Live Through This

Lights, Camera, Action

All I want is to be famous, which is the last thing I want to be.

Illustration by Allegra

Illustration by Allegra

Since I was a little kid, I have believed I was put on this earth for two reasons: (1) to foster understanding among all of humankind, and (2) to win a Grammy. The former seemed easy enough; the latter would take some work.

I started developing my voice as a child by imitating my favorite singers. By fourth grade I thought I was Justin Timberlake. Outside of school chorus, concert band, and various and sundry music classes, I spent countless hours singing along to ’N Sync and the Dixie Chicks, perfecting my melismata by accompanying my Christina and Mariah albums. In high school, I performed in troupes and talent shows, and in the privacy of the shower I’d practice my future interviews with Cosmopolitan and Vogue, the magazines that I hoarded for tips on “being a girl” (bahaha) and because all the most glamorous pop stars appeared in them. Who’s your inspiration? they would ask me. I’d grab the shampoo bottle and use it as a microphone (why did a magazine interview require a microphone, we all might wonder): Well, I would have to say my biggest inspiration is Pink, because she’s an incredible performer in addition to being an intelligent and kickass human being… I wanted to be a successful pop singer, and the way I saw it, success in the field of pop music means becoming famous (you never hear about a “successful but unknown pop singer”), so that was just what I was going to have to do. Again: easy.

I was a very naïve kid—I truly believed that if you want something enough, and work hard enough to get it, there’s no way you won’t achieve whatever you want in life, even things that are mostly out of your hands, like fame. I was sure that success was right around the corner—I would be internationally celebrated, I would be adored by my idols, and I would use my fame to make the world a more peaceful place by educating people about racism, sexism, and other forms of injustice. I wouldn’t have to do too much to open people’s minds—just my visibility as a world-renowned half-black, half-white, Jewish, queer, transgender singer would show people that WE ARE ALL THE SAME but also LET’S EMBRACE OUR DIFFERENCES and while we’re at it WHY CAN’T WE ALL GET ALONG.

Um, that isn’t what happened.

I initially auditioned for the second season of The Glee Project in November 2011. I’d heard somewhere that the contestants on that show were placed in a veritable performance boot camp where they received, for free, intensive training in acting and dancing, two areas I didn’t have a lot of experience in. That sounded great to me—I really wanted to strengthen what I saw as weaknesses and to grow as a performer. And that’s all I knew. I honestly had no idea who Ryan Murphy was (in case you’re like I was, he created Glee and the reality-show singing-competition offshoot I was auditioning for), nor why people were so intimidated by him—I was just there to sing for the chance to spend all my time being challenged to get better at what I loved to do.

The auditions were held early one morning at a massive convention center about five minutes away from my school. My friend Sarah waited in line with me for four hours until the doors finally opened. I was 74th in a line of 400-500 very excited and nervous young people. I was given a number—573—and then ushered into a screening room with the four people closest to me in line. In that room were waiting two casting associates, who soberly told us to go ahead. Prior to the audition, the TGP website had posted a list of seven songs to choose from, and I had picked the only one that suited my voice: “Ordinary People” by John Legend. We each sang a few bars of our respective songs to the casting people. I was the only one asked to sing a second song (I chose Stevie Wonder’s “Overjoyed”). The casting people conferred for a moment, and then one of them said, “We’re going to keep 573. The rest of you may leave.”

Next I was sent into a different room to sing for Robert Ulrich, Glee’s casting director. I sang “Ordinary People” again. He asked me to sing another song, so I went into “Your Song” by Elton John. When I finished, he said, “That’s one of my top two favorite songs of all time.” My stomach dropped, but my equilibrium was restored when he added “And you did a great job.”

A few weeks later, I got an email informing me that I was among the 80 Glee Project finalists who would be flown to Los Angeles for callbacks. We had a new list of songs to choose from, and we got to work with Zach Woodlee, Glee’s choreographer, who taught us a dance we had to perform as part of our next audition. After that audition, 50 people were sent home. The remaining 30 auditioned yet again, this time in front of Ryan Murphy. I sang “Uptown Girl” by Billy Joel and talked to Murphy about everything from my first word (McDonald’s) to Lady Gaga. Right around Christmas, Robert Ulrich Skyped me to say I would be on the show. I was overjoyed. All my dreams were coming true!

Once I made it onto the show, I was determined to represent for trans* people everywhere. I wanted kids like me to be able to turn on the TV and see someone they related with—that had never happened to me when I was young. I wanted them to know that other people like them exist, and that it’s OK to be whoever you want to be. So I made sure I talked about being trans* in all my confessionals, and I was forthcoming about my life and my transition when interacting with the other contenders.

There were 14 of us living under one roof. Pretty much everything we did, except for sleep, was filmed. High-stress, low-space situations tend to foster instant bonding, but we were also in fierce competition against one another (one of us would be sent home each week), which was a weird contradiction to deal with, emotionally. It was a constant balance of How do I work well with this person while outshining them but not outshining them too much, because part of my score is about how well I can fit into an ensemble?

Everyone on the show knew about my gender—I’m very open about it—and they were all really accepting. They were also curious, so they asked me tons of questions, and I enjoyed the opportunity to educate them (and, since the cameras were always on, the viewers) about trans* issues. My housemates supported me when my testosterone treatment caused my voice to change, and when it caused shin splints. And eventually, even though we were all competing for the prize of a seven-episode arc on Glee, camaraderie beat rivalry. We became so close that today eight of us live about 10 minutes away from each other in L.A. Our friendship is one perk from the show that has lasted.

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20 Comments

  • eremiomania May 14th, 2013 12:13 AM

    I loved this so much! I’m afraid of fame but I still want to be a film director/screenwriter, I really appreciate this.

