Theater student finalist on 'The Glee Project'

Nikki Kelly (left) with friends Olivia Vandenberg and Emily Barrett outside the Chicago Arts Academy before their auditions for the Oxygen Channel's "The Glee Project" on Dec. 19. Photo courtesy of Nikki Kelly.
Nikki Kelly (left) with friends Olivia Vandenberg and Emily Barrett outside the Chicago Arts Academy before their auditions for the Oxygen Channel's "The Glee Project" on Dec. 19. Photo courtesy of Nikki Kelly.

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, UNL 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 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.

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.

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." 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." 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."

Between 4,000-5,000 people auditioned in both Chicago and Dallas. There were only 400 who 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!'"

"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."

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.

The Glee Project website:

- Kathe Andersen, Hixson-Lied College of Fine and Performing Arts