8 Casting Decisions That Hurt Glee (And 12 That Saved It)

Main Cast on Glee

When Glee burst onto the small screen in 2009, it captured audiences’ imaginations with its vibrant characters, daring storylines and, of course, its insanely catchy songs.

As the brainchild of serial show creator Ryan Murphy (American Horror Story, Nip/Tuck), Glee followed a collection of high school misfits, jocks, and their oddball teachers as they found social acceptance through the medium of glee club.

What really set Glee apart from other teen show’s was its willingness to tackle real high school issues, such as teen pregnancy and bullying, in a way that was believable but never lost sight of the show’s humor.

When the first season debuted it became a bonafide hit, with almost 10 million tuning into the first episode. Murphey described the reception he received as akin to being in The Beatles.

All this was helped by an eclectic selection of songs that celebrated everything from classic rock to show tunes and '80s pop. The show spawned chart topping albums, live tours and even a 3D concert film at the height of its fame.

However, like any show, after six seasons much of what made Glee sparkle in the beginning started to lose some of its shine. Things weren’t helped by an ageing cast, real world tragedy, and plot lines that outstayed their welcome.

By the time the show’s sixth and final season debuted in 2014, it had lost much of its audience and was no longer the must-see show it had once been.

However, during this time, who was singing in perfect harmony and who was out of tune?

Here are the 8 Casting Decisions That Hurt Glee (And 12 That Saved It).

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20 Saved: Lea Michelle (Rachel Berry)

During Lea Michelle’s first audition for a role in Glee, she berated the producers for laughing.

Her second audition took place moments after she was involved in a car accident. She still did the audition, despite her hair being covered in glass. Both were perfect examples of the type of behaviour expected for the ambitious glee club stalwart Rachel Berry.

Lea Michelle’s Rachel is Glee’s anchor: she is driven, focused, and sometimes unlikeable.

Overall, she is a surprisingly believable character for someone who bursts into song every five minutes.

Starting out in musical theatre at eight years old as Young Cosette in Les Misérables, Michelle’s musical theatre pedigree is without question, and it’s something that she brings to Glee in every song she sings, whether it's pop, a ballad, or rock.

After Glee wrapped, Michelle continued her successful working relationship with showrunner Ryan Murphey when she took a lead role in Scream Queens.

19 Hurt: Matthew Morrison (Will Schuester)

Will Schuester’s arrival at William McKinley High School was the catalyst for the show. As a French teacher and leader of the Glee club New Direction, he was that young, handsome and earnest teacher only found in Hollywood.

In the part of Matthew Morrison, he came across as an elder boyband member who had suddenly found himself in charge of the school’s glee club.

Coming from Broadway productions of Hairspray and Finding Neverland, there’s no doubting Morrison’s musical theatre chops.

However, it always felt like Morrison was more comfortable springing into a song and dance number than tackling the show’s more dramatic moments – the first season’s hysterical pregnancy storyline being a prime example.

While Morrison hasn’t picked up too many lead roles in TV dramas since Glee, his portrayal of Will has done nothing to hurt his musical theatre career,  as he was recently nominated for a Tony.

18 Saved: Jane Lynch (Sue Rodham Sylvester)

Acid-tongued and totally heartless Sue Sylvester was a deadpan quip machine that provided many of the show's best lines. As head coach of the Cheerios, Sue ruled her cheerleaders with an iron pom-pom.

Comedian and actor Jane Lynch had already played a similar part in Role Models, but it was in Glee where week-in, week-out she delivered the harshest of harsh putdowns to the members of New Direction, other teachers, and the wider student population.

For many fans, Lynch was the reason to watch the show.

She had many classic burns, including this bon mot to one of the Cheerios: "I'm going to ask you to smell your armpits. That's the smell of failure, and it's stinking up my office. I'm revoking your tanning privileges for the rest of the semester."

17 Hurt: Dianna Agron (Lucy Quinn Fabrey)

Cheerleader Lucy Quinn Fabrey (or just Quinn) was the original mean girl on Glee. She was involved in practically every thing going on at William McKinley High, as she was a member of the God squad, leader of cheerleading outfit the Cheerios, and a part of New Direction.

She also dated high-school mega-jock Finn. However, she also became pregnant with Finn’s best friend’s baby.

