Dear Ryan Murphy,
First off, I love your work. I loved Nip/Tuck, I was fascinated by the pilot for Pretty/Handsome, and I remain haunted by American Horror Story. But my partner and I are of two minds when it comes to The Glee Project. You see, we do like it—it’s an addictive show with formidable talent and fun challenges—but the concept confuses us. Are you looking for talented youngsters who can sing, dance, and act? Or are you looking for inspiration?
When The Glee Project premiered last summer, our impression was that you and the other producers of Glee would be searching amongst relative unknowns for fresh talent—people who can sing, dance, and act. Once it premiered, however, it became clear that you were looking for inspirational stories amongst the contestants, hoping to write the contestant’s personal histories into the show. (You’d say things like, “How do I write for you?”) And that’s what happened with that season’s winners: Sam, a devout Christian, appears on Glee as Joe, a devout Christian; and Damian, an Irish immigrant, plays Rory, an Irish immigrant. (And runner-up Alex, who oft dressed in drag, guest-starred in two episodes as a drag queen named Unique.)
However, most episodes are themed around acting challenges, with titles like “Vulnerability,” “Adaptability,” “Believability,” and even “Actability.” But what’s the point of testing the contestants’ acting chops if the winners would just be playing themselves?
And for that matter, if you are looking for inspiration (which is fine, as long as that is your stated goal), why are you eliminating the most interesting of the contestants?
For example, let’s look at some of the contestants who have been eliminated so far this season: Dani, a lesbian; Tyler, a transgender man, and Mario, a blind man. (And take note: I list these descriptors merely as attributes for these contenders and not their defining qualities—though they’d likely claim these attributes as “selling points” for b4eing cast on Glee.) Three out of the five contestants eliminated so far are persons of color, as well. Of the contestants that remain, only one (Abraham) isn’t Caucasian. There is still some diversity: Abraham is Asian, Ali is a paraplegic, Aylin is Muslim, Charlie has ADHD and low-spectral autism. There might be even more diversity, but I don’t want to cast aspersions; I’m only stating the attributes of each contestant that they’ve already revealed.
Of the contestants who remain this summer, Blake, Lily Mae, Michael, and Nellie have no discernible source of diversity: from all appearances, they’re heterosexual, white, and middle-class or above. Contestants whose stories would make Glee even more interesting and diverse are being voted off the musical-theater island. (Not to reinforce quotas, but the show already has Asian characters and already has a paraplegic.)
Now, I understand the rationale behind many of the elimination decisions. Those contestants made mistakes or were off their game that week. But they are still works-in-progress. At some point, the narrative potential of their histories has to be so alluring that they can be forgiven for their position on the learning curve.
As for the current season, what’s done is done; and I’m sure the winner will be a capable singer, dancer, and actor. But next season, if you’re still looking to be inspired, I hope the winner is someone whose story is truly unique and who is working on the rest.