By Sherry Posnick-Goodwin
Members of John Burroughs High School's glee club.
They may not be menaced by an evil gym teacher or get splashed in the face with slushies regularly, but students belonging to John Burroughs High School’s glee club and their choral teacher, Brendan Jennings, are the real-life inspiration behind “Glee,” the hit television show on Fox.
The show’s pilot was filmed in the school’s band room, and the set was modeled on it. Last year, members of Powerhouse, one of three competing glee choirs at the school, performed with the “Glee” cast on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” where they were introduced as the “glee club behind the show.” Powerhouse also performed with “Glee” stars at the season 2 premiere cast party at Paramount Studios and were visited in their choir class by cast members Cory Monteith (Finn Hudson), Matthew Morrison (Will Schuester) and Amber Riley (Mercedes Jones), who wanted their perspective on what it’s like to be in glee club.
“It was in the middle of a normal day, and they came walking in the door, and we all turned around and did a double take and said OMG,” reports student Justin Fallon. “You don’t normally see TV stars walk into a classroom. It was a huge surprise.”
Powerhouse may have an affiliation with the show, but members enjoy plenty of success on their own, under the direction of Jennings, a member of the Burbank Teachers Association. Among the group’s accomplishments are winning the 2008 Chicago Show Choir Championship and then winning the 2009 National Show Choir Championship in New York. In February, Powerhouse and Jennings traveled to Hong Kong to perform for the internationally televised Cathay Chinese New Year Night Parade, and in October, Powerhouse appeared on “Dancing With the Stars.” Powerhouse members performed in concert with Foreigner at the Gibson Amphitheatre in 2010, and the group was also featured at the gala opening of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s Resnick Pavilion, opposite Christina Aguilera and The Canadian Tenors.
They may be stars, but a visit to the classroom of these the real-life “Gleeks” proves them to be regular students with a regular and extremely dedicated teacher.
“Noooo, it’s not like you see on TV,” says Brandon Galvez. “They make everything look effortless in the show. The kids on ‘Glee’ instantly know all the music and choreography. We can spend weeks or months practicing.”
“We don’t spontaneously break out into song,” chimes in Sydney Baldwin. “And the TV show’s glee club is much smaller. We have 54 kids in Powerhouse.”
Students observe that teens on the show are portrayed as outcasts, but being in a glee club is “cool” at Burroughs High School. The most accurate part of the show, say students, is that glee club is a place where everyone is welcome, regardless of race or sexual orientation.
“We are successful because Mr. Jennings picks out really, really good music,” adds David Kalpakian. “He knows how to connect us to the song and the song with us. And he picks songs that always go really well with the set theme.”