Mon 29 Aug 2011
Glee’s Mercedes Jones has a lot of fine qualities.
• She’s a good friend. When her classmate Kurt’s father is hospitalized, she provides support and encouragement.
• She fights for what she believes in. When cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester bans tater tots from the William McKinley High School cafeteria, Mercedes stages a Norma-Rae-like protest.
• And, she’s a good songwriter. Her anthem “Hell to the No” was my favorite of all the student-penned songs in Season Two.
But Mercedes can be a bit of a diva.
That shouldn’t be much of a surprise. Nearly every character on Glee has been a diva at one time or another. But Mercedes’ divahood is different.
It’s not a constant state. It only bursts out when she feels overlooked by Mr. Shuester or overshadowed by other Glee Club members.
Unfortunately, those things happen frequently.
Mercedes, who is played delightfully by Amber Riley, joined Glee Club expecting to be the star. Early on, when she was asked to sing backup, Mercedes announced, “I’m Beyonce! I ain’t no Kelly Rowland.”
Later, when she realized her solos would be few and far between thanks to the oversized voices of Kurt Hummel and Rachel Berry, she lamented, “You guys only trot me out to wail at the end of a number.”
Things came to a head when the Glee Club held a fundraising concert. Mercedes decided she wanted the closing number that Rachel was slated for, so fellow overlooked Glee Club member Lauren Zizes offered to be her manager.
Lauren had Mercedes command respect by listing her demands, which included being carried onto the stage and having fresh puppies to dry her hands on.
Frankly, it was all a little much.
Around this time, if I had been a librarian at William McKinley High School, I would have gently suggested Mercedes read Dramarama by E. Lockhart (Hyperion, 2007). In fact, I would have handed it to her personally.
Why? It’s the story of a muscial-loving girl who’s overshadowed by her superstar best friend.
And while the book isn’t an exact retelling of Mercedes’ life, there are some pretty strong parallels.
Let’s start with the basics.
Sarah Paulson is a gawky, white, “Cabaret”-obsessed adolescent. Her best friend is Demi, an African-American gay teen who likes Liza Minnelli just as much as she does. If you change the races around and substitute Patti LuPone and Aretha Franklin for Liza Minnelli, you have Mercedes’ relationship with Kurt Hummel.
Demi christens Sarah “Sadye” (pronounced SAY-dee) to reflect his belief that she has what it takes to be famous. He encourages her to not try to be like petite, blonde Kristin Chenoweth, but to focus on “being Sadye” and bringing her own talents to light.
Sadye knows Demi is gay right from the start, but she still has a small crush on him and spends time with him instead of with boys who might be interested in her romantically. This also echoes Mercedes’ crush on Kurt and her feelings of being overlooked when he starts dating Blaine.
Things fall apart when Demi and Sadye go to summer theater camp.
Demi and Sadye are convinced they’ll nab fabulous lead roles and be best friends forever. They even make recordings of their thoughts and observations to look back on once they’re both Broadway stars.
So Sadye is disappointed to find that while Demi is a shining light at camp, she’s just … average. As Demi’s star rises, he becomes more popular — especially among some of the gay boys there. This success, along with the freedom not to have to hide who he is, pulls Demi away from Sadye.
Sadye, meanwhile, is struggling with not being as talented as she had previously assumed and with the teaching methods of some of the plays’ directors.
She’s smart and opinionated, just like Mercedes, so she shares her ideas, which does not endear her to the camp staff or her fellow campers.
So, what happens?
Many writers would have Sadye discover her own way to shine at the camp and have her end up knocking everyone’s socks off with some recently developed or previously undiscovered talent.
But E. Lockart doesn’t take that path. She lets Sadye struggle and even make a decision that benefits Demi greatly, but hurts her.
Ultimately, Sadye has to go back to Brenton, Ohio and decide how to move on with her life if being a Broadway star isn’t a likely option.
Mercedes is undoubtedly a better singer than Sadye.
But, she still has to make some of the same decisions. With Kurt and Rachel not going away, how will she adjust to being out of the spotlight? Will she continue to be friends with them, or let her own hurt feelings stand in the way of all their successes? And, will she focus on what’s best for the Glee Club or what’s best for her?
If I were a Glee librarian, I’d ask Mercedes to pay special attention to the scene where Sadye doesn’t congratulate Demi when he gets the lead role in “Bye Bye Birdie” and she finds she was cast in a small part in the camp’s only nonmusical production. I’d also ask her to focus on the page where Sadye uses the talents she does have to make a positive impression.
Other things that make this a GLEE-ful read include:
The insanely awesome references to musicals from “Bye Bye Birdie” to “Cabaret” to “Wicked” to “Guys and Dolls” to “Funny Girl” and many more.
The fact that it’s set in Brenton, Ohio, which Sadye and Demi want to leave just as much as Rachel and Kurt want to leave Lima, Ohio. As Sadye put it, “In Brenton, Ohio, where I’m from, committing suicide would be redundant.”
The goofy songs Sadye makes up about meatball sub sandwiches, cheating boyfriends and knee socks. They’re reminiscent of Brittany’s song about the styrofoam cups in the Glee kids’ New York hotel room.
At the end of the book, Sadye and Demi reunite outside a Broadway theater in a scene similar to the one where Rachel and Kurt meet at the Gershwin Theatre that is home to “Wicked.”
There’s also a playlist of songs referenced in the book. To find it, you need to visit E. Lockhart’s Dramarama Web site. It’s worth a visit for the song list and also for the video links she’s included for musical theater fans. My favorite is the one of Broadway’s Alan Cumming singing “Taylor the Latte Boy.” It rocks.
Here’s the list of books I’ve recommended to Glee characters so far:
• Mercedes Jones – Dramarama by E. Lockhart.
• Tina Cohen-Chang – My Not-So-Still Life by Liz Gallagher.
• Santana Lopez – Sister Mischief by Laura Goode.
• Blaine Anderson – Pitch Perfect by Mickey Rapkin.
• Finn Hudson – Struts & Frets by Jon Skovron.
• Sam Evans – Guitar Boy by MJ Auch.
• Quinn Fabray – Beauty Queens by Libba Bray.
• David Karofsky – Dairy Queen and The Off Season both by Catherine Gilbert Murdock.
• Rachel Berry – Theater Geek by Mickey Rapkin.
• Kurt Hummel – Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan.