I have seen the first nine episodes of "The Glee Project" and while I agree with you that reality TV is exploitative in general, this show does serve a purpose. For one thing, all of the kids on this show are immensely talented and this may be the biggest, broadest exposure they ever receive in their lives -- I expect a lot of them will be able to use the experience of being on the show to broaden their careers and future opportunities. Secondly, the "winner" will be written into SEVEN episodes of the show (they state this repeatedly on the show itself). This is such a competitive business - for actors, writers, singers, etc. - and a show like this can really give some people an opportunity who might otherwise have never received any recognition at all. The producers, directors, choreographers from Glee who participate in The Glee Project seem very respectful and sincere - and I wouldn't be surprised if several of the kids end up making appearances on the show next season.
I was obviously wrong to assume that the winner of the Project would win a pittance of role. A seven episode run is a reoccurring role and more than most actors could ever even dream of their entire careers. So, that winning the Project leads to an actually fantastic thing really is amazing for the winner of the show - SPOILER ALERT - or winners in this case as the first season was won by two actors.
Zoje is probably also right to assume that some/all of the other finalists of the Project will get some sort of guest appearance on Glee and good on them.
However, neither the winner's prize nor the opportunity for the non-winners justifies, in my eyes, the exploitative nature of this programme nor it's undermining of the actor's safety net that is the casting system.
Here's the thing, all reality TV shows are for the vast majority of the contestants the 'biggest, broadest exposure they ever receive in their lives.' And that is exactly the issue that I have with these shows. They promise their contestants an 'equal' chance at whatever prize, where in most cases it has been decided from the very beginning who is going to win the show. In some shows, like New Zealand's Next Top Model for instance, it is blatantly obvious who will get eliminated every week. Some shows manage to hide their agenda and be a bit more subtle. However, since the winner is at least to a very large extent decided from the get go, all the eliminated contestants went through the humiliation that is a reality TV show for mostly nothing.
As we all know, on reality TV no one gets represented the way they actually are, the producers and editors decide that. The eliminated contestants' prize is the 'biggest, broadest exposure they ever receive in their lives' but this exposure neither represents who they truly are nor leads to bigger and better things in the vast majority of cases. Just think how many of the by now surely more than 100 finalists on American Idol can claim to have made a career of the exposure they got courtesy of that show?
I also disagree with the statement that the Glee Project 'can really give some people an opportunity who might otherwise have never received any recognition at all.' Since the prize of the Glee Project is a role on a scripted TV show, the producers might just as well have held the open casting call they held to assemble the cast of the Glee Project and left it at that. The 12 Glee Project contestants would have had the same if not a much fairer chance of getting that seven episode role and the bit parts perhaps now being offered to the eliminees. They certainly would not have had to go through the exploitation, humiliation and degradation that is the Glee Project.
Perhaps the producers, directors and choreographers on the Glee Project acted 'very respectful and sincere' in other parts of the programme but forcing the contestants to reveal on national and international syndicated TV their biggest secrets while standing around half-naked in public was enough to do my head in. Forcing the contestants to reveal such personal information and fears, surrounding them as being gay and being called fake certainly doesn't do anything for the contestants or their careers. It's simply another exploitative means for the Glee Project's producers to make the show attractive, certainly not something they do because they care about these kids' futures.
Yes, exploitation is a huge part of all reality TV. It's kind of the point of reality TV if we're being honest. The point I am making about the Glee Project is that the Glee producers already had an open casting call for Glee's next season that gave these 12 contestants all the chance they needed to win a role on the scripted show. To make them jump through extra hoops and drag them through the dishonest mud of reality TV, lying to them about everyone having an equal chance at the big role, is unethical - especially in a business were actors work their arses off every day, for years and without pay and the only safety net we have is that if we get a professional audition, we can do our job without exploitation and humiliation, and go home with the same chance as everyone else.