Teens gleefully inspired to sing

Even before Charles Edwards had watched a single episode of "Glee," he felt its impact at Northwest High School. "Every week I have a student come in and request a song they've seen on the show," said Edwards, 30, vocal music director at Northwest.

"I feel like our numbers are going to increase. Interest is growing, in large part because of that show."

"Glee," which just completed its fall season on Fox, is a musical comedy-drama about a high school show choir. It combines theatrical song-and-dance numbers with plot lines about high school life — all with an edgy, modern twist: Think "High School Musical" meets "Heathers."

Tracks from the show have been some of the top downloads on iTunes, and lately its influence is becoming clear at local high schools.

Edwards' choir recently performed Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" with the jazz band — the "Glee" version, with a capella voices subbing for the piano notes.

And East High School plans to replace its annual "Nights of Broadway" program in February with "Nights of Glee," a collection of contemporary songs.

"It's totally inspired by the show," said Doug Riney, East High's vocal music director. "It's going to be in the same style — taking songs and tweaking them a little bit, as they do.

"We told the kids about the idea, and they were very excited."

Alex Gates, a senior at East who will perform in the show, said she has been a fan of "Glee" since its pilot episode last spring.

"Some people say it's really cheesy, because of course people aren't going to walk down the halls and break out in song," said Gates, 17. "But wouldn't it be great if they did?"

Last week Gates and about a dozen other girls practiced a dance routine to Kelly Clarkson's "Miss Independent," which they'll perform in February's show.

Though the final two-dozen song list for "Nights of Glee" hasn't been decided, it will include the Black Eyed Peas' "I Got a Feeling," Green Day's "21 Guns" and Stevie Nicks' "Edge of Seventeen."

Riney and Derrick Gronewold, East's director of theater, brainstormed the set list during a recent road trip to Kansas City. The initial list included more than 100 songs, and students joked that the show should be titled "Nights of Mr. G's iPod."

Narrowing down the list "has been painful," Gronewold said, because the show's format allows for so many possibilities. He plans to include at least one or two medleys.

"I'm sorry, I guess I mean mash-ups," he said. "Now that we're doing 'Glee,' I should use the correct terminology."

Several episodes of "Glee" have featured mash-ups. In one episode, the boys blended Bon Jovi's "It's My Life" with Usher's "Confessions Part II." The girls performed Beyonce's "Halo" and "Walking on Sunshine," by Katrina & The Waves.

Ian DePriest, a 17-year-old junior at East, said he likes the musical numbers in "Glee," especially ones performed by Amber Riley, who plays Mercedes.

The show's depiction of high school life — with jocks and cheerleaders pitted against glee club kids — is not realistic, DePriest said. In promotional images, the "L" in "Glee" is formed with the thumb-and-finger "loser" gesture, and fans of the show call themselves "gleeks."

Even so, DePriest said, "I think everybody, even adults, can identify a little bit to those cliques that happen in high school. That's what makes the show so great."

DePriest spent his childhood "singing a lot, but by myself," in the shower or along with the radio. He said joining musical theater at East "helped me open up and express myself."

He said he hopes the popularity of shows like "Glee," "High School Musical" and NBC's new a capella competition, "Sing-Off," will inspire others.

"Maybe not to the extent that they'll go up and perform," DePriest said. "But at least go and see shows and appreciate the arts a little more."

Edwards, the Northwest choir director, said so many students are inquiring about vocal music these days, he is considering starting an after-school group like the one in "Glee."

"I have students who aren't in madrigals, but when it comes to pop music, they sing their hearts out and could easily be in a group like that," he said.

Gronewold said this fall's auditions at East drew more than 100 students, significantly more than past years. Was "Glee" the reason?

"I don't know for sure," he said. "But it didn't hurt."