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The Glee Project

Musical mentors: Robert Ulrich and Zach Woodlee from The Glee Project


by Jerry Nunn
Filling the shoes of the successful Fox television show Glee cannot be an easy job, so when it was time for several of the cast members to graduate high school a huge casting call was created with hopefuls auditioning online and in major cities.

A reality show tracking the progress entitled The Glee Project was born for the Oxygen Network. On the first season finalists were narrowed down eventually giving two winners a seven episode arc and two winners a two episode arc.

For the second season there's a whole new batch vying for the prize.

Jerry Nunn talked to mentors casting director Robert Ulrich, and choreographer Zach Woodlee.

JN: (Jerry Nunn) Hi, Robert. We had breakfast when you were casting for this season in Chicago.

A: (Robert Ulrich) Hi, how are you doing?

JN: Great. I noticed you cast Dani who had been on America's Got Talent. Do you think that gives her an unfair advantage?

A: (Robert) No, she came in and auditioned like everyone else nationally. She got in because of her talent and not at all because of America's Got Talent.

JN: Zach, how was it choreographing Mario, who is blind?

A: (Zach Woodlee) It's funny because someone that I look up to a lot once told me, "It's not so much the challenges as much as it is the opportunity."

I do think that's something that the show in general brings me, is so much fun sort of opportunity.

Getting to work with Mario was just fascinating because you actually realize how much more skilled he is at moving and his spatial awareness than a lot of the other contenders. It was so wonderful to watch him actually learning to dance and move. He, like everyone else on the show, uses his differences as his strength.

No one really plays a card of, "Oh well I'm going to sit this one out because I can't do X, Y or Z." Everyone's so full-force with what they're going to present that he was willing and able to do so much more than I had even thought capable that it was always a surprise.

JN: Tyler who is transgender had some difficulties adjusting to the new body.

A: (Zach) You kind of have to remind yourself that he's transgender. Everyone in the room is so ready to divulge their whole lives in front of you so there's no places you can't go with someone and nothing's really off limits.

I say in the very beginning when we first meet each other, "Let's go ahead and get all of our demons out. Like let's laugh at each other, let's make fun of each other," and it just builds more teamwork than anything. All in all I can't say that there was anything more difficult than dealing with our regular show.

JN: How does this affect the regular show going into season four?

A: (Robert) I don't know the storylines until basically the day I get a script, unless I'm specifically looking for a character. In this case obviously Ryan Murphy is writing a character, the whole point of the show is that he's writing the character for someone. I don't know what the storylines are, that's the complete honest truth. I wish I did.

A: (Zach) The sort of the beautiful thing of the show is that week-by-week off camera Ryan will talk to Robert and I separately. He really gets to know who these contenders are more. It's inspirational to him and he sees like how he can actually make a fit into the show.

You see Ryan's mind working week to week as he's seeing who's in the bottom and who's going to perform for him. I think it's more about inspiration than it is trying to fit a certain mold.

A: (Robert) I think what Zach said is so true. Our job really is to preserve them and to mentor them. Even though we have to pick somebody in the bottom three, our job is to try to make somebody the best they can be so that any one of them can win. And that makes it, you know, really challenging and emotional every week because you don't want to see anybody be in the bottom, but obviously that's the point of the show.

JN: How do you think Lea Michelle did as a mentor?

A: (Robert) Lea is the perfect person to be in the position of mentor because she has experience in film and television and theater so she really is a person who can honestly not only evaluate them and give them constructive criticism, but also really teach them because she really does know.

I think that what's really fun about her is that she's so inspiring to these contenders because Lea is Glee really. I mean she's the epitome of Glee.

JN: How do you find someone that is good at acting, singing and, dancing?

A: (Robert) Well we see thousands to get it to the point of the 80 people who then ultimately the 14 come out of.

In seeing the thousands, there is a disadvantage that we're basically hearing their story and hearing them sing.

The goal is to be able to see something beyond that because when they do get on the show they do have to do all three things that you mentioned, act sing and dance. But there's a lot of talent out there and any one of these 14 contenders could win. They're all amazing so it is challenging. And for Zach, I'm sure he considered the dancing as very challenging. Is that right Zach?

A: (Zach) Yes, I mean we both talk of Dani, like she was on America's Got Talent and we're not looking for someone that just tried out for So You Think You Can Dance, to find a perfect triple threat nowadays is virtually impossible.

We don't have the time to really turn these contenders into everything we want them to be. We just want them to really own their skillset and what they have. That really is what makes them the most special and it makes them accessible to people.

I think if we had 14 contenders that were all exactly the same as far as cookie cutter skill levels, then there's not much personality in it and there's not much believability. You find that diamond in the rough, even though I think that Robert ended up finding 14 different types of diamonds in the rough. And then it just goes into Ryan's hand on which one he feels like he can shape into the scripted show.

JN: Charlie from Chicago has ADHD and Mario has been blind since age nine. How do you go about selecting individuals?

A: (Robert) We have broadened the way work with talent and the way that we approach it because we've had the opportunity to work with a deaf choir and a quadriplegic young man and people with down syndrome on Glee.

Glee has been the most remarkable opportunity to be able to work with someone like Ryan who is so open to people that aren't in the cookie-cutter mold and that are different. So from that standpoint I think we already were doing it.

Having said that, working so intimately with these contenders has been the most just beautiful experience that I know I've ever had, and I'm sure Zach will elaborate on that.

A: (Zach) I completely agreed. Working with Ali in the wheelchair like I'm trying to come up with things in a wheelchair every other day of my life. We've had numerous wheelchair numbers and people in wheelchairs. Ali actually taught me a thing or two, which is I'm going to make a chair and put that on the show.

JN: How would you compare this year's roster of talent compared to season one?

A: (Robert) Well I think last year's talent was also amazing, but this is just even more diverse, even more unique. And I'd say that these kids overall are just exceptional musically, just exceptional.

JN: Great job on casting this season. It looks like a good one to watch.

A: (Zach) It is, thank you.

A: (Robert) It's going to be so good!

The Glee Project season two airs every Tuesday on the Oxygen Channel. Visit www.oxygen.com for listings and details about the show.
 
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