By Nicole Veenstra
Lily Mae Harrington, a 19-year-old from Cape Cod, Mass., began her freshman year of college like any other student. Almost six hours from home, Harrington was anxious and excited to jump into her first year at Westminster Choir College (WCC), where she planned to study classical voice in the fall of 2011.
Fast forward to Christmastime of that semester, however, and you’d find Harrington at her Cape Cod home, in front of the computer, speechless after being offered a coveted spot on season two of “The Glee Project.”
“I couldn’t believe it,” Harrington said. “There’s a video of me when I find out. I don’t really react. It didn’t really sink in. My mom had a bigger reaction than me.”
“The Glee Project” airs on Oxygen and follows 14 young people competing for a spot on Fox’s “Glee,” a musical comedy-drama television show about high school students in a glee club.
Once filming began, a typical day for Harrington involved waking up and eating breakfast, then having cameras following her and her competitors for the next 12 to18 hours. The strict schedule involved a “homework assignment” — the contestants were given a song to practice and perform in front of an actor already on “Glee.”
After the assignment, they learned another song, recorded each part of the song in the studio, taped a music video for the song and found out who was in the bottom three. Each person in danger fought for a second chance by singing their hearts out in front of a panel of judges, including Ryan Murphy, the creator of “Glee.”
Harrington was eliminated in week 10 during a double elimination, placing her in fourth or fifth. She described her 10-week stay in the house as a personal exploration.
“When you’re living with 13 other people, you’re not going to get away with how you normally act,” she said. “You can’t be crabby when you wake up or not want to talk to someone.”
Throughout the 11 weeks of competition, the contestants exhausted themselves with long hours and difficult routines, something Harrington says she now finds herself missing.
“I’m so bored now,” she said. “Being on that schedule was crazy, but it also felt great. It felt like we were accomplishing something we wanted to do [for the rest of our lives], and not a lot of 19-year-olds can say that.”
Even though Harrington and the other “Glee” hopefuls spent numerous hours learning from and performing for respected professionals in the TV and music industries, she said her biggest lesson came from another contestant.
In the second week of the competition, Dani Shay was eliminated. While Shay was saying her goodbyes, she told Harrington to “listen more, speak less,” a phrase that resounded in Harrington’s mind throughout the rest of her stay.
“Every time I had an obstacle in my way, I thought about it,” she said. “Thinking about what you’re going to say before you say it is something I had to realize.”
Although the last year of Harrington’s life has been a whirlwind of opportunity and experiences most can only wish for, she is not an overnight success story.
“I come from a really musical family,” she said. “Everyone plays an instrument so I’ve just always been surrounded by music.”
Her musical career began in middle school and continued throughout all of high school, which is where she met John Murrell, her teacher for more than two years and the man who sparked her interest in attending WCC.
Lindsey Christiansen, a professor of voice at WCC, first heard of the Cape Cod native during Harrington’s senior year of high school.
“John Murrell has sent several wonderful students to Westminster,” Christiansen said. “Lily was one of those students. [She] is not only a great voice, but also a great presence. She lights up a room, but is also very supportive of her peers. She’s modest and confident, which is extremely important.”
Christiansen, who is in her 36th year of teaching at WCC, said Harrington came as a classical voice major, though it was obvious early on that she missed the musical theater world, which Harrington admits is true.
“I always knew I wanted to cross over into both [music theater and classical voice],” she said. “I chose to study classical voice because then I knew I could still learn about musical theater.”
She felt a piece of her was missing because she wasn’t performing in any college plays, which is partly why she applied for a spot on “The Glee Project.”
“My mom was always really interested in me applying, but at first I wasn’t into it,” Harrington said. “Finally one day I was at Westminster and thought, ‘What the hell, I’m just going to give it a shot.’”
As the saying goes, the rest is history.
Currently, Harrington is living in an apartment in Los Angeles with another former “Glee Project” contestant, Aylin Bayramoglu.
She is focusing on breaking into the world of television and film, while also spending time with those she met on the show.
“On the show they didn’t show how much we hung out and how much we all loved each other,” Harrington said. “We still see each other all the time.”
Harrington is taking advantage of the opportunities coming her way, while dreaming of the day when her name is up in lights on the world’s most musical street.
“I will be on Broadway before I die,” she said. “It will happen.”
Harrington said she is eternally grateful for the time she spent at WCC, even though it was cut short.
“I miss choir so much,” she said. “My love for Westminster will never die. The friends I made in those six months will be my friends forever.”
Dr. Amanda Quist, an assistant professor of conducting, said the feeling is mutual.
“I met Lily at the beginning of last year when she started as a freshman,” Quist said. “She was my student in the chapel choir. I think Lily is an incredible talent. She is capable of singing in a variety of styles, and with great skill.”
Despite the distance between Harrington and her friends at WCC — she now lives nearly 3,000 miles away — she credits music as the reason those relationships remain strong.
“I have bonds with the people from Westminster and the people from ‘The Glee Project’ that are different than anyone else,” Harrington said. “Music brings everyone together. Some of the closest bonds I have were made because of music.”
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