‘The Glee Project’ Recap: ‘Oh God, It’s Going to be Deep.’

ALTBuckle your seat belts, kids: It looks like this season is going to be a roller coaster. After the gigantic suckfest (the judges’ language, not mine) that was last week, the contenders redeemed themselves in the eyes of the mentors and America alike with their soulful anti-bullying PSA. I guess this bunch is better at being vulnerable — this week’s buzzword — than danceable. Why is that not surprising to me?

This episode hits the ground running as good ol’ Rob shows up with the homework assignment straightaway. It’s vulnerability week, and you can bet your knickers it’s going to be a doozy. Rob hands out the sheet music to Kelly Clarkson’s “My Life Would Suck Without You” (anyone else struck by the song title’s epic romanticism? It’s like Keats.) and hints that the super secret special mentor this week “wrote the book” on vulnerability. “Chris Colfer wrote a book!” hopeful young Charlie Bit Me squeaks, thinking he has unraveled the web of wordplay put forth by Rob. Too bad Mr. Colfer, author extraordinaire, is almost certainly too busy for The Glee Project. Next time, tiger.

The next part, where everyone dukes it out for sections of the homework assignment, is easily becoming my favorite part of the show. I watch it through a cage of my fingers, like I would a horror movie, because it’s just so uncomfortable. Aylin and Lily Mae are in a standstill and everyone else is nervous about it. Both want to sing a particularly spectacular sentence; neither wants to back down. Lily ends up winning because, 1) she almost went home last week and needs a good line to show off her skillz, and 2) Aylin is afraid Lily will pull her hair out. Good call, Aylin, Lily could totally take you down.

It’s homework day, and everyone is eager to show off just how vulnerable they can be. Wait, that sounds wrong. Can one really compete to be the most vulnerable? That seems disingenuous. There are definitely some voyeuristic, manipulative undertones lurking beneath the earnestness of this week’s theme. But I digress. It’s time to meet the super special secret mentor! Rob boasts that this week’s star power quota is in the form of “the most accessible actor on the show,” and with that rave review, Cory Monteith (all smiles and “Aww shucks, folks” shrugs) makes his way into the stuffy choir room. Aylin somehow manages not to go into anaphylactic shock from a sudden increase in hormone production, and the lights dim for the performance.

In stark contrast to last week’s highly choreographed, if not coordinated, routine, this week’s performance is staid and broody. Each contender sings his or her line with conviction and seemingly genuine emotion, and I’m actually rather impressed. No glitter or frippery this time around; just some honest-to-goodness talent. At the end of the performance, Cory picks Nellie as the winner and I realize that they would make a super cute couple. I hope they make good use of their teachable moment later on, wink wink.

NEXT: Everybody hurts… without Zach Woodlee.The vulnerability vessel for the big music video challenge is R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts.” Ain’t it the truth? But hold up, stop the presses, there will be NO CHOREO this week. Which means, no Lord of the Dance. I’m not even sure of what to do with myself — that man is the reason I watch this show. I’m hurting a bit right now, Glee Project producers. How dare you reduce Zach Woodlee’s screen time without my consent?

Instead, video director Erik shows up to tell the kiddies about his master plan and dig deep into their psyches for nuggets of emotional truth. Tears well up for all (Shanna, always the winner, is the first to let a droplet trickle down her nose) as they share stories of their bullied pasts. Everyone has a tale to tell, and each is equally heartbreaking. They’ve been called names from “terrorist” to “crack baby,” witnessed violence and experienced it firsthand, and somehow managed to come out on top. (They’re on The Glee Project, damnit!) Lily Mae adds that in her middle school, she was the bully, the queen bee, if you will. That is, until Mean Girls opened her eyes and changed her life, in a very different way than it changed mine.

Wiping tears on their sleeves, the contenders trudge into the recording studio for their quality time with Nikki. It seems therapy with Erik really did the trick, because most everyone sounds great. Blake, yes! Shanna, yes! Nellie, double yes! Nikki closes her eyes for a rapturous moment during Nellie’s turn at the mic — sounds like Nellie’s private makeout session with Cory really did the trick. Unfortunately, perky Ali can’t reign in her pep and breaks the winning streak. “Ali was… not great today,” says Nikki. Womp.

But things go from meh to worse when Mario enters the booth. He’s flat. Nikki notices, homeboy sitting next to Nikki in the booth notices, viewers at home notice, but Mario disagrees. Nikki, my good chap, that just cannot be, explains Mario. You see, he’s classically trained, and even the greats need more than one take to get it right. Nikki stares at Mario slack-jawed in disbelief and then shoos him away. I just know we haven’t heard the last of this.

As the cameras begin to roll for the music video shoot, s**t get real intense real fast. The kids act out their bullying vignettes, with opportunities to play both the bully and the victim, with a surprising amount of gusto. But, after a couple rather vanilla scenes of bullies throwing paper airplanes and taunting, the “fake” bullying gets a little out of control. It’s Mario’s turn to be the victim, and he prepares to have a pack of mean boys run by him yelling mean names. But, oh no, WTF is going on here? Charlie Bit Me runs by and steals Mario’s cane, which the poor thing is totally not expecting. Sheer terror washes across Mario’s face, then the mentors’ faces, and most certainly my face as well (which, embarrassingly enough, is hidden deep within a bag of sourdough nibblers). Party foul, Charlie, you can’t just steal a blind man’s cane and think it’s okay. Bottom three for you for sure.

