Every Wednesday, our resident Gleek Eric Garneau gives his take on last night’s Glee covers.
In “Pot of Gold,” Irish foreign exchange student Rory Flanagan (Damian McGinty) makes his way to McKinley High just in time to see the glee club falling apart — Shelby’s (Idina Menzel) rival group continues to steal members from New Directions, while Sue (Jane Lynch) works tirelessly to end funding for arts programs once and for all. But all Rory really cares about is making a couple friends, and maybe convincing Brittany (Heather Morrison) to share her own pot of gold.
We can avoid the subject no longer – it’s time to talk about The Glee Project. Other than runner-up Lindsay Pearce’s appearance in Glee‘s season premiere, the influence of that summer reality show has so far been nonexistent on its parent program. However, in “Pot of Gold” that all changes as Project winner Damian McGinty begins his seven-episode guest arc as Irish exchange student Rory Flanagan. This episode makes it clear that Damian won more than just a bit part; he gets two of the show’s five songs tonight, making a big splash in an introductory episode which I’d guess will endear him to many a viewer.
I wonder if serious fans of Glee aren’t already inclined to love Rory since we watched the actor behind him struggle to win a part on the show all summer. If that’s the case, the show’s writers certainly know it; they’ve crafted a character so sympathetic and appealing that we can’t help but be on the guy’s side. They also give him some pretty unique musical numbers to sing, which we’ll get to in a minute. In many ways, Rory/Damian definitely makes a welcome addition to the show. I know I was pulling for him for at least the second half of Glee Project‘s run, so I’m happy to see him here.
Other than the big story of Rory, there’s one other thing in the episode worthwhile for us to mention: its variety. For one, look at the tunes being covered here: we’ve got a couple major pop acts, an ’80s classic, a relatively unknown British folk singer and the Muppets! That’s a lot of diversity for a season that has so far mostly focused on showtunes. Additionally, Glee continues to shuffle around its lead singers, something I’ve been pulling for since I started writing this column. Here the “Big Two” (Lea Michele and Chris Colfer) don’t do anything but contribute back-ups to a mid-episode group number, while the criminally ignored Santana (Naya Rivera) and Puck (Mark Salling) get some time in the spotlight. An exchange between Santana and Mercedes (Amber Riley) early in this episode could’ve come straight from this blog: “How many solos did you get last year? It was just ‘Valerie!’” “No, I was also the lips in Rocky Horror.”
“Bein’ Green” (Muppets cover)
The episode’s first musical number gives viewers an in-show introduction to McGinty’s pipes. He delivers a sensitive, even cute reading of this classic sad sack song that can only win him more supporters among Glee‘s audience. Add to that the fact that the Muppets seem to be enjoying a cultural resurgence and we’ve got a winning tune on our hands. Besides all that, though, McGinty really does do a very good job with the vocals here, striking just the right emotional notes to present vulnerability without being too melodramatic. Additionally, the song’s pretty subdued by Glee‘s standards; check out that muted guitar tone in the opening, which is pretty unlike what you’d usually hear on the show.
BONUS: From the recent Muppets Green Album, check out indie-folk sensation Andrew Bird’s take on the track.
“Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)” (Katy Perry cover)
Where usually the big New Directions group number comes at the end of an episode, this time it strikes a lot sooner. I’m not a fan of Katy Perry, and Glee doesn’t do much to improve on this track. While it may not be fair to criticize the show’s overproduction and auto-tune when the original song’s no doubt got it in spades, it still seems that the cast could have changed things up a little. Instead, I found this a pretty weak number, which is surprising considering it’s led by Blaine (Darren Criss, who actually stars in Perry’s video for the song), usually one of my favorite vocalists. Blaine tries to justify the song by saying “it’s just fun,” but I’m not buying it.
BONUS: A few months ago, Cover Me spotlighted London rock four-piece The Vaccines‘ cover on the BBC Live Lounge.
“Waiting for a Girl Like You” (Foreigner cover)
In their next number Glee does an about-face from “Last Friday Night,” taking another over-produced pop song (albeit from a different era) and stripping away all its trappings to uncover a quiet, emotional performance. I dislike Foreigner about as much as I do Katy Perry (which is to say, a lot) but this cover really worked for me. Again, more Mark Salling lead vocals are definitely welcome, and I always enjoy when the show’s renditions of songs depart significantly from the originals. I can imagine this song turning a fair number of young female viewers onto Foreigner, only to inevitably disappoint them when they hear what the actual group sounds like….
BONUS: Would you think fellow ’80s pop star Rick Springfield would do much different with this song? No? You’d be right… but where are those over-serious vocals coming from?
“Candyman” (Christina Aguilera cover)
Here’s another song I really enjoyed; this one features a lead trio of Mercedes, Santana and Brittany. We learned on last year’s “River Deep, Mountain High” that Riley and Rivera’s voices complement each other well, and after a disappointing turn in “Asian F” Riley’s back to channeling her crazy-powerful voice here. As much as I dislike the “rival glee club” plot, I’d be happy to watch more numbers like this.
BONUS: Probably because of its big band arrangement, few artists have attempted to cover this song, but YouTube’s got a pretty amusing video of what appears to be a high school talent show song & dance number from “Brunela and Dance Crew.”
“Take Care of Yourself” (Teddy Thompson cover)
British folk/rock singer Teddy Thompson may be unfamiliar to some in the audience (at least he was to me), but the style of this song — a soft, crooner-esque ballad — certainly wasn’t to anyone who watched McGinty on Glee Project. This is the kind of number where McGinty excelled again and again, though “Take Care of Yourself” introduces a new addition to his singing arsenal: a wicked falsetto. Director Adam Shankman’s camerawork here implies that this performance creates a rivalry between Kurt (Chris Colfer) and Rory, and while I don’t think the two are exactly on par vocally, I can see where two high school kids in those positions would feel that way. Both of McGinty’s numbers (which bookend the episode) prove why he’s on this show. I know it’s early, but he may just be my new favorite.
BONUS: The Internet actually yields no covers of this song, but you probably haven’t heard the original artist perform it, so check it out!
Tune in next week for a brand-new set of Glee covers!