Released: March 7, 2011
Lincoln, Neb. - It seemed like a one-in-a-million chance to appear on Fox's hit show "Glee" through open auditions in Chicago for "The Glee Project." Instead after one long and wild day, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film junior Nikki Kelly finished as a Chicago finalist, finished in the top 10 percent of the live auditions in both Chicago and Dallas, and her voice and photo are appearing in commercials for the reality TV show, which begins airing this summer.
"The Glee Project" is a new upcoming reality show on the Oxygen network that premieres this June where performers compete for a multi-episode guest-starring role on season three of the hit series "Glee" on Fox. Open auditions were held in Chicago and Dallas in December and January.
According to information Oxygen released about the show, "Oxygen is looking for talented young men and women with strong vocal, acting, dancing abilities and big personalities."
Kelly, a junior directing and theatre management student from Keokuk, Iowa, is a fan of the show.
"When I came to college, watching 'Glee' was kind of how I got to know the other college kids. We would all get together and watch 'Glee,'" she said. "It's one of those shows that's theatrical, which I rather enjoy, of course. And it's a show that everyone can connect to, which is also really important."
She found out about the auditions on the internet and decided to audition since she had friends in Chicago.
She arrived in Chicago and showed up with two friends at the auditions at the Chicago Academy for the Arts on Dec. 19. They were filtered into a room with hundreds of other people auditioning.
"It was literally just like what you see on 'American Idol,'" Kelly said. "They brought TV cameras into the room and were having us do all sorts of things like on the count of three, yell 'We love Oxygen!' and all that kind of stuff."
They filled out paperwork and answered questionnaires with questions like "Tell us something interesting about yourself." Kelly, who was born with one hand, replied to that question with "I paint my own fingernails."
Her wait lasted around three hours, before it was time for her room of contestants to go into the audition.
"Once it was our room's turn to go in, then it worked really quickly," she said.
Kelly and three other people went into the smaller room, which had a judge. All contestants picked from 10 songs to sing. Kelly chose Heart's "Alone," which she sang for the judge.
"The judge said, 'Okay, Nikki. We'd like you to stay and go on to the next round, the others, thank you for coming,'" she said. "And I just thought, 'Okay.'"
Before she left, the judge asked her a question: "How do you paint your fingernails?"
Kelly replied, "I don't know. How do I?"
The judge laughed and told her to keep that answer.
She was filtered to another waiting room on the next floor and continued to wait.
Oxygen host Tiffany Smith interviewed contestants as they entered and exited the next audition room, where they would audition for "Glee" Casting Director Robert Ulrich.
"When it came my turn, I did the cute little interview and was all about it, was all excited," Kelly said. "I went in [to the audition room] and they said, 'Go stand on your mark.' I was surrounded by cameras, and there was a guy sitting at a table, and we just chatted for a bit."
Where did she go to school? What does she do?
Next, she sang "Alone" again for Ulrich, and he thanked her. She returned to the holding room to wait.
A few minutes later, someone came out and said, "Congratulations, you've made it to the next round."
Kelly had just watched five people audition ahead of her and just one other person had made it through."The whole time I'm wondering what's happening," she said, while crew members congratulated her.
Next she was ushered in to yet a third waiting area.
"On this second floor, there were way less people," Kelly said.
While she was waiting, someone from the show came up to her and told her they liked her personality and wanted to interview her separately with a TV camera to make sure they had enough interview footage with her.
"This guy just stands there smiling and watching as I'm being interviewed," she said. "Tell me about yourself. Who would you be if you were on 'Glee.' Just all those sorts of questions."
Finally, in the third and final round in Chicago, she went into a room with just a woman and a camera, and participated in a final interview."They escorted me in there and she said, 'I just want this to be chill. We just want to talk to you,'" Kelly said.
They asked her things like what she did in school and what her strengths and weaknesses were.
She went back to wait. Finally, someone from the show said, "Congratulations, you have made it to the final round in Chicago." They told her they would be sending her a form for background information that she needed to fill out and send back to their Los Angeles offices. She would be contacted by Jan. 16 to see if she made it to the final rounds in Los Angeles.
"I was like, 'Okay. . . what?!" Kelly said.
Next, she was told she had to keep all of this a secret and that everything that happened was under wraps for now.
"They even told us if you have to leave school [to go to Los Angeles], you have to magically disappear," she said.
They had one final thing to do before they left for the day. Kelly and four other finalists were taken into a "first round room," that this time had a camera. They sang again, where they were told "Congratulations, you've made it to the second round," and they reacted accordingly.
"Which was funny because the whole time we're thinking, yeah, this is 'reality' TV," Kelly said.
From there, she went home and the long month of waiting began, when she couldn't tell anyone but a few close family members and her two Chicago friends with whom she came to the auditions.
"It was hard and fun not telling people," Kelly said. "It's fun now that I can tell people."
Finally, it was announced that the show had called everyone they wanted, and Kelly did not make the semi-finalist cut.
However, she learned later that between 4,000-5,000 people auditioned in both Chicago and Dallas. There were only 400 that made it to her level, which meant she finished in the top 10 percent of those who auditioned live. An additional 37,000 sent in applications online through MySpace.
Producers chose about 100 people, from both the live and online auditions, for the semi-finals in Los Angeles in January before they pick 12 finalists for the show.
"I was really heartbroken because I thought I was going," Kelly said. "Then, it was kind of fun because I could tell people about this really great thing that happened to me. It was a really fun process."
Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film Director Paul Steger said he is not surprised by her success at this audition.
"Nikki has been a wonderful student in the Johnny Carson School, taking advantage of every opportunity available, from acting to design, from management to working with the student-run Theatrix Company. Her skills garnered her one of the coveted apprenticeships at the Williamstown Theatre Festival last summer," he said. "Her diligence to make an opportunity happen with 'The Glee Project' demonstrates her desire to succeed in the entertainment industry. Her experience with this show is the perfect example of a student using what she has learned and putting it into practice. The School is extremely proud of what Nikki was able to accomplish during the arduous process of auditions and casting with 'The Glee Project.'"
And for Kelly, the experience isn't over yet. Oxygen ran a "Glee" marathon on Feb. 5.
"I got a text from one of my friends saying, 'Oh my gosh, Nikki. Your face was just on TV!'"
She turned on the television to watch the marathon and saw advertisements for "The Glee Project." She hasn't seen the one with her picture, but did hear her voice on another commercial.
"I say something incredibly cheesy like, 'This is my dream, this is what I've always wanted to do.'"
For now, this will do.
"Even though I didn't get it, it's fun because I got to be on it a little bit," she said. "And who knows, the first show could be all about the auditions, and I could be on that."
Steger said these kind of national opportunities are important for his students and the program.
"When our students participate successfully in auditions at the national level, like 'The Glee Project,' it demonstrates the wealth of talent and depth of craft they've developed while a student here at UNL," he said. "It is extremely important for our students to learn that their talent and craft, and their willingness to put it all on the line, will be the only way they can succeed. In this business, you audition 99 percent of the time so you can actually work one percent of the time. It is great to know that our students are representing the School's values and competing at the national level."
Kelly also doesn't know what other opportunities this could open up for her, having auditioned for a national casting director.
"I'm hoping that somewhere down the line, some kind of connection will come back to it," she said.
At the very least, she has an incredible story to tell.
"It was just a day of my life, but it was like a day of my life that was a whirlwind of fun and had me really excited," she said.