The scenes continue in this too-real-for-comfort vein as Blake pushes around wide-eyed puppy dog Michael on the basketball court and Lily literally knocks Aylin to the ground and sits on her, yelling in her face. Aylin is crying and throwing her head back in anguish and I am dumbstruck with horror, until Lily helps her up and they hug it out because, after all, it’s just acting.

NEXT: Twist!I’m a little confused at this point, so maybe someone can help me out. I’m confused because it seems like all the contenders are really good actors; like, way better than the gang of hopefuls last season and maybe even better than some of the Glee cast members. Could that be true? It’s increasingly unclear to me whether the kids possess large quantities of natural talent, or if they were simply being actual bullies on set. My gut is telling me that maybe the contenders aren’t secretly good at acting, but are in fact secretly mean-spirited, overly aggressive bullies. Surprise! We’re making a documentary.

It’s time for the audience to watch the finished video and judge accordingly. My fingers hover over the keyboard, poised to take note of the weakest links. But, as Nellie sings R.E.M.’s opening lines, I realize I may not have much to type. This video is good, man. Good in a super Gleetastic way, which on this show is the only way. Standouts? Turns out Blake, who Robert dubs the best actor on the show, has a killer voice, and so does Charlie — did you know he sounded like Chris Martin, because I sure didn’t. Bravo, folks, you done good here. Slow clap for you.

The mentor/judges agree with me, and are practically smiling as they line the kids up for execution. Blake is quickly named this week’s winner, and he bounds offstage. Aylin, Abraham, Shanna, Michael, and Tyler are also safe. Now the judges get real. They think Nellie is too closed off; she immediately proves them wrong by crying on stage. Attagirl, Nellie, get emotional. Ali is chastised for her perkiness again; Nikki wants her to strip down the cheerleader exterior to reveal some rawness beneath. Lily is in trouble because she can’t lip sync and acted like a diva on set. But, oh hell no, Mario is not to be out-divaed. Nikki reminds him of his difficulty in the recording studio and he gets all, “Whatchyoutalkinbout?” “I feel like that implies I’m not ready,” he says haughtily. And here comes Nikki’s zinger, the one that’s been in all the trailers. “Just so there’s no confusion, not one of you is ready yet.”

Finally, the bottom three are named. Charlie (thanks in large part to Canegate 2012), Mario, and Lily will have to sing for their lives. Here’s how it went.

1. Lily emerges in a slinky blue dress to sing “Mercy” by Duffy. She has a good voice, but we knew this already. She also doesn’t really know what to do with her arms, so there is some awkward flapping happening. A few closeups unfortunately reveal the same face she donned while beating the crap out of Aylin, so I’m pretty scared and uncomfortable. As the judges begin their critique, the Murphster is not so impressed. She’s not an underdog, he says, and Glee is all about underdogs. At this point, Lily takes a page from Nellie’s book and starts crying on stage. Give me a chance to show you who I am, to belt out a ballad with a piano and not hide behind my body confidence, she yell/cries. Murphy is sold. “I love you, Ryan Murphy,” Lily pronounces as she runs off stage; Murphy blushes.

2. Charlie saunters onstage to sing Coldplay’s “Fix You.” He is pumped. He loves this song. I’m pumped because it finally dawns on me that Charlie is a dreamboat, in a sleepy Cory Monteith sort of way. Then, something crazy happens while Charlie sings, which is he makes it sound like a completely different song. He may have a Chris Martin voice, but the performance is all Charlie. Murphy is happy, and I can’t help but notice that Zach is grinning like a child. But now it’s time to discuss Charlie’s “boundary problem.” Charlie’s defense is a bit convoluted as he explains that he was overcome by a “moment of impulsivity” and that the “medium of TV” is confusing to him. Will that be good enough for now? Most likely, because the Murph said he was inspired and that Charlie’s rendition of “Fix You” was, “Maybe [his] favorite thing [he’s] ever seen on this show.” Bold words.

3. Now it’s Mario’s turn and he’ll be singing “Over the Rainbow.” He does a solid job. I can see his classical training — his vibrado is a bit opera-y — and the tone of his voice is undeniable. I only wish he had chosen to go a bit more Judy Garland with his version. The judges agree, but want to talk about why Mario can’t take criticism. He starts to cry (shocker), and Murphy reveals that he is a robot by asking, “What is happening to you right now?” Mario seems to redeem himself in the judge’s eyes, but I’m not buying it.

Single best moment of the show happens right now. Charlie helps Mario off stage and they hold hands, nearly skipping, full of giggles. So. Freaking. Cute.

Backstage, Mario loses all the points he just earned and acts like a total dick. He thinks that everyone else was way worse than he was and he can’t believe he was even in the bottom. Shanna says maybe that’s not what he means, and Lily tells him to shut the eff up. Charlie Bit Me and Aylin snuggle in the corner. Can we have more of this next week, pretty please? This show needs more romance. But back to the question on hand: Who goes? This week is tricky for me. I’m, like, 90 percent certain that Charlie is safe. After all, Murphy did say he was inspiring. But Lily and Mario both cried on stage, sooooo it’s a toss-up. The list is posted. Let’s go have a look-see.

Everyone is called back! The twist I envisioned last week takes form now, as the ghost of Taryn saves the day. Charlie, Lily, and Mario sing Avril’s ballad as a trio and all is right with the world. Peace, hope, and harmony are beautiful and light up this world.

This week’s final piece of advice is courtesy of Charlie: Avoid poor blocking choices.

[Image Credit: Oxygen]

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