The Glee Project's second season premiered this week and the cast includes 21-year-old multi-racial transgender contestant Tyler Ford. Tyler, a student at Vanderbilt University, has been performing for 11 years and lists his biggest musical influences as Lady Gaga and Sia. He landed in the bottom three during the first episode, but saved himself from elimination after a performance of the Jackson 5 hit "ABC." Tyler spoke exclusively with GLAAD about his story and his Glee Project experience and hopes. Check out what Tyler had to say below and catch him on new episodes of The Glee Project on Oxygen, Tuesday nights at 10.
GLAAD: What drew you to taking part in The Glee Project?
Tyler Ford: I've always loved music and I've always had a passion for performing. Glee is the ultimate performance role for me because it requires the actors to hone their craft in singing, acting, and dancing. I love to push myself to grow as a person and performer, and landing a role on Glee would be an absolutely amazing performing, learning, and growing experience. I also really enjoy that The Glee Project looks within people for inspiration to create a character. The mentors don't try to change us into something we aren't - they truly want us to be ourselves so that they can be inspired to write a character for us.
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?
TF: You'll be seeing some themes from Season 1, such as "Individuality," "Dance-ability," "Vulnerability," and "Sexuality," but there will also be some really awesome and challenging new themes for Season 2! If I could pick my own theme, it would be "Musicality." We'd be challenged to write and perform our own songs. Maybe we'd be given some non-musical props and would have to find a way to make them musical and incorporate them into our performances.
GLAAD: What would you like viewers to take away from watching this season of The Glee Project and your role on it?
TF: I want people to know that being transgender is a normal part of everyday life. Every person in this world has a story, and being transgender just happens to be part of some of our stories. I want to inspire people who feel like outsiders to pursue what they love, no matter how hard others try to stop them.
GLAAD: How old were you when you came out? How did your friends and family react?
TF: I came out as a lady-loving person at 17. A few of my friends were uncomfortable with it, but most of my friends and family were unfazed. Coming out as transgender was definitely a longer, more difficult process. I lost a lot of old friends who "disagreed" with my identity. Most of my family supported me in my transition, which was and is awesome. Coming out brought me closer to my true friends, and distanced me from those who brought negativity into my life.
GLAAD: What do you think of the LGBT representation and storylines on Glee?
TF: Glee has more LGBT representation than most shows I've seen, so that's awesome. The show is lacking in the "BTQ" half of "LGBTQ," but hopefully I can add some spice there! I would definitely love to see more trans* and queer characters - especially people of color. Santana is my favorite character because underneath her rudeness and defensiveness lies a very vulnerable, raw person who is dealing with her intersecting identities and insecurities. I've loved watching her story unfold. I'm also a huge fan of Klaine (Kurt & Blaine). They're both amazing individually and as a couple.
GLAAD: If you win the multi episode role on Glee, what would you like your character/storyline to be like?
TF: I would honestly love to play any character on Glee. I would also love to increase transgender visibility and play a character who either A. is having a hard time coming out, dealing with transitioning, etc. B. is having trouble reconciling his feminine and masculine aspects due to societal pressure and bullying, or C. just happens to be transgender, but his story focuses more on other struggles he's having (family life, love life, etc.). At this point, I like the reconciling-feminine-and-masculine-aspects-storyline best. I could sit and write storylines for hours, but everything comes down to Ryan Murphy's writing and decision-making.
GLAAD: What would you like to tell LGBT fans of Glee and The Glee Project?
TF: Don't give up on your dreams. Do what you love and stay positive. Always be true to yourself no matter how hard the battle is - your life is your own, and you should make it as enjoyable as possible!