    • JO-EY May 20th, 2013 2:35 PM

      Me too! I want to be a screenwriter/director also and, the fame bit scares me a lot. At least directors and writers don’t get as much fame as the ones acting in their film, though, right? To totally tag onto your comment: You always write amazing things, Tyler! It’s like everything you want to do or have gone through, I’ve also gone through. Do you have a long lost twin you don’t know? ‘Cause I think I’m probably that person! :) Thank you though, for always writing something I need to be reading.

  • FlaG May 14th, 2013 12:44 AM

    I had no idea it was you that was writing for Rookie! Such an interesting article to read. I’ve always wondered how people who have been on reality TV show competitions cope with going back to normality after; to go from being famous to relative obscurity once again.
    Wish you all the best in the future, Tyler :)

  • lua May 14th, 2013 1:19 AM

    you are amazing and your voice makes me smile.

  • elliecp May 14th, 2013 2:13 AM

    I totally get this. I spend my life trying to be noticed but then feel so on the spot and vulnerable when i am, that I begin to wonder is maybe being noticed isn’t right for me, even though its what I want so badly.

    http://roseandvintage.blogspot.com/

  • Isil May 14th, 2013 6:48 AM

    I haven’t watched the glee project. But I like your posts and everything you said in Rookie magazine. Somehow I can think you are an amazing person without knowing you. Some people out there are really rude. It’s good to open your feelings out. If you don’t want to be famous but have a desire to fame, you can record videos just for Rookie people. Just like singing to your family.

    I’m always thinking that I’m gonna be famous like you do in the beginning. Mine is kind of different, I’ve always thought I’m gonna be famous in a small group of people. I mean, in YouTube, Tumblr etc. things like that. I don’t know if all people desires that. Do everyone want things like these?

    http://isilnoir.wordpress.com

  • Kimono Cat May 14th, 2013 7:06 AM

    Great article, you are definetely one of my favourite Rookie writers! Ryan Murphy’s explanation as to why hé couldn’t cast you confuses me, though. Surely a talanted introverted actor can easily play the role of an extroverted character?

    • Tyler May 15th, 2013 2:32 AM

      Thank you! And absolutely. I’m just a talented introvert, though. Not an actor. Because he didn’t know what was going on inside of me (I can be really hard to read), he found it difficult to imagine writing for a character with my personality.

  • Hannah May 14th, 2013 10:09 AM

    I think you have some fans right here, especially one that find you awesome and inspiring and even though a Oxygen TV show could show us all sides of you, your writing can. Also, I thought your horrible dancing was adorable.

  • AliceS May 14th, 2013 10:23 AM

    I should study right now, but I’m happy to have read this instead. I watched The Glee Project and I liked you and it’s cool to know the way you lived it.

    People are contradictory. We all are. I think that someone doesn’t ask himself the right question and so lives his life without big problems about what he is or what he’d like to do. And there is someone who does. Someone who thinks too much and worry too much. I don’t know what it’s better and what it’s worse. I guess we have to find our own way.

    Good luck Tyler, with any road you will decide to do.

    http://toomuchlightburnsthenegative.blogspot.it/

  • Mary the freak May 14th, 2013 1:23 PM

    I am your fan.
    And Michael would have been lame. Seriously, I love everything you write, and you are amazing. ♥

    http://birdiewearsatie.blogspot.com/

  • trassel May 14th, 2013 1:39 PM

    I wanted to be famous when I was younger too. I still do in some way, since I want to draw comics, and to live off that you need to be considerably well-known. The good thing is that nobody knows who the comic artists are and what they look except huge nerds like myself so I think I will be fine.

    • Tyler May 15th, 2013 2:23 AM

      I so feel you on this. Part of me just wants to write and live in Maine like Stephen King. Achieving that level of greatness (seriously how many #1 bestsellers does the dude have) is next to impossible but to achieve that level of reclusiveness is what I want a lot of the time.

      ALSO, yay for being a nerd. I love comics and I think about making them all the time but I feel like I don’t really know where to start. Keep up the good work and best of luck!

  • imfinejusttired May 15th, 2013 12:56 AM

    i love your writing, and your singing

  • Tyler May 15th, 2013 2:18 AM

    Aw. Thanks for the love, everyone. <3

  • Angeline . May 15th, 2013 7:47 AM

    I really love this. I can’t think of the right words for a proper comment at this moment but I just wanted you to know how much I enjoyed it :)

  • Issmene May 15th, 2013 9:22 AM

    Fame always sounded like a scary thing to me, but on the other hand I also want to be noticed and liked and make people think about stuff I think about, to be really honest. I guess it’s a double-edged sword? Getting noticed with positivity, but not with negativity (which by the way, is often super rude and stupid..I mean, there is nothing wrong with constructive critisism but some people say really mean, bully-like things). I actually really do think that is pretty logical thought to have (not wanting fame, but not wanting it).
    Btw, I do think that you’re reaching a lot of people by your writing/blogging and I think it makes a lot of people aware of social issues.

    I liked you on the Glee Project btw, I really rooted for you (ok, actually for all the contenders, because you guys were not characters, but real people, not that I really know any of you, plus there probably was editing, but you seem like cool people). I felt represented by you although I’m probably not like you in ways, though I’m very introvert and that the way I carry myself changes on stage (I sing as well).

  • saramarit May 15th, 2013 11:04 AM

    Reality tv show competitions are probably the ultimate worst thing to do if you don’t want that attention. I can think of lots of ways to pursue a singing career that won’t land you on Perez Hilton’s site.

    Or if you do want that kind of fame create a persona to hide behind, that way no one will ever really know you.

  • soretudaaa May 16th, 2013 3:36 PM

    I love your artices <3 they're super smart and insightful and interesting and well-written.

  • selinau May 18th, 2013 4:26 AM

    This was such a good article!