SEE UPDATE ON TONIGHT’S RESULTS AT BOTTOM OF POST
A Tacoma woman who has sung with a swing band since the age of 12 is a contestant on “The Glee Project.” The season premieres tonight on the Oxygen network.
Nellie Veitenheimer, 20, was working as a Starbucks barista near Pacific Lutheran University when she auditioned for the reality show last fall. The show pits 14 contestants against each other to win a seven-episode role on the Fox-TV musical hit “Glee.”
The scripted drama, based at a fictional high school, makes use of the latest popular hits sung by its cast members.
Despite her young age, it wasn’t a genre Veitenheimer was familiar with.
“I grew up listening to oldies. That’s all we listened to until I was allowed to listen to other music,” Veitenheimer said in a phone interview today.
She started to listen to popular music in junior high just to fit in. “Even then I just kind of pretended I was into new music, but I continued to listen to old music.” She even lied to a friend about what radio stations she listened to, not wanting to reveal she listened to oldies stations.
Since the age of 12 Veitenheimer has sung with a Puyallup-based swing band Touch of Class. The rest of the band has at least 20 years on her. “They are all old,” she said with a laugh. “They’ve been doing it a long time.”
Veitenheimer’s fellow contestants are a panoply of diversity: black, white, transgendered, blind, Muslim, disabled. The casting reflects a recurring theme on “Glee”: the acceptance of differences. The contestants lived together during the taping of the show and one is eliminated in each episode.
Though filming of the reality show has wrapped and the winner chosen (or winners – four “Glee Project” cast members from last season’s show were cast on “Glee”), Veitenheimer can’t reveal the outcome. She said she’s enjoying keeping the secret.
“It’s actually really fun. Even my parents don’t know anything. It’s awesome because they get to enjoy the show.”
The 2010 graduate of Franklin Pierce High School has auditioned unsuccessfully for other reality shows and didn’t think she had a chance at this one. Veitenheimer submitted an online audition of Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours.” She accompanied herself on the piano.
“I didn’t really believe mine would even get seen because there were so many web submissions. I didn’t even tell anyone. My parents didn’t even know I auditioned until I made it to call backs.”
Out of 40,000 live and online auditions, only 80 contestants were flown to Los Angeles to meet and perform for the show’s casting director, choreographer and vocal producer in December. That group was whittled down to 30 who then performed for “Glee” co-creator and producer Ryan Murphy.
Once again, Veitenheimer performed “I’m Yours.”
“It was really nerve wracking. It’s the audition of a lifetime. (Murphy) has a really, really big say. In the end, it’s his wants and needs for the show (that influence his choices),” Veitenheimer said.
Veitenheimer’s voice is low and mature – a contrast to the some of the higher and more juvenile sounding voices on the show. She said her years with the swing band have influenced the way she sings.
“Before the show, people would say my voice sounded different but I never noticed because it wasn’t in context with others,” Veitenheimer said. “I don’t think it’s a disadvantage. He’s looking for things that make people stand out. If anything, it’s an advantage.”
The hardest part of the show for Veitenheimer was learning choreography. “For me that was a surprisingly stressful part of the competition. I can’t stand dancing in front of other people. That was something I had to get over quick.”
Despite that she calls the show a positive experience.
“It was a little bit of everything. It was chaotic at times. It was really, really amazing at times.”
Each of the 11 episodes features a mentor from the cast of “Glee.” Tonight’s mentor is Lea Michele, who plays Rachel Berry.
But Veitenheimer’s favorite aspect of the show was getting close to her fellow contestants. “Every single one of us is really close and we still talk to each other. It’s really a big thing to go through together.”
Unsure of whether to make music a career, Veitenheimer was working at Starbucks in 2011 while she mulled her options. Now she’s decided to pursue acting and music and she’ll be moving to Los Angeles soon.
“The Glee Project”
When: 10 p.m. tonight
Where: Oxygen Network
UPDATE: Veitenheimer advances to the next show. Maxfield gets the boot.
The first episode was themed “Individuality” and the first song assigned to the group was Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way.” The song was divided into 14 vocal parts. The cast was given the task of deciding who got what part and had to choreograph their own dance moves.
Shanna was declared the winner netting her a tutoring session with “Glee” cast member Lea Michele. Shanna was also declared the first on the call back list for the next episode.
For the next challenge the group filmed a music video of Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again”. The story involved the contestants portraying high school students preparing for a glee club performance. At the end of the performance they transform to glam rock stars.
Prior to the music video filming the contestants recorded their vocal parts for the video. “I’ve never had to record something in a studio environment so it’s pretty nerve wracking,” Veitenheimer said. Vocal producer Nikki Anders picked up on that.
“I just want to get those nerves out,” Anders told Veitenheimer.
Apparently Veitenheimer worked through those nerves. She was in the first group to make the call back list for next week.
Maxfield was eliminated after delivering a lackluster performance of “Always on My Mind” by Willie Nelson.