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SOUND OFF: GLEE's Sectionals Champs!

The long-awaited return of Trouty Mouth himself - Chord Overstreet; singing Toby Keith's "Red Solo Cup", no less - was only the beginning of the big moves and even bigger events of last night's epic GLEE "Sectionals" episode. Yes, this year's sectionals competition certainly spelled a vast departure from less successful years' past and seeing and hearing New Directions taking on the vaunted catalog of Michael Jackson was the convergence of two true blue pop culture institutions coming together and making musical magic at long, long last - from "ABC" to "Man In The Mirror". Michael's sister Janet got her hotly anticipated GLEE treatment, as well, in the form of a syncopated and spirited "Control", during the stylishly executed Jackson tribute sequence. For the Broadway babies amongst the gleeks, we also were treated to an EVITA homage from Ohio's rival glee group, the Unitards, led by GLEE PROJECT's Lindsay Pearce. In addition to Finn and Rachel's discovery of White Chocolate (aka Sam) making ends meet as a stripper - as well as their subsequent reclaiming of him back to McKinley High and to the ranks of New Directions - "Sectionals" proved to be a strong and satisfying end to the journey of Season Three: Part 1 and next week's Christmas episode - "Extraordinary Merry Christmas", named after the original Xmas tune penned for Lea Michele and Darren Criss - seems poised to provide ample entertainment value over the rushed tying up of loose dramatic ends (as many are now tied up) as the series prepares to go on a brief hiatus until January 17, returning with the cryptically titled "The Proposal". "Sectionals" displayed the continued rise to prominence - musical, dramatic and otherwise - of some featured players to the top of the star ranks and afforded Chord Overstreet and Darren Criss in particular with some delectable dramatic and musical moments - providing a distinct parallel to off-stage/off-show realities; Criss having become the biggest GLEE breakout star of all in a very short span of time - with Harry Shum, Jr. and Jenna Ushkowitz given solo moments to shine, as well. So, too, did Dianna Agron get her dramatic due at long last and her bumpy and grumpy story arc for Season 3 seems to be finding its footing and justification in the overall themes of the consistently strong season - her particularly well-delivered and delicately measured scene with Idina Menzel's Shelby (the adoptive mother to Quinn and Puck's baby, Beth) being a dramatic highlight of the season so far. So, too, was Finn and Blaine's scene in the gym an understated and sensitive reading of this episode's particularly smart and sharp script. Lea Michele continues to get short shrift in the musical department, but her leading of Fun.'s "We Are Young" was a welcome reminder of her golden instrument. So, while there were definitely many dramatic moments to remember in "Sectionals", the music - as always and forever - was the central delight and the payoff of the pairing of GLEE and the music of Michael Jackson (and Janet) was generally well worth the wait.

Hold On To Sixteen As Long As You Can

Like the classic Gloria Gaynor 70s disco smash before it, GLEE will survive. Like the Destiny's Child-ian "Survivor", so will GLEE soldier on once central members of the show depart at Season Three's eventual end in the Spring. Indeed, next week will be the last Christmas episode with all the original players intact if all goes according to plan. And, while the original core group of McKinley High gleeks will forever and ever remain the iconic group of an era in television history - much like the young casts of 90210 and DAWSON'S CREEK were in decades before it - GLEE has proven throughout Season Three (and even sporadically throughout Season Two before it) that there is a lot of room to grow and many new worlds to explore - and an endless supply of brilliantly-crafted and oh-so-idiosyncratic Ryan Murphy-created characters for us to go on that journey in drama and song with come Season Four and beyond. If we remember, in Season Two, Chord Overstreet was the first new addition to the GLEE scene, and, while his ROCKY HORROR title role embodiment was ideal in every conceivable way insofar as the Halloween tribute was concerned, and his Jason Mraz duet with Dianna Agron and their DIRTY DANCING-inspired moments were highlights, the far and away shooting star of the season above all others - and, frankly, GLEE in general up until this moment - is unquestionably new series regular Darren Criss. The power of GLEE to create stars is even more visible than on performance-based shows designed specifically to do just that - AMERICAN IDOL, X FACTOR, AMERICA'S GOT TALENT, THE VOICE and the rest of the lot included - and last night's episode gave both Overstreet and new GLEE PROJECT guest star Lindsay Pearce surefire performance stunners in which they could strut and sing their stuff.

Following in the vein of Criss and Overstreet, Damien McGinty and Grant Gustin are this year's fresh-faced additions to the ever-growing GLEE roster and Gustin has already made an impact with his Warblers-backed cover of Billy Joel's "Uptown Girl". Following suit - navy blue with red piping, of course - last night gave Gustin yet another catty exchange with Kurt over his transparent attempts to steal Blaine from his beloved. Where shall their animosity lead? The aforementioned EVITA musical moment for GLEE PROJECT standout Lindsay Pearce as Harmony was the musical theatre showcase of the evening and, yet again, a difficult to navigate - and near-impossible to dramatically justify -  Andrew Lloyd Webber anthem was given its full, glorious due. Where shall the character of Harmony go from here? Shall she join New Directions or is this just a one-off? We shall see. Next week, Damien McGinty - if the absolutely spectacular GLEE CHRISTMAS: VOLUME 2 is any indication whatsoever - gets a superb chance to show his considerable vocal skills off in the form of the appropriately bluesy and Elvis-ish "Blue Christmas". So, with the titanic talent available and the apparent ability to make it translate from the stage to the TV screen and into our homes and hearts as we have seen so far these last two seasons and in the last few episodes in particular, GLEE can definitely handle the transition from one phase to a new one - as much as we will undoubtedly miss Lea Michele, Dianna Agron, Mark Salling, Cory Monteith and company come Fall of '12. To paraphrase from Michael Jackson's "Man In The Mirror", GLEE can make that change - and make it work. And, most importantly, make it matter.

Week after week, GLEE still sets hearts and souls - and the world itself - alight and afire with the sheer delight of performance-based, theatrical entertainment and repeatedly confirms we all can remain young at heart, if we only believe in every word of what we say - and what we sing - every time we say and sing it. Thanks to GLEE, we can all stay 16 forever if only for an hour a week.

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From This Author Pat Cerasaro

Pat Cerasaro contributes exclusive scholarly columns including InDepth InterViews, Sound Off, Theatrical Throwback Thursdays, Flash Friday and Flash Special as well as additional special features, (read more...)