The critics can be cruel, especially the anonymous online ones.
Grayslake's Ellis Wylie learned that the hard way as a finalist this summer on Oxygen's "The Glee Project."
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Voting for fan favoriteGrayslake's Ellis Wylie is still eligible for "The Glee Project" Fan Favorite Award, which comes with a $10,000 prize and a live televised performance. To vote, visit thegleeproject.oxygen.com. The winner will be announced during the Aug. 21 finale. "The Glee Project" airs at 8 p.m. Sundays on Oxygen.
The reality show serves as a farm league for Fox's top-rated "Glee," a musical comedy inspired in part by co-creator Ian Brennan's experiences at Prospect High School. Wylie beat out 40,000 other teens who auditioned for the Oxygen show and made it to the final 11 before being cut June 19 (or "not called back," as they say on the show).
Crushed, the 19-year-old Grayslake Central alumnus went online to see what people were saying about her and made the mistake of engaging one of her non-fans on Twitter.
"Usually my haters are kind of ignorant. They'll say, 'You so dumb!!!' Yeah, OK. Usually it makes me laugh. But there was one person on Twitter who got to me. She wrote, 'Why are you replying to my tweets? Oh yeah, because you have nothing to do. You blew your only shot.' That hurt."
Learning to shake off nasty jabs was one of the lessons Wylie learned from her first foray into television and showbiz. It likely won't be her last, given her powerful, jazzy voice and bubbly personality.
Besides, Wylie is still eligible for "The Glee Project" Fan Favorite Award, which comes with a $10,000 prize and a live televised performance.
"I'm not exactly Haley Reinhart yet," Wylie said, referring to the "American Idol" finalist from Wheeling. "I want to be on Broadway."
Broadway is what started all of this, actually. When Wylie was in seventh grade, her mom took her downtown to see "Wicked," her first Broadway musical. At intermission, she turned to her mom and said, "I'm gonna do that."
Her mom's response: "Oh. Can you sing?"
Turns out, she could.
That became obvious during a middle school talent show in Grayslake. Wylie played the piano and sang a song she wrote about a knight in shining armor. Thinking back on it, Wylie says, the song was pretty bad. But the audience loved it.
"They all just stopped talking and watched her. She had 'em," recalled Wylie's mother, Patsy Welch. "That was the first time I thought, oh, she can do this. Even then, she had a big voice."
Wylie went on to join the choir and theater at Grayslake Central High School. She recalls doing shows like "Kiss Me, Kate" and playing the role of the rug in "Beauty and the Beast."
"My job was to run onstage and flop on my back," she said, laughing.
While home on break from Hampshire College, a small liberal arts school in Massachusetts known for its music and theater programs, Wylie found a Daily Herald clipping her mom had taped to her desk lamp. It was a news brief about "The Glee Project" auditions at a Chicago fine arts high school.
Wylie auditioned and, not long after, got a Skype call from casting director Robert Ulrich confirming she'd made it.
"As soon as I found out, I fell on to the ground and rolled around on my chair laughing," she said. "There was a lot of shaking and giggling."
The show proved no laughing matter, however.
The first challenge: living arrangements. Wylie, an only child who lived in a single dorm room in college, found it tough to share "The Glee Project" house with the other finalists -- and a bedroom with five dramatic girls. She and fellow cast member Lindsay frequently clashed, and at one point, Wylie accused her of being a bully.
There was also the exhaustion factor. Wylie said she worked long days rehearsing the songs and dances they would perform for the judges each week, and ended up getting a respiratory infection which required antibiotics.
The stress of it all led to her being cast as the "negative" one in the house. In one episode, she told the choreographer she thought a certain move would make her look dumb -- which she later said was meant jokingly but taken seriously.
Those types of incidents are what ultimately convinced the judges to cut her from the show. They said it had nothing to do with her singing voice or performing skills. Instead, they cited her attitude -- another hard lesson for Wylie to learn.
"I'm not really like that. I have a negative sense of humor and I'm very sarcastic. I make self-deprecating jokes. The crew and cast didn't know me and thought I was seriously putting myself down," she said. "Feeling like no one has your back made me come off as being very negative."
Coming home and watching the show wasn't easy, either -- for Wylie or her parents.
"It was hard to watch," her mother said. "You just didn't know how it was going to come off or how it was going to be edited. She's not really a crier. So when I saw her crying (on camera), I knew it was bad."
For Wylie, it was bittersweet to follow the shows filmed after her departure.
"You go, 'Oh! I could have been doing that!'" she said.
Now back in Chicago, Wylie will be studying vocal performance at Columbia College this fall and trying some more song writing.
"I'll be doing all sorts of things," she said.
• Dann Gire and Jamie Sotonoff are always looking for suburban people in showbiz. If you know of someone, send a note to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.