What does Ryan Murphy want from the winner of The Glee Project? Only he knows — but TVGuide.com surveyed the final four contestants anyway in an attempt to figure out who has the best chance of scoring the coveted seven-episode arc on Glee.
A week before the winner is named (Sunday at 9/8c on Oxygen), the last wannabe McKinley High kids standing — Samuel, Alex, Damian and Lindsay — opened up about their hopes, frustrations and love of Glee: Samuel told us why he's more than happy to play a rock 'n' roll Christian, while Alex talked dressing in drag and suggested his real-life struggles with being both gay and a Christian could be a nice addition to the show. Damian disclosed Ryan's plans for his character (should he win, that is) while admitting he was a bit disappointed that no one went home in last week's episode. And Lindsay tried to explain why she might be getting a bad rap and why she and Rachel Berry could have been separated at birth. The full Q&A's follow:
Samuel Larsen, 19, Los Angeles, Calif.
Ryan seems a little obsessed with wanting to write another Christian character for Glee. What do you make of it? Is that how you envisioned yourself potentially joining the show?
Larsen: Not at all. I always looked at the fact that I'm a Christian and trying to join this business as taboo. They work against each other, in a sense. But I always figured I'd play roles that aren't Christian and that it would be cool and daring, and [my Christianity] would be a fun fact on the side... I don't really talk about my Christianity a lot because I think it's a personal thing. I want people to know who I am and fall in love with me first before I drop something that heavy on them. For that to have been dropped in Ryan Murphy's lap and for him to be so accepting of it and really embrace it is really cool.
Were you surprised to hear that he's very eager to go there?
Larsen: Yeah, I was so excited. Like I said on the last episode, it's a dream of mine to be on Glee but to be that person on Glee, that Christian character, is very cool. The way I look and the way I sing and carry myself, it's not the typical formula people expect from a mainstream Christian. My goal has always been to help kids realize who God is... That Ryan is embracing it is stoking me out.
To be fair, Glee does have Christian characters in Mercedes and Quinn. Do you feel like you have something different to offer?
Larsen: Yeah. I think something that's very relevant in real life and that they don't portray enough on TV is that when you think "Christian" you think "goody two shoes," they have to look a certain way and do certain things — and it's just not true. Some of the craziest people I know, some of the coolest guys I know who party and go crazy and play rock shows and have tons of tattoos, they will still go to church on Sunday and do their best to live that kind of a life. I think that would be very cool to see on TV because that is true. I think what turned me off of Christianity as a kid, and what I think turns other people off, is the thought that you have to sacrifice being cool to believe in God. That's just not true. Dress how you want to, have holes on your face, you can still live that life — I think that's something that not any show has.
What kind of music, if you had your way, would you be singing on Glee?
Larsen: I've always been obsessed with people that play soulful, R&B-influenced music but the way they look is kind of rock 'n' roll. Like Maroon 5 is not a rock band but Adam Levine is a very rock 'n' roll person. Stevie Wonder, Terence Trent D'Arby... that's what I lean toward. But I would imagine if I get cast, they would want me to do the rock 'n' roll thing, which I'm very happy to do. If I go down the list of what I'd want to do on the show, it's The Black Keys, Phoenix, The Strokes, just music they haven't done on Glee because they didn't have the right person to do it.
You appear to be all intensity, all the time. Is that pretty accurate?
Larsen: Oh yeah, I'm a very intense person. There aren't a whole lot of things I want out of life. My bucket list is extremely short: Achieve the success in the industry I want, and get married. If I achieve both of those I can die completely stoked. I don't need anything else. Money doesn't matter to me, I don't even care where I live... Being that Glee is my favorite show and being that I do want to do music and acting, and this is the perfect platform to do both, of course I'm going to be intense about wanting it. I've gone out for Glee before — [Larsen auditioned for the role of Sam, which went to Chord Overstreet] — that made me even hungrier. To sing for Ryan and be in the middle of that process and have it end, it didn't discourage me, it made my desire to get on stronger. My intensity can work against me when it's not needed, and that's something that I'd inevitably have to work at. But yeah, I'm so intense.
The reason I ask is because Glee, even before being a musical, is a comedy. Do you feel like you'd be comfortable working in the genre? I don't feel like we've seen that side of you on The Glee Project.
