As seen on TV
How close do the plots of popular network shows mirror real life? TulsaPeople went behind the scenes of some popular TV series’ real-life counterparts to find out.
Members of the Jenks Trojanaires show choir: front, Kody Judkins, Blair Hosier, Molly Ellison, Paden Scribner; middle, Blake Pettigrove, Emily Towler, Jessica Stacy, Calvin Downey; back, JT Dotson, Abbie Mitchell, Jenna Geresi and Anders Olsen
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Turn on the television any night and you’ll find shows so popular, their fans have special names. Gleeks or Maddicts. More like devotees or cult followers, really.
You know the shows, the ones everyone talks about the next day at the office, at school or at the gym. The ones influencing fashion, music, hairstyles and even cocktail choices. Sure, their ratings are through the Nielsen roof, but how much reality applies to these on-screen portrayals?
TulsaPeople takes a look at how local counterparts compare to the boob tube’s hottest shows. In short, how much fact exists in TV fiction?
Singing with glee
What does the fictional “Glee” New Directions show choir at William McKinley High School in Lima, Ohio, have in common with The Trojanaires at Jenks High School in Tulsa, Okla.? For one, a dedicated leader.
Larry Downey has been director of secondary choral activities at Jenks for 24 years. The original varsity choir was patterned after “The Lawrence Welk Show,” performing popular songs in choral fashion. For this year’s group, 100-plus students tried out and 46 were selected; the junior varsity choir numbers 42.
Most Trojanaires might be considered Gleeks, but they’re not the misfits portrayed on the show.
“We’re not low on the social totem pole,” Downey says. “We’re a diverse group, with popular kids, athletes, smart kids, cheerleaders, almost all overachievers.”
“Glee” has raised awareness for The Trojanaires. Since the series began, the show choir has enjoyed bigger crowds and performed for the school. The group recently went to its first national competition in Indianapolis and regionals in New York.
“We’re kind of different from other show choirs,” Downey says.
The Trojanaires are larger than most groups, perform with a live band and manage two or three costume changes in a 15-minute set. Also, Downey works with an out-of-state choreographer and a local musical arranger.
“It’s more than just singing and dancing,” he says. “It’s an entire experience.”
Choir style with an edge. And with an MTV influence.
But how does Mr. Downey compare to Mr. Schuester?
“In some ways, it seems as if I’ve taught every one of those students,” Downey says, “but not with the personal drama.”
The two men share a passion for singing and a gift for getting kids to express themselves through music.
On the dark side, is there a Sue Sylvester at Jenks?
“We (teachers) share kids, and everyone has high expectations,” Downey says.
Show choir practices 45 minutes daily, starting at 6:45 a.m., and can put in a 30-hour weekend to learn three numbers when the choreographer is in town.
The biggest difference or disconnect between “Glee” and Jenks?
“I feel very supported by administrators and parents,” Downey says. “I would not do what I do if it weren’t for the incredible parent base. It’s a big team effort.”
One of the New York judges, who was playing Christine in the Broadway production of “Phantom of the Opera” at the time, was a former Trojanaire. Other alumni include a Broadway actress, a Rockette, an up-and-coming country singer, a movie actor and a composer for Disney theme parks.
“There’s been a lot of success,” Downey says, adding that doctors and lawyers also benefited from the self-confidence and teamwork they learned in show choir.
Melony Woosley, president of the Jenks Vocal Music Parent Association, credits show choir with helping her daughter express herself through music.
“It’s given her many opportunities to travel and perform, and her best friends are in the music program,” she says.
The future of “Glee” will be based on ratings, but other factors will determine what’s ahead for The Trojanaires.
“With all (the) funding issues of education, I just hope music programs don’t suffer because I’ve seen such positive things,” Woosley says.