The Glee Project Season 2 winner Blake Jenner knew he may not have had the most obvious story line among the Oxygen reality competition show's three finalists and turned to a previously unseen side of his personality to put him over the top: poetry.
The 19-year-old from Florida performed Edwin McCain's "I'll Be" during Tuesday's finale but it was his emotional "I'm the Guy" poem that he read immediately afterward that he thinks ultimately landed him the seven-episode arc on Fox's Glee, besting fellow finalists Aylin Baramuglu and Ali Stroker. The poem delivered just what showrunner Ryan Murphy and the rest of the Glee Project mentors had wanted from him all along: to see what went beyond the boyish charm, strong acting and other Finn Hudson-esque attributes.
The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Jenner early Wednesday to discuss his inspiration to share his poetic side, how Finn's graduation on Glee created a need for a character similar to the newly crowned winner and how he'd feel about playing New Directions' heir apparent leader -- and joining the show's Justin Bieber Experience.
The Hollywood Reporter: Congratulations, how are you feeling this morning?
Blake Jenner: Thank you, I feel like I just woke up from this really amazing dream and just realized that it actually happened. I'm watching it again and I can't believe that I won.
Considering all the focus the mentors had on Aylin and exploring a potential Muslim character for Glee, how surprised were you when they announced your name as the winner?
In that moment, I thought for sure either Aylin or Ali had it. In that moment, on that stage I was deciding which one of them to look at when I was waiting to hear one of their names so I could give them the biggest hug ever because I did not expect to win at all. I expected that one of them would win; I thought they had great story lines. Take one look at them and you have a story in mind. Once I heard my name, that reaction when I did the video game character-style jump on the platform, that was pure shock.
After your performance and seeing what Ali and Aylin did in their last chance songs, is that what convinced you that you weren't going to win?
Watching their performances last night -- that was the first time I'd ever seen their performances. I look at that and still can't believe it; they both did so well, they're both so different and so unique. Aylin belted [Adele's "Rolling in the Deep"] and Ali is so sweet and playing a character with her song ["Popular"] from Wicked, it was fantastic. I'm really grateful and thankful and wouldn't trade it for anything but I'm still in shock.
What inspired you to write and share your "I'm the Guy" poem? Do you think that helped push you over the edge considering Murphy and the mentors were so evenly split between the three of you?
I think that really helped me. When I was younger, that's when I began writing poetry and it's a way for me to express how I felt. I'm the type of person that is there for friends when they need me and I'll hear them out but I've never been one to ask for that in return. My way of venting was always through words and it started with poetry and I've kept up with it and going into different branches of it: writing stories, plays, scripts. I figured that was a part of me that I didn't have a chance to show Ryan, the writers, mentors and everyone. I remember telling [Season 2 contestant] Lily first that I was going to do it -- I only told her and [contestant] Abraham -- and show them more of me that I don't know. The first thing she did was start laughing and I thought, maybe I wouldn't do it. She said she wasn't expecting to hear that. I really feel like I surprised them by showing that side of me, that I am into poetry and being deep like that really helped me in the competition at the very end.
When you can make tough vocal coach Nikki Anders cry, you're doing something right.
I felt terrible that I made a bunch of people cry! I knew they were tears of joy but I thought about all the makeup [on everyone], these people are going to hate me, they're going to be so pissed!
After your performance of Edwin McCain's "I'll Be," it seemed like Murphy wasn't quite convinced that you delivered in showing everyone a different side of you. Was it your plan all along to show him that via poetry vs. the song?
It definitely was. I wanted to show that emotion, that desire to be expected and that desire to be loved and having something missing, and missing that love and trust through the song; I wanted to show him that. Those are emotions I felt my whole life with acting and love. Ryan told me he needed to see more, that I hadn't shown enough and he didn't exactly know who I was yet. I knew this would be my last shot to show him and this was the only thing they hadn't seen.
Do you think the way Glee's third season ended -- with Finn (Cory Monteith) graduating and heading to boot camp -- helped you win?
