Project Glee alumni call traumatic treatment
Former competitors on The Glee Projectthe short-lived competition reality series that also served as an audition for guest roles on the hit FOX series Joycalled their experience “traumatic” in a new oral history.
“There were so many great elements to the show, but it was also very anxiety-inducing and there was a lot of trauma,” season 2 contestant Abraham Lim told Insider. “Links of trauma have been created.”
The Glee Project was designed following JoyThe 2009 debut and its instant popularity as a way to find young actors who would impress creator Ryan Murphy, now 56, enough to inspire him to write a role for them on Joy.
“What’s interesting about the show is that it was about someone’s creative vision,” The Glee Project executive producer Shauna Minoprio told Insider. “It wasn’t about who was the better singer or dancer. It was about who Ryan Murphy was most excited to write a character for.”
FROM PERSONAL ARCHIVES: Picks and Pans Review: Who Goes Joy?
Season 1 ultimately saw two co-winners in Samuel Larsen and Damian McGinty, with runners-up Alex Newell and Lindsay Pearce earning smaller arcs. Blake Jenner became the season 2 winner and became a full-time cast member, while eventual Tony winner Ali Stroker scored a one-episode role.
The cast members of the show’s first season were housed in a summer camp that featured an outdoor restroom with no roof. They weren’t allowed to read magazines or books, several cast members told Insider.
“The shoot was – in every way, shape and form – boot camp,” Pearce recalled.
During weekly cuts, bulletin boards listed the names of those inside and those who weren’t—in high school musical style.
“Ryan knows exactly what’s good and what’s bad,” said producer and editor Christopher Orne. “He’s not afraid to tell you that – and he shouldn’t be. You should be open to his criticism, because he’s a mad genius. You know he’s going to make the right decision.”
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Season 2 contestant Harper Grae told Insider she came out as gay to Murphy in a “last chance performance,” in which vulnerable contestants had to sing to secure their spot. next week of competition. Grae’s admission was made “through tears and panic,” she said, but the show did not include the footage.
“I’m so grateful they didn’t air that,” Grae told Insider. “They could have. It would have been a TV drama.”
Lim told Insider that The Glee ProjectHe was asked by his vocal coach if he identified as “androgynous” and that the production team wanted him to clarify his sexuality and gender identity on camera, which he did not want to do.
“They were trying to get some kind of confession out of me, and I was like, ‘You’re not going to get anything, because I don’t know,'” Lim said. “I’m not going to sell my soul on the river for a seven episode arc on Joy. I find out who I am.”
Looking back, Minoprio said: “They [were] children, and he said he was not comfortable. People should support that.”
Lim reflected, “There are a lot of things about this show that if they happened now, people would be canceled left and right. Some things were mishandled back then.”
Pearce, who eventually played Harmony on Glée, told Insider that she revealed details of a previous sexual assault to producers when the contestants were encouraged to spill secrets while filming a dark video to the song “Mad World.” She said she shared on camera that the aftermath of the assault meant she sometimes put on a front to the world.
When the show aired and Pearce was carrying a sign with the word “FAKE” on it in the video, his sexual assault complaint was omitted and the footage was edited to look like it involved “people like me because I’m pretty, which makes me feel fake.”
She told Insider, “It was heartbreaking, because I wouldn’t have shared my experience if I had known how it would be edited. It didn’t fit the narrative they were trying to tell.”
Pearce also said a kiss she shared with Mitchell was spurred on by the show’s music video director without Mitchell’s knowledge.
Mitchell, now 32, told Insider he had a girlfriend at the time and was “very upset and felt taken advantage of” by the show’s producers, who he said , also attempted to get him to kiss another contestant two weeks later – after he “made it very clear that it’s not something I wanted to do again.”
“There was this feeling from Ryan and genre writers, ‘This is what Joy is. This is the show you are applying to. It’s quite a sexual show, and there’s a lot of romance. Can you feel comfortable with this? Or is it not for you?” Minoprio told Insider.
Mitchell left the show after the second incident and said that choice “changed the course of my life”.
Pearce, for his part, called the production “an abuse, whether they thought it was or not”.
“They did a successful reality show, but the cost was high for some of us,” she told Insider.
Agree Mitchell, “It was very traumatic.”
Pearce added, “I was 19. Technically it was legal. But we were kids.”
More than a decade later The Glee ProjectPearce said she “had no hatred or resentment,” but noted that she was still receiving hate mail and harassment about the kissing incident with Mitchell.
“It’s easy to think, ‘Well, you knew what you signed up for,’ but we were kids,” she said. “We all signed that contract, but we had no idea what those fine print actually meant.”
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Representatives of Murphy, Oxygen, Fox Entertainment and Embassy Row (The Glee ProjectPEOPLE’s production company) did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.