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North musical group preps for 'Glee Off'
Competition is fundraiser for nonprofit
Glee WEB 1
Natalie Williamson practices a zombie dance with fellow musical theater students at North Forsyth High as they prepare for an upcoming competition. - photo by Autumn Vetter

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To watch the video and vote for the people’s choice award winner, visit

A group of North Forsyth High School students burst into a song and dance of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” in the school auditorium lobby.

That is, after musical theater teacher Mary Hayes Ernst counted them off at rehearsal.

“Even though we would like it to be like ‘Glee,’ where we all know everything without rehearsing, we have to practice,” Ernst said on a recent afternoon.

The popular television show about a high school glee club has spread enthusiasm for show choirs across the nation.

North’s musical theater students will dive into the craze Thursday during the inaugural Children First Glee Off competition in Athens.

The NorthStars, as they’ve named themselves for this contest, are one of seven northeast Georgia schools vying for the top $500 prize at the live show, or the people’s choice award, which will be decided by online voting.

The contest is a fundraiser for Children First, a nonprofit agency serving children and families in the Athens area.

Ernst found out about the event in an e-mail. It immediately caught her interest.

“I was looking for an opportunity for some of my musical theater students to have another performance,” Ernst said. “It was a way for the kids to take some of their creative energy and create something they really enjoyed working on.”

For the first part of the contest, the students produced a four-minute video and posted it online, which got them an invite to Thursday’s finale.

The students performed a mash-up of “Thriller” and “Heads Will Roll” by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, as was featured in an episode of “Glee.”

Their theater backgrounds shone through in making an accompanying story, in which three “nerds” accidentally make zombies while trying to create a prom date.

Natalie Williamson said she loved everything involved in making the video, from the crazy costumes and makeup to the performance.

Fellow member Danny Norton said the experience of making a music video was a great opportunity.

The students agreed that their group isn’t much like the one most of them watch on TV, where drama happens every minute, and song-and-dance numbers occur naturally.

One similarity, however, is the cohesion of a diverse group of students coming together to do what they love, Norton said.

For the live contest Thursday, Austin Sweatman said the chance to perform publicly is what the group is most looking forward to, regardless of victory.

The students will sing the mix from their video, as well as add in Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” and Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors,” in an interesting story twist.

“We kind of decided that zombies are people too,” Ernst said with a laugh.

She commended her students for taking initiative on the project by creating the ideas and using their other talents to put together the show choir group.

Some small adjustments from musical theater had to be made to create a recorded video, and to coordinate singing and dancing for the live performance.

“It really gave them a new experience they hadn’t had,” Ernst said. “They’ve gotten so much out of the whole process.”