Say what you want about The Glee Project, but it’s one of the few reality series on television that doesn’t add an extra hour or two of padding to its season finale. So tonight, instead of a bloated two- or three-hour endurance test to get us to an announcement that took all of 10 seconds, we got an action-packed hour that shone a spotlight on the respective strengths and weaknesses of the Season 2 Top 3: Aylin, Ali, and Blake.
What we didn’t get, alas, was relief from the “boys rule” doctrine that’s dominated music-centric reality competition series for half a decade now.
In crowning Blake Jenner as the Season 2 champ, executive producer Ryan Murphy rewarded the competition’s second most-consistent player — sorry, folks, but the top spot still belongs to sixth-place finisher Shanna — who also happened to be its No. 1 draft pick for creating a heartthrob sensation in the vein of Darren Criss.
[Side note: Anyone else catch Ryan Murphy's Tweet from earlier today? "Who will win THE GLEE PROJECT 2? Writing such a great role for the winner! And just wait until you see who they are dating..." Please post your theories/suggestions below!]
Anyhow, while it’s true that in the wake of Shanna’s ouster, I’d joined Team Aylin — and her rip-roaring rendition of “Rolling in the Deep” did nothing to dissuade me from hoping she’d win the seven-episode guest arc on the Glee mothership — but I can’t get upset over Blake’s win. His singing voice may be more solid than spectacular, but he exhibited twice the acting talent of Season 1 champs Samuel Larsen and Damian McGinty during their combined Glee Project runs, he’s got a tremendous head of hair, and he seems like a genuinely nice guy. I’d definitely rank him in the Top 3 or 4 contestants of Season 2, so don’t look to me for any garment-tearing or teeth-gnashing or hand-wringing.
Okay, maybe just a wee bit of teeth-gnashing, since it seemed as thought the judges/mentors pretty much ignored the final video shoot of the season and the final set of last-chance performances in the process of choosing their winner.
But let’s start at the very beginning. (“A very good place to start.” –You) We kicked things off with a homework assignment of “You Can’t Stop the Beat” (from Hairspray) in which no one particularly stood out, maybe because 10 of the 11 previously eliminated contestants, or perhaps just Lily, were drowning them out. (I kid, I kid!) Guest judge Chris Colfer declared all three finalists as winners, which resulted in a strange moment of “You get a mentoring session! And you get a mentoring session! And you get a mentoring session!”
Then it was time for the main shoot — a video of Hot Chelle Rae’s “Tonight, Tonight” set at a senior prom that found Ali as the flirty mean girl, Aylin as the chick who had to sneak out against her parent’s wishes, and Blake as the popular but humble prom king.
And while Aylin needed her lyrics sheet in the studio, I thought she best embodied a real life high-school student getting her party on. That girls’ room hair shake, followed by a spell behind the turntables, wasn’t merely convincing, but proved yet again that Aylin’s got some on-screen magnetism that pulls focus from the folks wading in the background. (Side note: Regarding said background players, I kept finding my attention drawn to Shanna, and somewhat surprisingly, to the often subdued Dani, who looked unspeakably gorgeous.)
Ali, meanwhile, dug into the best-defined role of the mini-movie like a Weight Watchers subscriber using up their Swing Points in one sitting. I liked that she managed to score some genuine laughs with her screentime, a skill that seems to get short shrift in the Glee Project universe, despite the fact that Glee is — at least as far as Emmy sees it — a comedy. Credit to Ian Brennan for visualizing Ali in a broad, bitchy role, as we all know Tracy Flicks do exist in real life.
Blake, for his part, gave what felt like his least compelling video performance of the season. His stage dive into the crowd was disappointingly half-hearted, and where the heck was his prom-king swagger?
Oh, and I almost forgot that Damian McGinty showed up as a surprise guest, though honestly, he seemed about as vital to the proceedings as he did lurking in the background through the latter half of Glee‘s third season. (Cue sad trombone here.)
Finally, it was time for last-chance performances:
* Ali chose “Popular” from Wicked, in keeping with Ian’s vision of her as a promiscuous bitch, and this seemed like a smart strategic move to me. Indeed, while there are still moments where I find Ali’s singing voice to be slightly strident, there’s no arguing she was the most successful in fully bringing to life a fully realized character during her time on stage.
* Blake chose a Dalton-esque blazer, a hoodie, and Edwin McCain’s “I’ll Be,” all of which flew in the face of trying to show Ryan Murphy new and intriguing sides to his personality. The performance itself was good, but I wanted to jump up and cheer when Ryan asked if Blake’s microphone-tossing trick was supposed to “the thing I haven’t seen before.” Au contraire, countered our eventual winner, who then whipped out a poem about being the guy who’s been hurt, who’s steadfast, who’s funny, etc. I’d have prefered a dramatic reading from Hamlet, or maybe even Overboard (which is an awesome movie, BTW), but I’ll give points to the guy for calling himself “the whitest half-Cuban ever.”
* Aylin, for her part, gave the night’s most mesmerizing vocal performance by tearing the head off Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep,” then roasting it with a honey glaze and some sprigs of rosemary. (Okay, that made no sense…but she sounded really, really great, with impressive amounts of emotional intensity.) Amber Riley’s “Sing, Heffa!” grin pretty much told the tale.
When Ryan finally polled the Glee cast members and writers who’d attended the final performances, it seemed like loyalties were pretty evenly dispersed among the Top 3, but then Charlie — who was eliminated in Episode 6, and therefore probably didn’t have much sway with the people making the actual decisions — had to go and yammer on about how Aylin had the power to “take the bridge of fear and intolerance that has defined the post 9/11 decade in this country and burn it to the ground.” Talk about putting the “dbag” in “windbag”! The only thing dude burned to the ground was his girlcrush’s chances at victory! Argh.
For a second, I hoped Ryan might go back on his word and declare more than one winner — or at least name one winner, and a pair of consolation prizes giving Aylin and Ali (and maybe Shanna?) two-episode arcs on Glee as well — but it wasn’t meant to be. At least not for now. Let’s end with a poem.
He’s that guy with the windswept Bieber mane
He’s that guy who says that he’s known pain
He’s the guy who’ll be joining New Directions
He’s that guy who’s the object of affections
He’s that guy with a seven-episode arc-ie
He’s that guy who’s more sincere than snarky
He’s that guy who’ll hook up with [name redacted]
He’s that guy, let’s be thankful he can act, yes?
And now it’s your turn to hit the comments with your thoughts. Did the right person win Season 2 of The Glee Project? If not, who should’ve taken home what Zach Woodlee thinks is “the biggest prize on television”? And how did Season 2 compare to Season 1? Sound off below, and for all the recaps of reality-competition series you can possibly handle, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!