This summer, Oxygen will premiere The Glee Project, a reality series in which 40,000 would-be Gleeks compete for a guest-role on Fox's hit musical comedy.
Glee casting director Robert Ulrich saw more than 40,000 auditions, which included everyone from working professionals to teens who had never performed before. "It's given so many kids an opportunity they would never have had in a normal situation," he said Thursday at the Television Critics Association's winter previews. "I had kids sing in front of me who had never sung in front of anyone in their lives.
"The net was so wide," he continued. "As on Glee, everyone's appropriate. Any size, shape, ethnicity, and that's what makes it so wonderful [to cast]."
That pool will be whittled further to 12 contestants by the end of next week. The final batch will then be put through what producers are calling Glee bootcamp.
"They'll be trained by the real creative team on Glee, mentoring them, helping them every step of the way," Glee Project executive producer Michael Davies said. "They're really going through the experience of what it takes on a weekly basis to be good enough to be on the show. It's a very demanding show."
The competition will focus on developing the final 12 into serious performers — and less on the failures. "The idea that everyone does have a voice," Glee executive producer Dante Di Loreto said. "It's as much about watching people grow and watching their talent grow... The mentoring process is really key to us, much more than trial by fire. It's about giving them the tools."
In success, the winner could theoretically become a series regular.
"We're very serious about growing talent," Di Loreto said. "If you look at people like Heather Morris (Brittany), Naya Rivera (Santana) and Harry Shum (Mike), they all started as guest-stars and then grew, as their characters developed, into series regulars." (Di Loreto and Glee co-creator Ryan Murphy and will also serve as executive producers for The Glee Project.)
"This is not a singing, dancing or acting competition," Davies said. "It's about who is going to have that magic spark to inspire the writing team of Glee."
Oxygen will premiere repeats of Glee beginning with an all-day marathon Saturday, Feb. 5 at 11 a.m./10c. The Glee Project will debut in June.
Are you excited to watch?