The Glee Project’s second season premiered last week and the cast includes 23-year-old out contestant Dani Shay. Dani gained fame after her music video parody “What The Hell” went viral, which has since garnered over 5 million views. She parlayed her internet fame to an appearance on America’s Got Talent last summer and made it into the Top 48. Mentor Lea Michele complimented Dani during last week’s homework performance of Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way;” saying she loved Dani and can tell that Dani really knows who she is. Dani spoke exclusively with GLAAD about her story and her Glee Project experience and hopes. Check out what Dani had to say below and catch her on new episodes of The Glee Project on Oxygen, Tuesday nights at 10.
GLAAD: What drew you to taking part in The Glee Project?
Dani Shay: Well, I feel like Glee is doing a great job of increasing peoples' tolerance and acceptance, by exposing them to new kinds of people and ideas, while also giving young "under-dogs" characters they can relate to. I feel like the essence of Glee lines up with the essence of my music, even though our styles are somewhat different. The whole point is to not only entertain, but also give people hope, and I love the combination of those two things.
GLAAD: What kind of themed episodes will we be seeing this season on The Glee Project? If you could pick your own theme, what would you like to celebrate?
DS: There will be all kinds of themes, like "Individuality", "Vulnerablity", "Romanticality", and my personal favorite: "Dance-ability". If I could make my own theme, I'd probably want to do something that tested people's CREATIVITY; maybe they would have to write something original on their own, or in groups. Obviously, songwriting is something I get a lot of joy out of!
GLAAD: What would you like viewers to take away from watching this season of The Glee Project and your role on it?
DS: I would really like to leave viewers with a sense of curiosity- about me, but more importantly- about themselves. I hope they walk away with the courage to explore all that Life has to offer them, and can find the inspiration to really go for their dreams. Life is way too short to live in fear, trying to meet other peoples' expectations, and we will all be a lot happier when we can fully realize that. I mean, what's the worst thing that could happen if you go for your dreams? You get knocked down or rejected a few times? This is a personal motto I like to live by: Every "yes" is a win, and every "no" is a lesson; there are no losses, only opportunities to learn and grow. Perseverance is the key to success.
GLAAD: How old were you when you came out? How did your friends and family react?
DS: I was 18 when I finally embraced my feelings for women fully. I still didn't understand my gender identity so well, but that's because we are raised to think you are either A or B- Girl or Boy- and that there are no in-betweens, or variations of the two. I see things differently now though- you can be however you want to be; there are no rules. My family was pretty supportive when I came out, as I don't think it was much of a surprise to anyone (I had been dropping hints all of my life, haha). But I do think it was hard for my Mom at first, just because the Mormon church I was raised in, doesn't exactly accept anything L,G,B,T or Q. She is amazing though, and has fully accepted me, my feelings, and all my life choices since then.
GLAAD: What do you think of the LGBT representation and storylines on Glee?
DS: I know that mainstream media (Glee included) is making a lot of head-way when it comes to how the community is being portrayed, but I also feel like there are so many people barely being represented. For example, there are very few "masculine" women (or androgynous characters) in these story-lines, and I think that's partially due to the fear of how the majority of people might take it. Our society is so widely indoctrinated with the ideas of how men and women are "supposed to be," that I think it makes some people very uncomfortable to see anyone who falls too far outside of those gender categories. Glee is exposing young same-sex relationships, which is definitely progress, but I would really like to see gender stereotypes, and the need for labels, broken down as well.
GLAAD: If you win the multi episode role on Glee, what would you like your character/storyline to be like?
DS: If I won a role on Glee, I would like to play an androgynous character who enjoys flirting, and making people question everything they thought they knew about themselves, especially their sexuality. I would encourage my love interests to look beyond "straight"/"gay", and "male"/"female" labels, and dive deeper into what it means to really love a person for who they are. See, I think we put too much pressure on people to define themselves by their feelings, rather than encourage them to explore their feelings in every moment. It adds an unnecessary pressure to life, in my opinion. Labeling something only limits our perception of it. The truth is, everybody is different, and every connection is unique, and that's the kind of message I would really like to bring to Glee.
GLAAD: What would you like to tell LGBT fans of Glee and The Glee Project?
DS: I would like to tell all the LGBT fans of Glee and The Glee Project to: always be brave, and do your best to set a positive example of acceptance and love. Remember that step by step, we are changing this world, and you are a big part of that change. Find what makes you happy, and how you want to make an impact, and do it! Also, know that I love you very much, and you are in my heart. I'll be releasing some really cool new videos soon, and I can't wait to share them with you. Peace and Love- Dani.
You can check out our exclusive interview with transgender contestant Tyler Ford here.