Dani Shay is no stranger to reality TV competitions. The 23-year-old Floridian first appeared on "America's Got Talent" in 2011, wowing the judges with her voice -- and her uncanny likeness to Justin Bieber.
Shay made it to the quarterfinals before being eliminated from the competition after failing to secure enough votes. But the independent artist took it in stride, auditioning for "The Glee Project" the following year. The "Glee" hopeful sailed through Week 1, but felt the pressure when she had to memorize a dance routine during "Dance-ability" week.
Although Ryan Murphy & Co. called Shay a great artist, she didn't quite have the performance chops to impress the "Glee" creator, and she was eliminated in Week 2 of the competition.
HuffPost TV chatted with Shay about her time on "The Glee Project," gender identity, disappointing Zach Woodlee and yes, Justin Bieber.
On "America's Got Talent," you tried to play your original songs, but the judges had a hard time with that. How do you think you've grown as an artist from that experience to this one on "The Glee Project?"
I'd been writing my own songs for about six years before I got to "America's Got Talent," and then when I got on the show, it was a huge test for me. Am I open to doing covers and playing other people's music? Then I realized that there was nothing wrong with that. I could still bring my own style to another person's song. I finally got really comfortable with the idea of doing covers, which opened me up to the idea of doing something like "The Glee Project" because that's "Glee's" whole thing -- it's all covers!
You did several covers on "The Glee Project." Did any of them stand out?
During the audition process, I decided to cover Lady Gaga, which is funny because that's all "America's Got Talent" wanted from me. They just wanted me to do a popular song, and I wouldn't give it to them. [Laughs.] At the time, I felt like it would compromise my integrity as an artist, but for "The Glee Project," I wanted to take it on a challenge. I wanted to make the song my own. I sang "Edge of Glory" for my audition, and I really loved it. Going into the show, I wanted to maintain my personality and be myself, but I also wanted to be open to trying new things.
I think that was a lot of the criticism that you got from Ryan [Murphy] and the other mentors. You didn't necessarily look like you were open to new things. Had you stayed, would you have tried something new?
I definitely would have taken the criticism to heart and processed it. When I came back that night, I felt that my problem was that I was in my head. I hadn't been letting all of the fun aspects of me show. A lot of the other contenders were young and ready to bend over backwards for the role and to have the attention. They were all so charged up and exuberant, and I came in from a very relaxed, singer-songwriter atmosphere. My friends and I are all really chill, and we have deep conversations. Of course we like to laugh, too, but coming into that world was a huge adjustment for me.
I think last night's episode was a good example of that. The video shoot was like one giant party, and everyone was practically making out with each other on set.
Exactly. What can I say? It's not really my style. [Laughs.]
When I think of what the actual set of "Glee" is like, one giant make out party is exactly what comes to mind.
[Laughs.] Well, they do have episodes where everything is really silly and party-ish, but the thing that draws me to "Glee," and the thing that made me want to audition for the show, was not, "Oh, yay! I'm going to get to make out with a lot of people!"
"Glee" has a lot of great gay characters on the show, including a lesbian couple, and I know that you really wanted to fill that androgynous void in the show.
It's important to push the gender lines. People often want to call me a lesbian, which is accurate if you're looking at me as simply a female because yes, I do tend to gravitate toward other females. But the thing is that I don't view myself as only female, and I don't view myself as only male either. I feel like I'm a mix. It doesn't exactly feel accurate to call someone who feels that way a lesbian because of that male side of me. I don't think gender is so black-and-white. I think there are all these shades of gray that people want to overlook. That's not how the world works.
So you'd like to see a character dealing with that gray area on "Glee"?
Absolutely! Tyler and I had a couple of conversations about that. Somebody who is outside of that gender norm would be a huge step for any TV show, especially "Glee."
Tyler has been in the bottom two times now, but he's somehow managed to pull through during his last chance performances. Do you feel like he'd fill that void for "Glee," as someone in the middle of a transition?
It would be a great story for the show. He's right in the middle of his transition, and he's dealing with a lot of emotional and physical changes right now, but he has a lot of light and warmth. He'd be great on the show, and I they really want it to work.
My favorite relationship on "Glee" is the one Kurt has with his father and how their storyline keeps progressing.
Yes, definitely. I love them. My mom raised me as a Mormon, and obviously, there are very strong views against being gay and the homosexual lifestyle. It was very difficult for me at first, but then my mom completely accepted me. It didn't even take her very long to open up, and now she defends me to people who want to judge me for who I am. She's made a complete turn around.
We need to talk about the "Party Rock Anthem" video shoot because it was a bit of a mess. We don't see Zach Woodlee upset very often, but he was really disappointed. Was that hard to take?
Zach is always so pleasant and happy, so when he was like, "This is a disaster," all I wanted to do was say, "I swear I rehearsed it!" [Laughs.] It was nerve-wracking. They didn't show this, but there was one part where I needed clarification, and they were like, "It doesn't matter. Just do it." And I was like, "But I just have one question! Please?" It was a long day!
Do you have a signature move?
If I don't have to do choreography, I do alright. I can kind of do a little bit of pop and locking. I mean, I've never had any training, but I do this wavy body movement. It's kind of like a hip-hop move.
At the end of the day, at least you didn't have to cover any Justin Bieber songs.
Oh, that would have been disastrous! I would have been like, "Well, I'm not so sure that I can do that."
"The Glee Project" airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET on Oxygen.
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