Tacoma singer might go from ‘Glee Project’ to ‘Glee’ itself
A Tacoma woman who has sung with a swing band since the age of 12 is a contestant on “The Glee Project.” The new season premiered Tuesday 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 scripted musical hit “Glee.”
Despite her age, pop music 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 just before the show aired Tuesday.
She started to listen to pop 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 which radio stations she listened to, not wanting to reveal she listened to oldies stations.
Veitenheimer has sung with the Puyallup-based swing band Touch of Class since the age of 12 . 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 on “The Glee Project” 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 all lived together during filming, which has been completed. A contestant gets eliminated at the end of each episode.
Veitenheimer wasn’t in any danger of getting eliminated on the first episode. Despite a nerve-wracking recording session, she was in the first group called back for the next show.
Though the winner has been chosen (or winners – four of last season's “Glee Project” contestants 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 callbacks.”
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 and musical directors in December. That group was whittled down to 30 who then performed for “Glee” 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.” The first episode’s mentor was Lea Michele, who plays Rachel Berry.
Despite the celebrity coaching, Veitenheimer’s favorite aspect of the show was getting to know 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. Tuesdays
Where: Oxygen Network A Tacoma woman who has sung with a swing band since the age of 12 is a contestant on “The Glee Project.” The new season premiered Tuesday on the Oxygen network.