Played by Dianna Agron, Quinn was sent on an emotional rollercoaster for the four seasons where she was a major character.

Dianna Agron handled the character’s volatile emotions well, and the teen pregnancy storyline was heart breaking, especially when Finn broke up with her.

However, as the show wore on, the character’s behaviour became more erratic.

This eventually spilled over into soap opera territory when Quinn was involved in a plot to take her baby back from her adoptive mother. Any actor would have found this character a challenge to pull off.

16 Saved: Jayma Mays (Emma Pillsbury)

As McKinley High School guidance counsellor Emma Pillsbury, Jayma Mays was perfect.

As wide-eyed, sweet, and more than a bit obsessive compulsive, Mays made Emma Pillsbury into the guidance counsellor who every student wanted.

Of course, sanitizing individual grapes before eating them was perhaps a bit out there.

For many fans, it was her on/off relationship with Matthew Morrison’s Will Schuester that was a highlight of the first season.

Mays made you feel for Emma as she wrestled with her (sometimes intense) feelings for Will, which resulted in her almost marrying football coach Ken Tanaka, who was completely wrong for her. Luckily, Ken saw sense and broke things off.

With so many character traits, Mays’ Emma was easily one of the most memorable characters on Glee.

15 Saved: Chris Colfer (Kurt Hummel)

Chris Colfer's Kurt Hummel was the breakout character in Glee. In a television world where there was a dearth of inspirational gay characters, Glee had the guts to present a character who was resilient, unique, and not solely defined by his orientation.

Chris Colfer made Kurt real, delivering an emotional tour de force from the very beginning.

Colfer was the centre of Glee’s most emotional and touching storylines, including Kurt’s coming out to his father.

However, the character’s story arc over the four seasons became somewhat bleak, as Kurt experienced bullying at the hands of David Karofsky before transferring to Dalton Academy.

Thankfully, there was a happy ending for Kurt when he married his long-term partner Blaine in the show’s finale.

14 Hurt: Mark Salling (Noah “Puck” Puckerman)

Mark Salling played jock Noah “Puck” Puckerman in the first four seasons of Glee, making Puck a memorable bully, with his intense stare and buzz cut hairstyle.

As the best friend of Finn, Puck was initially dismissive of his friend's decision to join the school’s glee club New Direction, before joining himself.

This led to many scene-stealing performances during the show’s first four seasons, including a memorable performance of "Total Eclipse Of The Heart".

However, by the time the show’s final season rolled around, Salling was relegated to a guest role, appearing intermittently, and often to mourn the loss of Finn.

It is Salling’s post-Glee life and behaviour that has hurt the show for many fans, though.

After pleading guilty to a truly terrible offence in 2017 and facing between 4 to 7 years in prison, Salling took his own life earlier this year.

13 Saved: Cory Monteith (Finn Hudson)

As the high school jock who finds himself in the New Direction glee club, Monteith made Finn Hudson one of the more complex and well-rounded characters on the show.

He took what could have been a bland character in a lesser actor’s hands and put in a performance that was both believable and relatable.

The chemistry between him and Lea Michelle’s Rachel was palpable – the two actually dated during the show’s production – and his split loyalty between New Direction and being the star quarterback definitely pulls at the heart strings.

Monteith’s performance of “Don’t Stop Believing”, alongside Michelle and other cast members, is a big part of what first grabbed audiences’ attention in that pilot episode, leading to the show becoming a cultural phenomena.

However, behind the scenes, Monteith was struggling with drinking and substance addiction. This was something that showrunner Ryan Murphey tried to help with by checking the young actor into rehab.

Tragically, Monteith passed away from an overdose in July 2013.

12 Hurt: Gwyneth Paltrow (Holly Holliday)

Gwyneth Paltrow won an Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actress for her role as relaxed, "cool" substitute teacher Holly Holliday, who takes over as glee club director in the show’s second season.

However, Paltrow essentially plays Paltrow on the show, and it’s very distracting.

Every time Holliday appears on the show, it's Gwyneth Paltrow teaching Spanish or one of the numerous other subjects that Holliday is an expert in (math, Spanish, history, you name it, Holly knows it).

The part also ushered in a cavalcade of special guest appearances that culminated with Linsey Lohan and Perez Hilton in the show’s final season.

