A slushie cart is wheeled across the stage where the cast of Glee is prepping to film the big Regionals showdown. The Dalton Academy Warblers and Coach Sue's recently acquired Aural Intensity wait in the wings. Uh-oh. Is New Directions in for a stinging, sweet-and-sticky ending?
Not likely. For the competition (premiering Tuesday at 8/7c), McKinley High's perpetually bullied gleeks are taking back the slushie, so to speak, and there's giddiness in the air.
In Los Angeles' Saban Theater, crew members are equipping the audience, today made up of extras and some lucky Glee fans, with L-shaped foam fingers. The slushie cart is, in fact, a prop that will be used during New Directions' performance of "Loser Like Me," an infectious, geek-empowering kiss-off written especially for the episode. This time, the gleeks will be wielding the frozen drinks.
But before the foam fingers come out, the curtain falls and Lea Michele takes the stage alone to sing the ballad, "Get It Right," another original Glee music producer Adam Anders wrote especially for the actress. (The lyrics, about being a screw-up despite your best intentions, apply to eager-to-please Rachel, who wrote the song for Regionals — but watch for her character's moment of selflessness when she dedicates it to someone else she cares about.) After her first flawless take, a fan in the upper tier of the theater yells, "We love you Lea!" Michele beams and does a high-kick-toe-touch in gratitude.
Why the move into original music? The show made music history just last month when its covers claimed more Billboard Hot 100 chart entries than any other act ever. Turns out songwriting is a plot point Anders says series executive producer Ryan Murphy has always had in mind. "I think if you eat, breathe and live music the way these kids do on the show, or even in real life, you would progressively go toward writing your own songs," Anders says. "That's what I did, you know? I was that gleek." And after falling victim to leaked set lists and butt-kissing competition, New Directions will decide the only way to win is to perform songs inspired by their own experiences. (In the same episode, Amber Riley will sing another original, titled "Hell to the No," which Anders co-wrote with Peer Astrom and Glee executive producer Ian Brennan.)
"It's really cool that we're evolving and doing original songs," Cory Monteith tells the audience. "It's exciting for us." And as the crew preps the stage for "Loser Like Me," the cast can't contain its high spirits. One young fan asks Jane Lynch if she would mind saying "something mean," and Lynch obliges in her best loud-voiced Sue Sylvester: "I will not rest until I see your headless body floating in a shallow lake!" Naya Rivera, too, agrees to reenact her memorable "Blame It on the Alcohol" moment: "No me gusta!" Both Chris Colfer and Monteith tweet pictures from the stage, while Riley skips rope with her belt. Finally, the audience is instructed to get ready — not that they need the cue.
When the track comes on, the cast proudly waves their foam Ls while singing and jumping around. They sing: Push me up against the locker / And hey all I do is shake it off / I'll get you back when I'm your boss / I'm not thinking about you haters / 'cause hey I could be a superstar / I'll see you when you wash my car. Soon, the audience is on their feet, bopping and dancing along.
"Ryan wanted us to celebrate being an outcast with something uplifting," Anders says. "Loser Like Me" was co-written by Max Martin, who had a hand in Katy Perry's "California Gurls" and "Teenage Dream," as well as seven tracks on Britney's upcoming album, Femme Fatale. "Max is just someone who could embrace doing a song that's positive and upbeat and inspirational... all those things you're not supposed to do if you're a cool songwriter," Anders continues. "But he really gets them. He writes songs that make you feel good and are smashes."
Later, Michele eagerly chats up fans in the mezzanine. "What did you guys think? Did you love it?" Someone in the audience asks her if she's nervous about singing songs no one has ever heard before. "I feel a lot of pressure," she says. "We want it to be good."
The competition is fiercer this time than it has been — no deaf kids choir, no stolen set list. A crew member tells the audience they'll want to be extra rowdy for the boys' set — Pink's "Raise Your Glass," a second ode to underdogs — because "it's the most rocking-est" of the performances. Chris Colfer and Riley exchange cheek kisses as they swap spots on stage; at this point, Kurt's still a Warbler, but that will change very soon. Per usual, Darren Criss leads the way, while Colfer does a lot of dusting the dirt off his shoulders.
But can either group compete with Sue's Aural Intensity? Last time, they performed a mash-up of "Magic" and "You Raise Me Up" for judges Olivia Newton-John and Josh Groban. This time, they're kissing up to righteous home-schooling, Tea Partier Tammy Jean Albertson (Kathy Griffin) and Sister Mary Constance (Loretta Devine.) How? Four words: "Jesus Is My Friend."
If the audience is any indication — they lapped up the group's, er, holy choreography — this sing-off will be close.
More from the cast on fans' burning questions below:
When are Blaine and Kurt "just going to kiss already?" That's how one impatient viewer asked Colfer about the boys' potential for romance. "You all are a bunch of perverts," Colfer said, laughing. But then he teased, "OK, maybe we shot something last week..."
And what about Puck and Lauren? Is that happening? Ashley Fink says that although Lauren's been warming to Puck recently, the twosome hasn't made anything official yet either. "But I'm campaigning real hard for it," she says.
Who, besides Matthew Morrison, is actively working on an album? That would be Riley, who says she is writing material for a solo debut. Also, and unfortunately, she has no idea when Mercedes will next have a romance of her own.
Is someone developing another project with Fox? Yes, but not Fox network. Monteith says he's still at work with film studio Fox 2000 on a project he pitched last year. Ack, does this mean Finn is going to graduate soon? Not necessarily. "I assume we'll bring new people in," Monteith says. "Maybe Finn will fail." (Before that happens, the actor says he'd like to sing Foreigner's "I Wanna Know What Love Is" on the show. Make it happen, Murphy.)
Sorry, Mike Chang fans, Harry Shum won't just take his shirt off for anyone. When asked if the audience could see Mike Chang's abs up close, he laughed but declined. Mark Salling offered his personal take: "This guy is like Bruce Freaking Lee."
And did you know... Salling lied about his age when he auditioned for Glee? The actor is 28.
Will the Warblers' tight harmonies come out on top? Will Sue get payback for Will shutting down the Cheerios? Do you like the original songs? Tell us what you think below.