Larsen: Absolutely. I think viewers need to keep in mind when they're watching The Glee Project is we're being ourselves. I'm not the type of person who thinks up a joke and has to tell everyone. I've gotten the comment a lot that I do the whole "squinty-eyed thing" or the "smoldering" thing. You have to play to your strengths and that's something that works for me. People have seen me do it time and time again but I keep thinking, "This mentor has never seen me before, I need to pull out the trick that I know will do something." Not only that, but when I'm singing I don't realize what I'm doing. I'm not thinking, "Am I gonna smolder now?" No.
You were almost never in the Bottom 3, so you didn't perform for Ryan until late in the game. Do you feel like that was a disadvantage?
Larsen: Totally not helpful. It was an absolute disadvantage. You know, Damian and Ryan had become best friends before I had even shown up! Not only that, but being the last person he met there, it was extreme added pressure. Well, actually, I was the first person he met because I had auditioned for Sam, but that was a different setting, and I was a way different person then. Ryan was either thinking, "I finally get to meet you, you better kill it," or, "Ah, we meet again. You were alright last year, you better kill it this year." I wish I had gone to the bottom 3 a lot sooner. I had no idea that for me — me the guy with the dreads doing the rock thing — Ryan wanted to see vulnerability. That's the last thing I expected. I wish I had known that sooner so I could have warmed up to it more. Hearing that comment tore me apart because I know how vulnerable of a person I am in real life, I just try to hide it as much as possible, I guess, to protect myself. Experiences in life make you put walls up without you even knowing it. But I knew I had it in me, and it just really discouraged me that I hadn't shown him yet. For him to keep me was a big thing. I honestly thought I was the one to go home. If you look at that list, I was the last one on it, and I was the last person they called back. If there was a Top 3 I wouldn't have been in it. The fact that they made a Top 4 to make sure I could be there to fight another day is huge.
Alex Newell, 18, Lynn, Mass.
You started off pretty confident in your singing and dancing skills, but your enthusiasm seemed to wane as the season went on. What happened?
Newell: I don't know. I think I was getting tired and it was taking a toll on me, but I don't know...
What did you find tiring?
Newell: The competition itself is tiring: long hours, working every day, filming every hour. I think that's what started to take a toll on me, realizing everything and how much work we were doing every day. And it's a long competition. We shot for two months. It didn't change my desire to win, it was just more fatigue.
What did you envision for yourself on Glee? What kind of character did you think you'd be playing?
Newell: I always thought of myself as just the one that crazy-belted. Maybe the drama king.
What did you think in the last episode when Ryan told Ian that he was thinking of you as a sort of lovechild for Mercedes and Kurt?
Newell: I loved it. That's probably what I want the most. Granted, my name is Kurtcedes now, so yeah!
Did you ever feel that on The Glee Project you'd been portrayed as too similar to Kurt? In what ways do you feel like you stand apart?
Newell: We're the same in the sense that we're both gay and we both accept it and are alright with it. At the same time, we're different, and we go through different things. Like, he doesn't believe in God. I do believe in God. I think that's one way we can be different. I have to deal with that and accept it and make other people in my church accept it.
I don't believe that part of your story has been shown on The Glee Project, but it has been for Cameron and Samuel. Is your religion something you discussed with Ryan but for whatever reason hasn't been included on-air?
Newell: Me and Ryan talked about it once while I was on stage. He asked me how the church felt about me and I couldn't give him an answer because I wasn't out to the whole entire church, they just thought I was Alex. They knew but they didn't know. So I had to tell Ryan that I didn't know what it would be like because I hadn't experienced it yet.
Would you be OK with it if you won and your character's story line on Glee was similar to what is going on in your real life?
Newell: Yeah! I'd be perfectly fine with it.
You did a fantastic rendition of "And I Am Telling You" in drag a few weeks ago. In the preview clip for next week's series finale, you're again performing as a woman. Is that something you'd be comfortable doing on Glee?
Newell: I mean, I wouldn't do it every day of my life. Dear God, my feet would die! It's something new, and it's something that I can get used to. It's refreshing. Like, I'm always the same character wherever I go — the quirky one, the jolly one or the one that just belts. I'm thinking about it as, "How can I not be a drag character and instead how can I be a woman?" It's more of an acting challenge than a "Hey, this is what I do on the side."
