Chele Harrington ’12 has advanced to the next round of auditions for the Oxygen Network reality show The Glee Project. Harrington, who has been an active member of Essence of Soul throughout her time at Swarthmore and has performed regionally and on the radio, hopes that the show will be her “big break.” Winners of The Glee Project are cast as characters on Fox’s hit musical comedy-drama, Glee.
I sat down with Chele to talk about her audition experience and her hopes for the coming months.
What was the audition process like? How did this all start?
I submitted various recordings to the show: me singing a capella, me singing stuff at the piano, me singing stuff with Essence, my radio show performances. I just sent them a compilation of those things, and I got an email back from Oxygen Network and they gave me an audition song and an explanation of the formal protocol for a live audition. I had a Skype interview with the person in charge of casting for the show, and that’s when they got my life story and said that I might be a relatable character, or at least a very unique character, because I am a bisexual, black Jew who grew up in the Bible Belt, and in high school I was diagnosed with MS. This would be about mid-October that this happened. I was excited and immediately started working on the audition song, “Before He Cheats,” which is what I performed [this past weekend] along with “Drops of Jupiter.”
So what exactly happened the day of your live audition?
I went to New York, went to the studio, and got my audition number: 2679. It was the last day of auditions. I was there at the very end with all the people who had pre-registered and done the pre-submitting process online. We were sitting in a room having a jam session, harmonizing with each other, keeping our voices warm. Last season’s winner [Damian McGinty], the executive producer, and people responsible for both choreography and vocal coaching for the show were there. They called us back five at a time and pretty much we just had a sing-off showdown battle. Pretty much you sang your song, they either said, “Unfortunately we can’t use you right now, thank you for auditioning, you can go home,” or they said, “Thank you, go to the next round.” They mostly picked one person out of each group of five and occasionally they would pick two. Out of many of the groups of five, they picked none. A lot of people came out crying in groups of five. I was mostly just thinking, “I wish these tone deaf individuals would hush so I could focus on my song.” This was my second audition for a show so I wasn’t quite as nervous.
Me and the other four people in my group were called back into the room with two casting people, and I sang fourth. I was a little worried about that because you want to be first or last to make an impression. I was really worried about the fact that I wasn’t playing with an instrument, since I couldn’t bring a piano with me. The guy who was last had a guitar and that made me nervous. The first three girls were professional dancers but not the best singers. I sang the first verse and the first chorus of “Before He Cheats” and then they decided right then if they liked me or they didn’t. When all five people had auditioned, they said, “Person one, two, three, unfortunately we can’t use you—you and guitar guy, you can go to the next round.” The three girls left and then they walked us to another room.
Oxygen Network took our pictures individually and then in the second part of the audition, round two, they focused in on our acting. I sang “Drops Of Jupiter” and they judged my actual performance, my acting, more so than my voice and vocal quality. During the second round they were actually looking at me and focusing on the acting and performance, the delivery of the song. After the second round, they didn’t tell any of us up front whether or not we made it through. They told us that our video submissions would increase our chance of getting in immensely. I came back to Swat and did the online interview and video submission process that they said would increase my chances. I’m waiting to hear back—like a regular job. They started with 40,000 people at the beginning of the audition process, and they need to narrow us down to 12. I don’t know how many people are involved in this round.
Can you explain why you would be a good fit for Glee?
I’m like most of the cast of Glee: Brittany’s bisexual, and I could be Mercedes or Rachel because I’m a black Jew. My family situation fits Mike Chang. I struggle with my sexuality, I struggle with myself being queer like Santana does. But there’s still nobody on the show like me. We have Artie on the show playing a disabled person—playing—but there’s no exposure of invisible illness on the show at all. They also don’t have Southerners anymore, since Chord Overstreet left to sing with that one band. (You know, that song that goes, “Tonight, tonight, there’s a party on the rooftop top of the world.”) Anyway, he’s the only Southern role they had. I’m from the state line of Tennessee and Mississippi and I think Glee could use a new Southerner. I’m both a member of several minority groups in America as well as a representative of a large part of America: the South. My family lives about $20,000 below the poverty line. I want to give a voice to what so many Tennesseans and Mississippians are going through back home.
If you are chosen to be on The Glee Project, what happens then?
The show is basically a documentary, like The Real World or Road Rules, except for that the result is a seven-episode role, based on your personality, on the hit TV show Glee. Members of the current Glee cast show up on The Glee Project and give assignments to the contestants. The Glee Project mimics the challenges the actors face on the actual show from day to day: recording, making music videos each week, constant choreography and vocal coaching, living on set. If I made it onto the show, I would be in L.A. recording the show from January until April.
How do you think you’ll react if you don’t make it onto the show? What will you do instead?
If I don’t get this, I’ll go to more auditions. I would look for more auditions. This is what I want to do with my life. Singing is one of the few occasions when I don’t feel any pain in my body. I have pain every day with multiple sclerosis, and music is one of the few things that keeps me away from noticing pain. I didn’t give up on my dreams when I got diagnosed, so why would I give up just because I didn’t get a third call back for The Glee Project?
What would it mean for you to be a part of The Glee Project?
It would definitely be a life changing experience. When you want a career in art, you’re pretty much always looking for that big break, or at least a moment when it looks like “I can realistically do this with my life and actually be financially stable and happy and successful” and all those good things, and The Glee Project would be that pivotal moment and that exposure. It’s like the ultimate starting point for somebody who wants to be a singer-actress.
Any parting words?
“Goodnight, Kat.” No, um, I’m trying not to get my hopes up too much. I know that I feel like I’m perfect for Glee, and my friends feel like I’m perfect for Glee. I have a lot of support. I will be so devastated, though. I don’t want to let people down, I don’t want to let myself down, I want this really badly. This is what I want to do with my life.
Monday, November 21st, 2011
Update: Information on how to vote for Chele is available here.