Friday, June 10, 2011

An Interview with the Judges from The Glee Project

Photo by Tyler Golden/Oxygen 

On Sunday night Gleeks everywhere will get a glimpse into the casting process of their favorite show Glee. Oyxgen's The Glee Project will give 12 hopefuls a shot at a recurring role on the Fox musical TV sensation. And who better to help choose the winner than Glee casting director Robert Ulrich, vocal coach Nikki Anders and choreographer Zach Woodlee? They will assist series creator Ryan Murphy in the nationwide search for a triple threat who can act, sing and dance. We spoke with the three Glee Project judges/mentors in a recent conference call interview about what they were looking for, their relationships with the contestants and what the current Glee cast thinks of their potential new coworkers.

To begin with they explained that they are not searching for someone to play a particular character. They are looking for a unique personality and talent. And after they find that person Murphy will craft a part around that personality who will get a seven-episode story arc on season three. Robert said, "They’re completely writing it for the person who wins. That was what made this a different process, that they weren’t auditioning for a specific role, which made it even harder because you were dealing with 12 individuals who could all be on Glee, who are all wonderful and made it over 40,000 people. So their job was to actually inspire Ryan to create a character for them."

Zach remarked that the fact that the contestants don't know what part they were auditioning for is what added to the uniqueness of the show. "Normally if you go out for a television show or a live theater performance there’s already a part that you’re right for… If you go for the ingénue or if you’re going for the quirky friend or something, that character already exists and you’re trying out for something that someone else has usually done before."

He also admitted it was difficult to train people in all three aspects of performing. Because most people tried out as mainly singers, it took some work to get them ready to act or move. "For us, or at least for myself, a big challenge was a lot of these kids they’re not dancers, they’re not really performers as far as that goes and they’re used to staying within their comfort zone. And on Glee no one is safe. You could show up on the show and then all of a sudden you open the script and you’re on point and singing while juggling. You don’t know what is going to be asked of you, so I know that on my end part of the challenge was getting everyone comfortable in their skin. I mean Glee doesn’t have the best dancers in the world, but there’s a joy in dancing that everyone has. And whether you can be technically trained or not, it’s just being able to be comfortable and finding the love of dancing and what fits on your body and how you can make it work for you."

He also acknowledged that the varying levels of talent and abilities from one contestant to the next keep The Glee Project interesting from week to week. The 12 contenders are put through challenges testing their acting, singing and dancing skills and Zach divulged that this was difficult at times. "[On] most reality shows everyone is competing against the same genre. In Top Chef it’s like this is the dish I made or in Top Model, this is the picture I took. But this is so individualized as far as we’re searching for a person and their genuine self. And it becomes so subjective as to what they bring each week because in one week they can be flying high and maybe that challenge is particularly suited for them. But then as the show progresses you see that some of our loves at the top, they quickly fall to the bottom. It’s really a rollercoaster each week of who can really bring a consistent television-worthy performance each week."

And Robert, Zach and Nikki are not just judges on this show, they are mentors. They personally coach the contestants in their specific areas. Robert noted, "[On] most shows people are judges or most shows people are hosts. They have these specific roles and I think what makes this really different is that the show. The Glee Project is so authentic to Glee in the fact that Zach is the choreographer on Glee and Nikki works on the music on Glee and I am the casting director on Glee. So we’re all being who we are on Glee and doing the same things we do on Glee on this show."

Nikki pointed out, "The mentoring process is a unique aspect to this show. We’ve got a mentor for the dancing and choreography — Zach. We’ve got a mentor on a personal level on the acting and that’s Robert. And I am mentoring them on the music side. And I think it’s more of just sitting behind a table and saying, 'Yes, no, try this.' We’re actively involved in these kids’ lives and working with them, talking with them about what makes them tick and trying to get to the heart of why they want to do it and what makes them special. And I wouldn’t say there was therapy involved but I would say that we do get really involved and deep inside these kids’ lives. And we started to really grow fond and become attached to these kids and that made it an incredibly special and inspiring experience for all of us. Not just your typical sit behind a desk and point and click at the contestants or the contenders. This is active involvement in their lives."

And because they worked so closely with the competitors it made sending someone home very difficult. Robert confessed, "One of the most stressful things for the three of us is that we did become so attached. And the fact that we would have to determine as the show went along who was going to be basically potentially eliminated was really tough because that became very stressful week after week when we had to deal with them on a personal level."

Zach agreed, "You do become emotionally attached and you want all of them to win, in a sad way, because they’re all such good, good kids and you’re really just trying to hone in what they’ve got and give them all the ammunition they need because in the end it’s all Ryan’s decision. And we just want all of them to have their best foot forward so when it is time for them to meet Ryan, they’re prepared and they can handle it."

And all the while, as the three mentors worked with the potential Glee cast members, they also were still on set with the current stars of the show. They conceded that the actors were very interested in learning about their potential new co-workers. Zach revealed, "I’m with the cast every day and I do know that they had a lot of positive buzz about it. Of course everything had to be kept under wraps but they were very, very curious and they wanted to know what kind of singers, what kind of dancers, what kind of look. I think they’re excited because in its own right, Glee has grown from six kids on a glee club to we’re pushing 13, so every time there’s someone new that’s added it’s a bit of, 'How are they going to fit in here?' And it also keeps the club alive in itself. And I do think they’re going to be very welcoming but I know they’re extremely curious."

If you're curious to see who gets the spot tune into The Glee Project premiering on Sunday, June 12 at 9 p.m. EST/8 p.m. Central on Oxygen.

For related stories check out:
You Can Audition for Glee
Glee Season 2 Premiere Lives Up to the Hype

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