8:04pm PT by Lesley Goldberg
'The Glee Project' Season 2 Crowns a Winner
After 11 episodes and a pool of 14 contenders, Ryan Murphy and The Glee Project mentors crowned a winner Tuesday.
The Oxygen reality competition series, unlike last year when all four finalists earned roles on Glee, held their word that there would be only winner and selected Blake Jenner the show's second season victor. Jenner receives a seven-episode arc on the Fox musical dramedy, after coming out on top of fellow finalists Aylin Baramuglu and Ali Stroker and most inspiring Glee co-creator Murphy to script a role based on what he's seen from him on the series.
Often dubbed Finn Hudson 2.0, Glee casting director Robert Ulrich dubbed Blake the best actor of the bunch, while others had found fault with his ability to be vulnerable and harmonize in the studio. Glee writer Matthew Hodgson, however, called him a star and noted he has it all. The 19-year-old moved from Florida to Los Angeles in pursuit of acting and, like Finn (Cory Monteith), he drums -- and juggles -- but has never had a formal singing lesson. He's been the front-runner among the guys all season and has already been a trending topic on Twitter this season after his duet with Nellie to "Waiting for a Girl Like You" went viral.
"Who will win THE GLEE PROJECT 2? Writing such a great role for the winner! And just wait until you see who they are dating…" Murphy tweeted early Tuesday.
In Tuesday's "Glee-ality" episode with guest Chris Colfer, the three finalists were tasked with playing characters as envisioned by the mentors in the final music video performance, which was set to "Tonight Tonight" by Hot Chelle Rae. Blake was assigned a popular but humble prom king, Ali a flirty mean girl and Aylin a girl sneaking out of her parents' house to go to prom.
Aylin initially struggled in the studio having not memorized the lyrics, while Blake had issues with performing in a higher octave and Ali seemed to breeze through it. During the video, Aylin impressed both vocal coach Nikki Anders and casting director Robert Ulrich, with the mentors debating if she could take the backlash that comes with playing a nontraditional Muslim character. Blake had the mentors concerned with his cookie-cutter personality, with the mentors noting his strong acting skills could help him play any range of character on the Fox series. Ali, the mentors feared, may be too over the top.
For their last chance performances, the finalists were (in a twist) tasked with selecting their own song. Ali went with "Popular," from Wicked, noting that it would bring out the manipulative character the producers envisioned for her. Aylin selected Adele's "Rolling in the Deep" as a way to illustrate her sassy and vulnerable sides. Blake picked Edwin McCain's "I'll Be" as a way to show his many layers.
The three finalists performed not only for Murphy and the mentors but all their Season 2 colleagues and the show's guest mentors, including Darren Criss, Dianna Agron, Amber Riley and more. Ali's performance impressed Murphy, who noted it was "impossible to root against her." Murphy couldn't figure out what from Blake's performance was different, but the aspiring singer came prepared with an "I'm the Guy" poem that brought tears to almost everyone in the house, with Murphy noting it was brave of him to share. Aylin nailed the song and reaffirmed that she's ready to face the pressure that could come with playing a nontraditional Muslim character, with Murphy calling her "inspirational."
Following the performances, Murphy polled the writers and Glee cast, who were all split. In meeting with Ulrich, EP Ian Brennan, Anders and choreographer Zach Woodlee, they all found reasons that each of the trio should -- and is qualified -- to win. Ultimately though, it was Blake who most impressed Murphy enough for him to pen a role for young singer on Glee. "I loved your leadership throughout this competition, you're leading man quality," Murphy said before crowning Blake the winner, noting he "grew a lot as a talent" during the show.
Blake joins previous victors Samuel Larsen and Damian McGinty, who both went on to star in more than their allotted seven-episode winnings during Glee's third season; as well as Alex Newell and Lindsay Pearce, who each earned two-episode arcs. Larsen and Newell are poised to return to the Fox series when it returns in the fall. (McGinty made a cameo during Tuesday's final music video and he and Larsen were in the audience for the final performances.)
Do you agree with who won? Hit the comments with your thoughts. Glee's fourth season returns Thursday, Sept. 13 at 9 p.m. on Fox.