I know that the whole cast is coming back and he's not gone forever, but since he graduated I feel like the choir room needs that go-to guy, that guy everybody needs help, advice, leadership from. That's who I was for my friends in high school and I'd really love to be that guy [on Glee]. I wouldn't want to be a carbon copy of Finn and have differences from him and my own issues, and maybe include the poetry. I'd love that, because that's me: seeing this one guy on the outside and how different he is and how complex he is on the inside. I'd love to be a Finn-type character for the choir room.
Have you started filming yet? How much do you know about your Glee character so far? Does your character have a name?
I've definitely not started filming. It's going to be as much as a surprise to me as it is to everyone. It's just how Samuel and Damian described it last season. I haven't gotten a script yet but I'm excited. It's up in the air, I saw that Ryan tweeted to wait to see who the character is dating and I'm still wondering just like everyone else. I'd love acting and can not wait to sink my teeth into what ever they come up with.
Do you know what episode you first appear in or who you'll be working with?
I have no idea. It would be awesome to start soon because my birthday is on the 27th; it'd be the best birthday present.
You played a humble prom king character in the final music video. Do you think that's a good indication of what viewers should expect to see from you?
I think so because that's exactly who I am. I know that some people might think it's boring but I remember in the finale being asked what I'd like to show Ryan. I know that there are people in the world with great stories just like Aylin and Ali and remember when they were asking what we wanted to do, I said that I wanted to show Ryan that I do have a story, that I am different from people who are on Glee. I know that my story doesn't pop like everyone else but I do have a story and it's mine and I'd love to share it. I'd love to play that. I know some people think that it's boring but there's more to that than just what you see. I hope it's something that stays true to who I am.
Who are you most looking forward to working with?
Anything with Cory Monteith would be a dream come true. I think he's one of the best actors on Glee and I love watching him. I love that he doesn't question what he's doing at all and you can tell when he's acting that it's truthful for him. I really hope I get to work with him.
How do you envision your potential character interacting with him?
I have no idea how we would cross paths considering he's graduated but maybe he comes back to visit. Maybe Finn and my character get along and he explains how important glee is, that'd be amazing.
We could see your character being Finn's long-lost half-brother since you definitely have that Finn vibe.
That'd be awesome!
Who do you think your potential love interest could be and who do you want it to be?
Anyone from Heather Morris (Brittany) to Vanessa Lengies (Sugar) to anyone in the choir room. When he tweeted that, I thought maybe since Naya Rivera's Santana graduated that Brittany is lonely and she sees my character and they get along and become friends and it goes from there. She's an amazing dancer and I know I wouldn't be able to keep up at all and think that'd be really funny.
Considering your hairstyle, do you think you'll be part of Glee's Justin Bieber Experience with Sam and Artie?
(Laughing) I have no idea but I'd be super down for that! It'd be hilarious! That's a definite possibility.
With Finn and Puck both moving on from McKinley, Sam's poised to inherit that "hot guy" crown at school. How do you think Sam will respond to your character's arrival?
A lot of people think different of me once they get to know me, so maybe when Sam meets my character he's taken aback and at first wonders what he's doing there thinking, "I'm the guy who's top dog here, and I've been here for so long, why are you trying to step in on my thing?" But maybe there's something that happens to Sam or my character where they have to help each other out of a sticky situation but maybe he's resistant to me at first.
You could give him the "I'm the Guy" speech.
Yes! (Laughing.) I actually have the original "I'm the Guy" poem paper laminated and hanging up in my apartment. I don't want anyone to think that I tossed it out; I want to keep it forever.
Any songs you'd love to perform on Glee? New Directions are covering Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe" in the premiere, are you down for that?
I'd be so down for that or any song like that! I'm excited to explore songs I've never done before, maybe Britney Spears or Christina Aguilera songs. I think it'd be really funny to do boy band songs. Maybe we can go a really fun route with one of those songs and the guys in the choir room. Acting-wise, I'd love to have romance and frustrations because those are the things that kids go through in high school. I'd love to have a character who gets to display all those things because that's the juice when it comes to acting.
What would you like to see for Blake on Glee? Hit the comments with your thoughts. Glee's fourth season returns Thursday, Sept. 13 at 9 p.m. on Fox.
- Ryan Murphy