Recently, Paltrow was back in all things Glee,when she got engaged to the show’s co-creator Brad Falchuk.

Off screen, Paltrow formerly dated co-star Chord Overcord back in 2015.

11 Saved: Amber Riley (Mercedes Jones)

The character Mercedes Jones always believed that she was the star and she was also not afraid of making her feelings known.

When she noticed that most of the solos were going to either Rachel or Kurt, she said: “Look, I'm not down with this background-singing nonsense! I'm Beyoncé, I ain't no Kelly Rowland!”

That’s definitely evident with Amber Riley’s portrayal of the character, whose bold exterior masks a sensitive side that desires social acceptance.

As a fierce rival of Rachel, Mercedes was arguably the better singer and the fact that she doesn’t get the solos makes her anger seem real, especially with her barnstorming performance of “I Will Always Love You”.

At least things turned out okay for Mercedes when she landed her a recording contract and heads out to Los Angeles.

10 Hurt: Johnathon Geoff (Jesse St James)

Johnathon Geoff played Jesse St James, the male lead of rival glee club Vocal Adrenaline and the primary antagonist in Glee’s debut season.

Intense, dramatic, and very, very duplicitous, St James broke Rachel’s’ heart and tried to tear New Direction apart. He also egged Rachel at one point.

While he was good as a villain, Geoff was less convincing as the repentant St James in Glee's second season, where he comes back to try and win Rachel back.

Perhaps, at this point in the show, it would have been best if St James had been a one season wonder.

However, playing Jesse St James hasn't hurt Geoff’s career. After Glee, the actor voiced Kristoff in megahit Frozen and appeared as King George the Third in Broadway sensation Hamilton.

9 Saved: Naya Riveria (Santana Lopez)

Despite being a background character for the duration of season one, Santana Lopez earned her way to main character status through the power of one thing: snark.

This was helped by Naya Riveria’s pitch perfect delivery of pithy putdown after pithy putdown and her abundance of self-confidence.

After all, anyone who says “What difference does it make? Everyone knows my role here is to look [attractive]” isn't exactly lacking in the confidence department.

After Sue Sylvester, Santana was a character who could be counted on to make the audience smirk.

Also, no one’s going to forget “Trouty Mouth”, her ode to former boyfriend Sam Evans.

However, Riveria was also able to portray a sensitive side to the normally caustic Santana when it came to her relationship with fellow Cheerio Brittany.

8 Saved: Kevin McHale (Artie Abrams)

Too often an able-bodied actor playing a disabled character comes across as heavy handed and patronizing, leaving the audience with the impression that they are watching an actor act with a capital A.

This was not the case with Kevin McHale, who injected his performance as wheelchair-bound Artie Abrams with sensitivity and humanity.

McHale plays the character as someone who refuses to let anything get in the way of his ambition, whether that’s playing in the football team or being an active part of New Direction.

He also has a very sweet relationship with fellow outcast Tina.

In many ways, the former member of boyband Not Like Them was perfect for Glee.

The only qualm with the choice of able-bodied McHale is that it would have been good to have seen a paraplegic actor take on the role for such a progressive show.

7 Hurt: Heather Morris (Brittney Pierce)

Professional backing dancer Heather Morris was originally hired to teach members of the Glee cast the dance moves to "Single Ladies" for a routine in the first season.

However, Morris’s moves were so good that she was offered a regular gig as Brittney Pierce, one of McKinley High’s cheerleaders.

Throughout the show’s first four seasons, Morris was always more of a background character, often appearing stoically behind her fellow cheerleader Santana.

When Morris became pregnant during the season 5 run, her character was reduced to only intermittent appearances.

However, in a sign of the show’s progressive attitude, Morris’s character was shown to be in a relationship with Santana.

The two eventually tied the knot in the show’s finale.

6 Saved: Jenna Ushkowitz (Tina Cohen-Chang)

During Glee’s run, Jenna Ushkowitz’s Tina went from shy outsider with a fake stutter to a sassy, straight-talking diva – in fact, she eventually won the “First Annual William McKinley High School Diva Award."

This is testament to how much fans took to Ushkowitz’s portrayal of Tina Cohen-Chang.

Like many other fan-favorites, Tina was a background character who eventually found her way into the limelight.

