There may not be a prime-time scripted series more suited for an unscripted spinoff than Fox's "Glee." With the singing, dancing and youthful characters, it's easy to see why Oxygen's "The Glee Project" came to fruition. Give the program extra points for its ability to pretty accurately reproduce the tone of "Glee" in reality-show form.
Premiering today at 7 p.m., "The Glee Project" puts 12 young people (ages 18-22) through their paces. They're not only competing on a reality show, but the grand prize -- a seven-week guest-starring role on Fox's "Glee" -- could provide a showbiz-career breakthrough.
Each week, a "Glee" regular consults with the contestants, who get vocal and choreography coaching from folks who regularly work on "Glee": choreographer Zach Woodlee and vocal arranger Nikki Anders. "Glee" casting director Robert Ulrich serves as lead mentor to the kids competing on "The Glee Project."
Because this is "Glee," this competition is not packed with plastic-y beauties. The contestants are a diverse lot. Multiple ethnicities, sexualities and styles are represented in the cast. The competitions are not just judged on vocal or dance ability, but also on the uniqueness of these performers. They're reminded several times in the premiere that they need to be able to inspire the "Glee" writers to create a character for them on the show.
This might sound like Hollywood fakery to some, but it's not. Oftentimes, actors do inspire TV writers. Sometimes characters become more like the actors who play them. The story goes that when Chris Colfer auditioned for the Artie role on "Glee," he inspired series co-creator Ryan Murphy to come up with Kurt, a character that had not existed.
It also comes as little surprise that some of the competitors on this show are reminiscent of characters already on "Glee."
"I have one of the best voices here," says 20-year-old Lindsay, channeling the "Glee" character Rachel (Lea Michele). (A preview for a future episode shows another competitor referring to Lindsay as "kind of mean.")
Emily exudes sass and flirts with "Glee" cast member Darren Criss, which causes her to give off a vibe of Santana (Naya Rivera) from season one.
Similarly, 22-year-old Bryce brings to mind Puck (Mark Salling). Bryce is treated by the show's mentors as a bad-attitude problem child because he (gasp!) dares to make constructive suggestions about his character in a music-video shoot -- in a competition focused on individuality. The irony is lost on Woodlee and Ulrich, who don't seem to appreciate Bryce's idea even though it makes more sense than Woodlee's initial suggestion.
The show's cast also includes some other pieces of nontraditional casting that would be viewed with horror by most reality-show producers but fits perfectly within the all-are-welcome "Glee" aesthetic. These include super-short Matheus (he's 4 feet 9 inches) and Ellis, who looks sort of childlike.
Each week, "Glee Project" competitors will stage one chorus-room performance for the guest "Glee" cast member. The person picked as the best in that performance gets a starring role in that week's music video. Sunday night, Katy Perry's "Firework" is staged during school picture day for a yearbook.
All the contestants participate in the music video, which functions as an audition. The three least-interesting performers in the eyes of the show's mentors get sent to a final performance in front of Murphy, who decides which of the three will not be listed when the "callback" sheet is posted at the end of the episode.
The weekly group-music videos are staged in an entertaining manner similar to the big production numbers on the Fox series, which should make this reality competition irresistible to Gleeks needing a "Glee" fix during the show's summer hiatus.