‘Glee Project’: Two Contenders Fail to Show ‘Actability’

Michael on The Glee Project (Oxygen)

Now that there were only five contenders left at the top of this week’s episode of “The Glee Project,” the mentors decided it was finally time to worry about whether they could act!

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Last season the contenders faced a “believability” challenge that was intended to serve this purpose, but the vagueness of that theme left enough wiggle room to allow Damian to survive and ultimately secure a role on “Glee.” This role was mysteriously reduced to have almost no dialogue whatsoever and consisted mainly of eyebrow calisthenics and backing vocals for the majority of Damian’s episodes.

Perhaps this week’s more direct theme of “actability” was aimed to more thoroughly test the contenders’ chops and prevent another winner-turned-background-swayer.

It’s too bad that the week’s casualties—yep, plural—actually pulled off some truthful onscreen moments and got the boot anyway.

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The episode started, as always, with the revelation of the theme and Michael immediately expressing his desire to do better than Blake, which was extra daunting since Blake has the most camera acting experience of the bunch.

Ali, armed with her college theater training, was eager for the challenge, stating flat-out what I’ve been screaming for months to anyone who will listen, “If you can’t act, then you shouldn’t be on ‘Glee.’”

Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love” was a peculiar choice for the homework assignment because a) it’s not a particularly deep or emotional song to connect with, and b) it is apparently so ancient that only one of the five had ever heard it. Their ignorance resulted in an embarrassing lack of red lipstick and black patent pumps in their performance.

The twist was that while they performed, Robert and guest mentor Dianna Agron held up flash cards with a different emotion (excited, anxious, etc.) for each contender to convey as he or she sang.

They all rose to the occasion; no one was particularly cartoonish or over the top. I find their recently successful attempts at preventing me from mocking them to be annoying. Even Michael (formerly Dull Michael until he did something cute with Lily last week) did pretty well with “determined,” causing Diana to award him his first homework win. He wasn’t really the best, but his was the hardest to convey, so kudos.

The video to Pink’s “Perfect” relied heavily on improvised mini-scenes between various pairs of the contenders that were pieced together to create a trailer for a fake coming-of-age movie. Erik would give them a general idea of what emotions and actions needed to happen, but they had no specific lines or blocking to memorize.

Normally a trailer editor would cut out and highlight key points from extended scenes that actors had played out, but time constraints on this shoot didn’t allow for the kids to actually develop those full scenes. Dramatic improvising is exploratory and can sometimes meander before honing in on a point, but no rambling or buildup was allowed here. Lily in particular struggled with jumping straight into climactic moments, which pulled a lot of focus from her scene partner Ali.

I don’t think anyone was denying that Lily was working hard and achieving genuine emotions, but she couldn’t get it done quickly enough.

Zach, Nikki, and Robert may as well have been watching Brando work based on the way they kept fawning over Blake. He was no better or worse than anyone else, but they repeatedly gushed over his “transformation” into a jock with anger issues in a way that clearly implied he would be make it to the finale.

Michael and Aylin showed more range and growth than we’ve seen before, and Ali was dependable as ever.

After a weepy speech from the mentors in which Nikki (fueled by pregnancy hormones) and Zach (fueled by My Little Pony vitamins, no doubt) expressed admiration and pride for all the remaining contenders, it was announced that everyone would do a Last Chance performance for Ryan and additional “Glee” writers.

That’s right, ALL THE GLEE GODS would be there. Well, almost. And there would be no post-number chat with the contenders. They would walk on, sing, walk off, and the extended panel would talk about them behind their backs only and not to their faces.

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Michael was first with a mellow version of “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” originally arranged for Finn on “Glee.” He sang well enough, but his inability to look anywhere but the floor revealed his inexperience as a performer. Still, Zeus called him a sweetheart and demi-gods Ian Brennan (flowy surfer hair) and Michael Hitchcock (Weimaraner’s dad from “Best in Show”) liked him as well.

Lily was given “Son of a Preacher Man.” Since she has been nailed for not being much more than one note of sass, this song choice seemed skewed to unfairly keep her in that same wheelhouse. But Ian called her cute, complex, and poised. He then went on the say (clearly prompted by behind-the-scenes chatter, which we were told would be taken into account), he was worried she’d be difficult to direct. Dunh-dunh-dunhhh.

Ali belted out “Here’s To Us” by Halestorm, which writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (sweater vest) was gaga for. But once again Ian was most chatty, proclaiming Ali would make a great promiscuous bitch character. I have to admit I’d like to see that.

Then Blake was up with Elton John’s “I’m Still Standing,” which he peppered with his best white-guy dance moves that were surprisingly charming, if not SYTYCD quality. Everyone seemed to think he was a star, but Ali Adler (lady writer in fat scarf) said he didn’t seem wounded enough to be a New Directions misfit. Excellent point, excellent point. One that seemed to be ultimately ignored, but excellent point.

And then Aylin served up Christinia Aguilera’s “Fighter,” which was discussed by no one on the panel. Instead they got increasingly excited about how her story has never been told on “Glee.” True, wearing a traditional Muslim head scarf in the video was an emotional experience for her and led to a great performance that depicted a storyline seldom seen for American teens.

But the way they salivate over the opportunity to get at that story totally overshadows her genuine skill as a performer. Boo, I say. You cast Damian because he’s Irish, and that turned into nothing. You cast Samuel as backup Christian ‘cause you couldn’t have Cameron, which produced nothing particularly memorable. If you cast Aylin because she’s a Turkish Muslim, you’ll have a fun story to exploit, but you’ll be lucky because she happens to be talented.

Murph posed the question of whether they should let multiple people go now whom they didn’t feel truly inspired to write seven episodes for. He also wondered whether they should cast for star quality or something they haven’t seen.

They ended up going with a little of both. Blake and Ali have characteristics that are old fodder for “Glee” but made it through on their It Factors. Aylin represents the chance to portray something different.

So Lily and Michael were deemed uninspiring and sent packing. I can’t cry for Michael because I’ve been down on him all season, but I think they should have let Lily be in on the final battle.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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