The Glee Factor: A Rise in Amateur Singing Groups

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News that Fox's breakout hit Glee would go on hiatus after Dec. 9 hit viewers hard. Fans — or "Gleeks" in show parlance — flooded the Twittersphere with support for the sitcom, which follows a bunch of lovable misfits who find in their high school glee club both a home and ample opportunities to reprise mega-songs from stars like Madonna and Neil Diamond. Many Gleeks started sharing an online petition opposing the planned four-month interregnum. "I rearranged all of my classes so that I can watch Glee," writes distraught signatory Lisa Wright, a college freshman in Illinois. "For the love of God, don't put the magic on hold!" adds Shannon Smith, a fan in North Dakota.

If the reaction seems a tad overwrought, it may be because the magic isn't just about what up to 8 million viewers watch every Wednesday. It's also in the copycatting that Glee inspires off screen. With an assist from other corners of pop culture — including a karaoke contest on Oprah and NBC's first-ever a cappella–oriented reality show, premiering this month — Glee is inspiring its most hard-core fans to do some singing of their own. Once the butt of jokes everywhere except on a handful of college campuses, a cappella is making inroads all over the map.

Some Gleeks post their own live or lip-synched video renditions of the show's repertory on MySpace and YouTube: "Saw it on glee, and i had to rock out to it," posts MrJBVanilla, whose YouTube performance of Heart's "Alone" includes a lot of TV-worthy diva hand-flicks and head-flips. Fox — surprise — has encouraged the online tributes by touting Glee sheet music and sponsoring contests that reward the best amateur MySpace karaoke singers with prizes like a lesson from the Glee vocal coach.

Amateur adult singing groups, meanwhile, are reporting a crescendo of interest. Since June — following Glee's May premiere — the number of neighborhood songster gatherings listed on has nearly doubled, and participation has jumped 45% from 27,475 on June 1 to nearly 40,000 today. "[Glee] kind of inspired me," says recent Meetup convert Jessica Lin, 28, of Santa Clara, Calif., who enjoyed listening to a cappella groups as a student at the University of California, Berkeley, and now gets together with half a dozen or so Silicon Valley buddies every week to sing. Meanwhile, over in Michigan, it took just one episode to prompt Cynthia D'Amour, 43, to embrace her high school–choir history by joining the Ann Arbor Civic Chorus. "Seeing Glee was like, 'Oh my God, I really need to reactivate that piece of me,' " she says. (A busy travel schedule for her consulting job has since forced her to take a hiatus of her own.)

Even veterans of the post-college singing subculture — which includes Microsoft's Baudboys, named after a modem speed, and NASA's Chromatics — say they notice a Glee factor. The show, they claim, is helping quash a cappella's rap as the province of dorks. For instance, when Vinyl Street, an a cappella group in Somerville, Mass., went out for karaoke on a recent weekend, members told a woman at the next table that they were there as a group — and found themselves a fangirl. "She was all excited," says co-founder Phil Dardeno, 29, a Boston University financial-aid planner, "and was asking, 'Is it like Glee?' "

But some singers note that the show has a downside. The more popular Glee gets, the more audiences expect real-life singers to sound like the singers on it. That's a tall order when many onscreen songs may be getting a boost from pitch correction and other professional sound-enhancement technology. For instance, as Vinyl Street member and die-hard Glee fan Joanna Aven points out, there are only six singers onstage in the Glee version of "Don't Stop Believin' " — which became a top iTunes download and hit No. 4 on the Billboard chart, surpassing Journey's 1981 original — but they sound like they have three times as many voices. A handful of real-life singers can't measure up to heightened audience expectations. "They're like, 'Well, why don't you sound like them,' " she says. One solution: recruit more members. After all, until the show returns in April, Gleeks need an outlet.