What have you learned by watching yourself on The Glee Project?
Newell: That I have an annoying voice! I sound like a ghetto valley girl.
Damian McGinty, 18, Derry City, Northern Ireland
How surprised were you to see all four of your names on the callback list in the last episode?
McGinty: It was incredibly surprising, but in a good way. Nobody expected it. Everyone, including the audience, expected someone to go home. I think it says a lot for us that we gave Ryan a problem and he couldn't choose someone to go home. It was a good moment.
But weren't you also a little disappointed? Instead of going up against two others in the finale, you'll be going up against three.
McGinty: Well, there was a tiny little bit. They didn't show this in the episode, but they had brought the four of us back on stage and Ryan actually sent me through straightaway. He said, "You're in the Top 3." So I thought someone was going home and I was safe. Then, seeing that all four of us were saved there was just the hint of disappointment there. I thought that I had got past one more person! But the four of us are a real family and we like to see each other do well, even though we're competing for the same role. So I was also delighted because we all just wanted a chance to experience the finals.
Ian asked if you wanted to be a singer or an actor. Why do you think they asked you that? You sing with the Irish group Celtic Thunder, but Samuel previously auditioned for American Idol, and no one has questioned what his goals are. Do you feel like you were giving the writers mixed messages?
McGinty: No, I felt they asked the question for a reason. They were seeing how ambitious I was. I think they understood that I've never had real acting experience. I'm just a kid from Ireland, and I haven't really done anything acting-wise on that scale at all. They wanted to know that I want to be an actor. And I do! It's a part of performing that I've always dreamed of. I would absolutely love to be in movies — but obviously I'm a long way from that because you have to start off somewhere. I need to learn my trade when it comes to acting. I think they were just interested to see the situation and if it differed from Cameron, because Cameron didn't want to be an actor.
You've interacted with Ryan more than any of the other three finalists. What do you think he's thinking about who you'd play on Glee?
McGinty: I've met him obviously quite a few times and I feel like I've definitely built a relationship there. He's always been totally honest with me and he's told me he likes me a lot, so it's nice to hear that. I do think that in his head there's probably quite a few story lines. Coming from Ireland in and of itself is already a story line before they even get to know me. Personally, I think there's a lot of interesting writing that could be done.
But Ryan's been very specific with certain contestants about his plans for them. He told Alex he'd be grouped with Mercedes and Kurt, and he told Samuel he'd love to have an unconventional Christian on the show. Beyond being Irish, has Ryan said anything specific to you about what would make you unique on Glee?
McGinty: I think Ian said last night that I would come in as a freshman. If I did get the role, I think it would be quite obvious that I would really be the youngest on the show. I look quite young and I'm only 18, so there would be an element of me being the baby. What makes me unique? Obviously, I'm Irish, but also Ryan has said to me he has seen me coming on to the show and starting off very quiet, missing home, very vulnerable, and then in the end getting to know people well. He sees me ending up being the leader of the glee club. So, I think he sees a lot of potential there. It's just interesting and very flattering and exciting for me to hear that.
Why do you think Ryan and Ian wanted you to sing "I've Gotta Be Me"?
McGinty: The whole way through this, I've had my struggles. They've portrayed me as the real underdog. The song, "I've Gotta Be Me," it just makes sense — I do have to be me. I can't dance, but I have to do the moves and I just have to bring an element of me and my personality to it. I remember in week 1 they put me in the bottom, and they said they felt like I was hiding. I wasn't hiding! Everyone was fighting for the spotlight, but I said, "You know, if I'm going to give myself a chance of winning this, I'm going to do it my way." I wasn't willing to change the person that I am and fight for the spotlight and be someone I'm not. So the whole way through I have been one million percent me.
Lindsay Pearce, 19, Modesto, Calif.
What's it been like watching yourself on the show?
Pearce: Um, it's been interesting. I remember watching the first three episodes and calling my mom crying, like, "Why are they doing this to me?" And she went, "I don't know!" All my friends at home are appalled, like, "That's not you! What's going on?" I don't know, I think they've chosen to give me a big dramatic journey, and as long as the ending is awesome for me... As long as I'm fully redeemed, I guess I don't mind. It's interesting because I don't feel like I'm watching me. I feel like a lot of what I say or do is cut or misinterpreted or placed out of context. It's a bit rough, but I can't complain too much because I'm still doing what I love and I'm still on an incredible show.