Not that you could miss Tina, whose fashion style went from punk, to goth and on to retro. Then there was her iconic “Single Ladies” number with Kurt and Brittney in season 1.

Ushkowitz’s background in musical theatre helped, with appearances in The King and I and Spring Awakening, it was clear that she knew her way around a show tune.

5 Hurt: Sam Evans (Chord Overstreet)

Chord Overstreet sounds like a name Ryan Murphey might have given an antagonist on Glee – perhaps a particularly mean member of a rival glee club. However, it’s the actor who played Sam Evans on Glee’s given name.

Joining the show in the second season in the recurring role of Sam Evans, Overstreet had graduated to a main role by the time its fourth season aired. Unfairly, the character also had the nickname "trout lips."

Despite being brought back after the second season through fan demand, Overstreet never really had anything to do as Evans.

There were a few relationships with various members of the Cheerios, his magic mike moment, and the performance of Poison’s "Every Rose Has A Thorn" in shower.

However, despite the blond mop and good looks, Evans was always more of part of the chorus line, rather than the main act.

4 Saved: Harry Shum Jr. (Mike Chang)

In the first season, Harry Shum Jr.’s Mike was a background character who was relegated to group numbers, dancing, and had zero lines. It made sense on the show, after all Mike was a football player who couldn’t actually sing.

However, Harry Shum Jr. was, and still is, an awesome break dancer, and his moves quickly led to him being promoted from bit player to having actual storylines.

According to Billboard, fans were so enamoured with his dancing that they wanted to see a dance off between him and fellow professional dancer Heather Morris (Brittney).

This included dating Tina – the longest running relationship on the show, fact fans – and the “Asian F” plotline, where Mike’s parents call into question is academic performance after he receives an A-minus.

Things have gone pretty well for Shum since leaving Glee, with a major role on Shadowhunters: The Mortal Instruments and a part in breakout rom-com Crazy Rich Asians.

3 Hurt: Melissa Benoist (Marley Rose)

The character Marley Rose was brought into Glee in the show’s fourth season. At that point, many of the original cast had been "aged out" of the drama ­– many of them were pushing 30 – and there was a need for some fresh faces.

The daughter of McKinley High’s lunch lady, Marley was shy and lacked confidence, joining New Direction for some new-found confidence.

To be fair to Benoist, it was always going to be a tough gig to be the "new Rachel."

By the fourth season, the show needed a lightning bolt to reengage a jaded audience, and the character of Marley Rose just wasn’t it.

Despite appearing dressed as Wonder Woman in one episode of Glee, it was as another D.C. character who has propelled Benoist to the big time.

You can now catch Benoist donning the spandex for the title role in Supergirl.

2 Saved: Darren Criss (Blaine Anderson)

Before taking the role of Blaine, Darren Criss was a struggling actor. Joining the series in its second season, it was always going to be a tough gig for the actor.

However, Criss was welcomed by fans of the show. Being that the character was in a relationship with fan favourite Kurt Hummel probably helped.

Then again, that relationship was portrayed as genuine and believable, as Criss told Digital Spy: “Ryan Murphy said that if and when they get together, he wanted to make it as flawed and delicate as any relationship is and should be…”

It wasn’t long before Criss was receiving fan mail from all over the world – and looking good in the Dalton Academy uniform probably helped.

In the show, everything ended happily for Kurt and Blaine, who were married in a double wedding ceremony along with Brittney and Selena.

1 Saved: Idina Menzel (Shelby Corcoran)

Who better to play Rachel’s biological mother Shelby Corcoran than Tony Award winner Idina Menzel?

Menzel was a natural fit for the coach of rival glee clubs The Troubletones and Vocal Adrenalie and Rachel’s – a Broadway star who possessed similar looks and traits to Lea Michelle.

While not a main character, Menzel’s character was involved in some crucial story arcs, whether that was adopting Puck and Quinn’s baby, Beth, in the first season, or helping Rachel with her Funny Girl audition.

She also shared intimate moments with both Puck and Will.

In a fantastic meta-moment Menzel duets with Lea Michelle on the megahit “Let It Go” from the Disney from Frozen – Menzel, of course, sang the song in the original Disney film.


Can you think of any other casting decisions that hurt or saved Glee? Let us know in the comments!

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