getting a chance to be on Glee.

I know the winner has already been chosen, as the shows are pre-recorded, but why can’t the others get roles on the show as well?

Robert: Well, anything is possible in the world of Glee. But there is one winner. There are no guarantees.

I have a script waiting for me for the first Glee at the office. I don’t even know who’s in the first episode, so you never know.

It’s going to be a seven week arc which is more than most of the kids on Glee who you probably think are regulars have. That’s an amazing thing. And it could certainly be more if it takes off.

Presumably the winner has already met the Glee cast – how did that go?

Michael: They really connected with these kids. They were really proud of them.

One of the things that made us happy and what made the kids happiest was that they actually saw the real people from Glee come to them and embrace them.

That was phenomenal.