'The Glee Project': Dani Shay overcomes Justin Bieber comparisons
9:49 a.m. EST, May 31, 2012|By Hal Boedeker, Staff writer
Orlando singer Dani Shay is only 23 but she is becoming an old hand at reality television.
Last summer she was a contestant on "America's Got Talent" on NBC. This summer, she is competing on"The Glee Project," whose winner will receive a role on Fox's "Glee."
"Without a doubt, being on 'America's Got Talent' helped me," Shay said. "It helped me to have more reality TV experience and learn to go with the flow. Production on these kinds of shows is long hours. You're not always in the loop. You wake up every day, and it's a surprise."
"The Glee Project" is different in an important respect: The 14 hopefuls live in a house.
"It was a 24/7 job," Shay said. But she is exuberant in the premiere, which airs at 10 p.m. Tuesday on Oxygen.
"Glee Project" on-air mentor Robert Ulrich stressed that Shay "got in because of her talent and because she was special, in all honesty -- not at all because of 'America's Got Talent.' "
Shay, who used to work at Dandelion Communitea Cafe in Orlando, was one of the Top 48 acts on "Talent."
With Shay, the issue of her resemblance to singer Justin Bieber always comes up. But Ulrich said the comparison shortchanges Shay.
"She's exceptionally talented and she's a gifted, not only singer but songwriter," Ulrich said. "She just kind of epitomizes what the show's about, and that's about being unique and special. ... There's no one else like her really."
Choreographer/mentor Zach Woodlee agreed. "She might look like Justin Bieber, but that goes away so very quickly once you meet her," he said. "She's so captivating and so much her own."
That feedback is crucial to Shay. "Sometimes I feel I'm just looked at like a lookalike," she said. "I have looked like this long before Justin Bieber hit the scene. My YouTube videos are there to prove it. I hope people connect to my music in a real way."
She will play Club 57 West in Orlando on June 22 and some proceeds will go the anti-bullying campaign BeMoreHeroic. Her website danishay.com offers another way to connect to her music.
In the "Glee Project" season premiere, "Glee" star Lea Michele calls Shay striking but urges her to bring more to performing.
"The musical theater world is a world I was in in high school," Shay said. "Coming back into that world is very challenging. I didn't feel like I was being myself 100 percent all the time. It was challenging to be around people in musical theater who could turn on the glitz and put on the show. I was used to being my organically chill self."
"Glee" co-creator Ryan Murphy will pick the winner. He assesses contenders with the sharpness of Simon Cowell in his prime, and he looks for someone who will inspire the "Glee" writers.