"The New Rachel." That title may have gone to Blaine (Darren Criss) following his "Call Me Maybe"-off with Tina, Unique and Brittany, but after Glee's season premiere, fans seem to think there may be another worthy candidate — new girl Marley Rose (Melissa Benoist).
"It's a lot of pressure because obviously I have some really big shoes to fill," Benoist tells TVGuide.com of the comparisons to New Directions' former shining star. "But I think that Marley is so different from Rachel and will just bring a new fresh attitude and energy."
When it comes to Glee's other fresh faces, the Fox musical isn't shying away from the comparisons. Case in point, Coach Sue's description of new Cheerio Kitty (Becca Tobin)."She's like a young Quinn Fabray except she's not pregnant, manic-depressive or in-and-out of a wheelchair."
With Rachel (Lea Michele) — or should we call her almighty Schwimmer? — busy enduring daily verbal lashings at NYADA and Quinn (Dianna Agron) enjoying the collegiate experience at Yale, it seems Marley and Kitty are being positioned as the de facto heirs to the throne. "There's definitely a little part of Quinn in Kitty but there's also a whole lot of other Kitty stuff," says Tobin, who points to Rachel McAdams' Queen B in Mean Girls and Reese Witherspoon's overachiever Tracy Flick in Election as inspirations for the character.
Benoist, on the other hand, has taken a different approach to developing Marley, who was initially described as simply "someone boys would have a crush on." "As I was auditioning, there really wasn't much that I knew about the character so it's felt like starting from this blank slate,which has been really nice," she says.
Both actresses stress the differences between their respective characters and last year's seniors, but the two will be engaged in a rivalry somewhat reminiscent of Rachel and Quinn: The Early Years. "She has it out for Marley," Tobin says. "She sees that she's a pretty girl and she's talented and people like her and that's scary for Kitty."
So will Marley be able to fight back? Yes and no. "She is a little shy, but there is a shell that she can't break out of," Benoist says. "There's definitely been some moments where I'm like, 'Yeah, you go girl!' but they've been few and far between so far."
Unlike Quinn — who competed more with Santana (Naya Rivera) for the spot at the top of the pyramid — Kitty will also battle Brittany (Heather Morris) when she's not picking on Marley. "She wants Brittany's position," Tobin says. "It's difficult because [Brittany's] such a lovable character. Kitty is just bad to the core to be able to pick on someone like that. I'm hoping that their relationship gets a little more positive because Brittany is a much easier character to like."
When it comes to her mean girl persona, Tobin has been able to learn from the best — longtime Glee villain Sue Sylvester (Emmy winner Jane Lynch), whom she worked with her first day on the series. "They threw me in the deep end, but it was incredible," she says. "I was panicking on the inside, but having the time of my life at the same time."
Despite the rivalries in front of the camera, it's been very different behind the scenes. "There's a huge sense of camaraderie on the show. The older cast members who have been doing this for four years — they're so supportive and welcoming and accepting," Benoist says. "And with us new cast members... it's nice to have an arm to link or a shoulder to lean on."
The biggest obstacle so far for Benoist, who studied musical theater in college after years of community theater and dinner theater programs, has been the recording studio. "I had done it seldom before and that's been challenging," she says. "It's a learning experience every time I'm in there. I have to work and it's a challenge, but it's rewarding."
Tobin is unsure when Kitty will sing, but says the wait will be worth it. The question is, will fans turn a deaf ear? Tobin is the first to admit there's nothing her alter-ego will stop herself from saying, but she is optimistic Kitty's softer side will be exposed sooner rather than later. "Eventually, I think the layers are going to come off. ... Like every mean girl, there's more there than just poison," Tobin says. "l think the fans are going to hate her, but hopefully they'll come around."
Glee airs Thursdays at 9/8c on Fox.