'The Glee Project'

Tyler Golden/Oxygen

Oxygen's competition spinoff shines the competitive spotlight on the pressures of fame.

You might have noticed that those lovable Glee kids are getting a little old. With senior year at McKinley right around the corner, the show's producers faced an unenviable decision: Cast a new crop of songbirds to replace Rachel and company, or figure out a plot line that flunks the current cast so as to make them repeat 12th grade.

Picking the former, the show's creator, Ryan Murphy -- along with fellow executive producers Dante Di Loreto, Michael Davies (Who Wants to Be a Millionaire) and Shauna Minoprio (Top Chef) -- have fashioned a reality show about the hunt for new talent. Oxygen's entertaining new spinoff reflects well on the blockbuster franchise and illuminates the pressures faced by talented kids on the brink of showbiz success.

The show's weekly elimination format is not unfamiliar. Whittled from 40,000 applicants, 12 aspiring stars sing, dance and emote to earn the right to be written into the script of Glee for no fewer than seven episodes. What makes The Glee Project feel organic, however, is that the people making the decision about who goes on to Glee are the ones most qualified to do so. Glee's casting director Robert J. Ulrich, choreographer Zach Woodlee and vocal coach, arranger and songwriter Nikki Anders serve as mentors and bring a heft to each critique.

The first hoop the contestants jump through is a group performance of Stevie Wonder's "Signed, Sealed, Delivered." Given just one line to deliver solo, each castmember strives to sell his or her individuality to Ulrich and (OMG!) guest judge Darren Criss (Glee's Blaine Anderson).

A winner is selected who will be featured in the show's second hoop -- the making of a video for Katy Perry's pop anthem "Firework."

In preparation for the shoot, Woodlee and Anders show themselves to be less cuddly than Ulrich, often not hiding their disappointment with the contestants as they guide them through rapid-fire dance moves and a pressure-filled recording session.

Glee Project's target audience is, of course, the Gleeks. Packed with visual and sonic references to the original show as well as castmember cameos, it helps to have watched the show at least once. That said, there's suspense in seeing who stays and who goes. You also end up learning about the people behind Glee as well as the work that goes into developing the chemistry.

The brutal truth about showbiz is that you either have it or you don't. While that realization doesn't jibe with Glee's message of inclusion, it does make for compelling reality TV.

Airdate 9 p.m. Sunday, June 12 (Oxygen)