thinking big: feminism, media, and pop culture

A Mostly Gleeful Project: Oxygen’s Glee Project & Cheering for Hannah

In girl culture on August 5, 2011 at 2:36 pm

Phoebe Bronstein

Most of the time when I watch Glee I rather wish the dialogue would stop, and instead they would just sing awesome songs all the time. This is also mostly how I feel about Oxygen’s newest reality TV drama, The Glee Project. I feel odd about this particular feeling given that I am generally a total sucker for narrative, but Glee’s dialogue is often not as compelling as its songs. However, on The Glee Project there is something oddly absorbing and intriguing about seeing Ryan Murphy on every episode just being Ryan Murphy (also, responsible for the dark and creepy Nip/Tuck).

The premise of the show is a bunch of awkward, nerdy, but charming kids compete for a story arc on Glee. Everyone is super talented, and the drama includes people competing to hit a higher note, somebody’s feelings getting hurt, and somebody telling on another cast member to Ryan Murphy (for example, when Damien told Ryan that Alex was picking on Mathias). Oh yeah, they also all live together. Drama, drama, drama. Also, each episode ends as the final three go to see if their names are on the call-back list for next week’s episode. For extra melodrama, their journey is accompanied by awesomely dramatic music. Oh melodrama, you are so reliably grand.

Hannah from The Glee Project

So of the contestants left on The Glee Project, Hannah is by far my favorite. She is a perky, goofy, cute red head from North Carolina. A few weeks ago she got her confidence, and realized she was sexy and great. She would be awesome on Glee. Plus she can rap; in the “Ice Ice Baby/Under Pressure” mash-up she gave Vanilla Ice a run for his money. I would totally watch her on Glee. And so it seems would Ryan Murphy; last week he told Hannah and her partner Alex that they were what Glee was about. That is, neither of them should be a star, per Murphy’s logic, because of their looks. Put another way, what Murphy informs them of is that they are not Hollywood or TV good looking, but rather they are both self described “fat kids.”

At once, Glee is about making stars of those that might not otherwise be—it is a show about misfits (even though many of them are HOT and at least were once popular, ie Finn, Quinn, etc.). And so too is The Glee Project. This is among the many lessons we learn about Glee from the show’s creator Ryan Murphy. Other lessons include that the show is very much about teamwork (no divas allowed), and you don’t want to be the guy or gal that we have to do extra takes for. The show is filled with little gems about the what Glee is about. The small lessons for the contestants let them know what they’re getting into while promoting the show. And Glee, per Ryan Murphy, is a highly ethical, teamwork oriented, friends forever set.

But to briefly return to this notion of misfits and Glee as the happy television home for said misfits. One of my issues with Glee is that many of the misfits wind up functioning to showcase the main couple, Finn and Rachel, and support their on and off again romantic coupling (click here for more on this). Further, by looking for misfits, it seems The Glee Project and Glee are redefining and reiterating what it means to be a misfit, not to mention what it looks like (although we learn that even football stars can be misfits). On the plus side, maybe Glee/The Glee Project are working to make the nerdy misfit cool. But perhaps that’s why I like Hannah on The Glee Project: she seems like a 19 year old (which she is), she is super talented and when she performs my eye goes to her, and she equates her sexuality to a Koala bear. Awesome. However, she doesn’t play up her potential misfit-ness. And in this way she reminds me of Glee superstars Lauren Zizes (Ashley Fink) and Mercedes (Amber Riley), who on the show are perhaps two of strongest personalities, and two of the most comfortable in their own skin (Kurt might also be in this category). Or at least as comfortable as teenagers potentially can be …

Ashley Fink who plays Lauren Zizes on Glee

Amber Riley aka Mercedes on Glee

By way of a conclusion, I am not really sure how I feel about The Glee Project. Truth be told, I often fast forward through the dialogue. However, it is an interesting show to think about and I am rooting for Hannah big time. In part, I think why I like her, Zizes, and Mercedes as potential Glee and current Glee characters respectively is their characters insist on beauty in so many different forms; for example, Puck is attracted to Zizes because she is stronger than him and does not put up with his shit. In fact, Puck + Zizes is my favorite Glee couple by far. In the best of all possible worlds, Glee is about making stars out of people who do not, for Murphy, fit the Hollywood mold, even if his leads most certainly do (ie Finn and Rachel). And perhaps his acknowledgement of this is rather savvy, albeit depressing. However, I am waiting for the day where a Hannah, Lauren Zizes, or Amber Riley are the leaders of a Gleeful pack.

  1. I am sad to report that Hannah left the Glee Project this week … So sad! But perhaps we’ll see her somewhere else on TV soon …

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