Do you feel like maybe you were too honest or over confident? Both? Neither?
Pearce: Honestly, they wouldn't really ask probing questions. They'd say, "So how are you feeling about this right now. Give an honest answer about how you're feeling." And I'd say I was feeling confident, but really, half of the overconfident things I say aren't even shown. You know, when you're a theater kid [like me] and you grow up auditioning for roles and being in shows... it's just that I've always been a leader. In any cast I've been in, that's the case. I'm used to that. Being on this show has definitely taught me to step out of my own way and let people lead themselves. I'm very much like Alex, like, "Everyone get together and we'll make this work!" The funny thing is I'm actually really insecure. I have a lot of girl issues — "I'm not pretty enough," "I'm not skinny enough" — but there is a confidence I have in what I can do. I did tend to overcompensate to cover up other insecurities that I have.
Ryan has said on the show that he's not quite sure what to write for you or what your character would be. Do you understand that as a criticism? Or do you feel as though you could explain it to him?
Pearce: Oh, no, I get it absolutely. There's nothing Ryan has said to me that I've disagreed with. Anything that he said, it's been like "Oh, right!" like a light bulb moment.... He has a really great way of getting past all of the bullcrap. Like he'd say, "Yeah, you have a great voice, but I don't care. I want to know you. There's someone else in there, not just your talent, and I want to get to know who you are. I've seen a lot of singers, but I turn singers down. I want people." That's what really special about Ryan and the way he casts.
When I look back on myself, I really do identify with that Rachel character. She was adopted and I'm adopted. She grew up in a family that didn't really know music but they found out their daughter was talented so they put her in every single kind of talent thing they could in order to make her the best that she could be. That's how I grew up. I really do relate to that, but I would never want to be a replacement or anything like that. I would want to come in as a character and be fresh and new.
On or off camera, did you have any opportunity to discuss with Ryan what that person might be like?
Pearce: Not really... He did ask me more about my personal life and my story. He asked about my adoption and the things that I've overcome in my life to be where I am, the weird happenstance that led up to me being on The Glee Project and how fate and God pushed me to be where I am. We talked about personal issues that they haven't written about on Glee yet. But there was never any deep character discussion; he was looking for more of an outline.
What do you mean by personal issues they haven't done on the show?
Pearce: Well, like I was born deaf and I gained my hearing back when I was six months old — it was a miraculous event. He thought that was very interesting. They really didn't show Ryan or Ian talking to all of us, but we were able to talk about my story and how I've been led to believe that I'm destined for something for special, to move someone, to make a good change in the world. Before it was decided that I was going to be adopted, my mother was going to abort me, I was born with tangled legs, they never thought I'd be able to dance... without knowing it, as a child I overcame a lot thanks to really doting, loving parents and a great family and a hard work ethic on my part. Ryan was like, "Wow, you have such a cool story and I think that's something that's really special about you. You can tell that's what has molded you as a person." It was a really special personal moment between Ryan and Ian and I.
You don't want to be another Rachel, so what did you envision for yourself on Glee? In your mind, what makes you different?
Pearce: I remember standing there, trying to get the words out but I could never actually form a coherent sentence for Ryan, but my high school experience was a Cinderella story. I always believed I was an ugly duckling in a family of swans, you know? I was such a black sheep, and it was the same way in high school... I was just kind of that awkward theater kid with a bunch of athletes... it was very Glee. If you were in choir you were a jerk, no one cared about you, you were teased. I had a rock thrown at me once. I had someone call me a witch because I dressed like a hippie... Because I was in such a harsh high school environment I had to get tough and be kind of defensive... Then I dyed my hair and cut it, transferred schools and got into a really great theater department at my junior college and started blooming. I found mentors that saw something in me that other people didn't see. They thought I was special. I remember watching Glee for the first time and when Rachel says, "Being part of something special makes you special," and I thought that's what makes me feel special, being part of that theater program. It's been a very interesting journey.
Who do you think should win The Glee Project?