Earlier this week The Glee Project stars Dani Shay and Ali Stroker surprised us all with the announcement that they are, in fact, a couple. Who knew the biggest shocker of the show would come well after the season finale? We caught up with Ali on her way home (to Dani, aw) in New York City to talk about the fan reaction to their big announcement, what her coming out process was like after unexpectedly falling for Dani, and how they’ll be taking their first red carpet steps as a couple at this weekend’s It Gets Better Project benefit for the Ali Forney Center at XL in NYC.
Tell me what the reaction has been like to your announcement?
I am so blown away by the amount of love and support people have thrown our way and how touched people are by the relationship. We wanted to announce it for so many reasons, but the main reasons was we wanted to show people that there are no limitations and we are so much more than the labels people place on us. For me, the labels people place on me with my disability, or with Dani and the way that she looks.
We had connected before we got on the show, and it was nothing official yet but both of us felt strongly about not sharing it on the show. When we did announce it we wanted to be the ones announcing it, not the show. We weren’t ready then. We met basically a year ago, so just this month felt like the right time.
The Glee Project fans are absolutely amazing, they could not be more supportive and sweet. We’re so grateful for all of their support. It’s like a love storm.
You were kept apart after Dani left the show, what was it like finally seeing each other again at the end, especially with all the cameras?
It was crazy. I would write to her every night in a journal and it was like she was there with me where we’d have these one-sided conversations. It was really a surprise whens he showed up because we didn’t think we’d be seeing them then. It was such a shock to see her in the flesh after 10 weeks. It was like a dream. I remember hugging her and not believing it was her.
Did get any time alone with her or was it too crazy?
It was pretty crazy! When we were done shooting some stuff, we went off and talked. For me it took a little bit — for many reasons I had to put up a wall because when she left I felt so vulnerable. Not only was she the person I was closest to in the house, in that situation where you’re doing a reality show, she was my support. When she left, she left. I didn’t even really get to say goodbye. It was traumatizing, to be honest. When she got back I had to warm up again. I remember looking her in the eyes and being like, “Let’s not do that again!”
What was it like post-Glee Project navigating your relationship?
We felt this instant connection auditioning for the show, but it wasn’t really the time or place to pursue a relationship. It was really a blessing in disguise that Dani left after the second week. My attention was split, I really did want to give our connection attention, but The Glee Project was my main focus at that time. But it was a blessing in disguise because if she’d been there even one more week, I don’t know if we could have hid it. The producers were on to us, they weren’t clueless. When the show was finally over we got to spend some time together, it was jut really wonderful to be able to connect in a not-realty show setting.
What was the coming out process like post-Glee project but before the video release? What was it like telling friends and fellow Glee Project cast about the relationship?
I had never dated a girl before, and I never really thought I was going to. When I met her, I was so excited because I had never felt connected like this to anyone, ever. I have never felt prouder to tell my friends and family about someone. I remember these conversations where I’d go, ” I met someone, and her name’s Dani.” And they’d go, “… Wow!”
I wrote on my blog that the biggest surprises are always the greatest gifts. When I met her I wasn’t putting on any kind of “oh I hope she likes me and thinks I”m attractive,” I was just being me. And she was too, she wasn’t expecting anything either. It’s like we’ve known each other for so many lifetimes. We’re so aligned, our messages are together. We want people to see beyond the box and go about it through a positive way. We want to be role models for people who feel different. For Dani and I, when we were little, there weren’t a lot of people like us. For me there weren’t a lot of people disabled in the media to look up to. For us it was really about paving our own way. What I love, and what I’ve always wanted in a relationship is that it’s not just the relationship between the two of us, it’s our relationship with the world too. I feel like I can get my message out even stronger with her. That’s why we wanted to make this reveal more powerful through a video, not just a tweet.
You wrote you were nervous about the video initially, what convinced you to go through with it?
Well Dani calls me and goes, “I have this idea. I want to make ’One’ into a music video and I want you to be in it and I want to share it.” I was like, “Whoa.” I knew our relationship would go public one day, but I didn’t really imagine a music video. I was a little bit nervous because I was thinking about, as an actress, how people can really type you and label you and box you in. I got nervous that this would be another opportunity for me. “Oh, she’s gay, can she even play…”
People ask me, “Oh are you a lesbian now?” and my response is, “I have no idea!” I’ve never dated women before Dani, I don’t know if I’ll date women if Dani and I parted ways. I know I’m in love with her. For me, Dani feels very androgynous. She feels male and she feels female. It’s not gender specific, like my feminine energy is attracted to her masculine energy. I really do think as you develop as a person and allow yourself to explore all parts of your life, you realize all things aren’t left and right, black and white. I really think sexuality is not just one end of the spectrum of the other. For me, what I’ve always wanted is to connect with someone on a deeper level than just physically. Been there, done that. To me, what is real intimacy to be connected emotionally, spiritually, physically.
You’re doing your first event as a couple on Sunday, have you already plotted your red carpet poses?
We have not! We’ve been to events before, but it was always as Dani and Ali from The Glee Project, not as Dani and Ali together, Danali! What I’m really excited about is that it’s for the Ali Forney Foundation and for It Get’s Better. I’ll be singing “Here’s Where I Stand,” a song from the movie Camp.
You and Dani will be singing together on Dani’s EP, what else can fans expect to hear on it?
The EP is amazing. We’re singing a holiday song, “Let It Snow,” together. It’s really fun. When we’re together we like to sing so it’s a perfect opportunity. Another huge part of my attraction to Dani is her ability to create music. Her lyrics and melodies are intoxicating. I think people will really really love this EP, and for us it’s a really cool opportunity to create together.
What’s next for you?
Well, Dani and I are doing a concert on the 20th at Birdland. It’s an all ages show, so we’re hoping that younger people will come out too. We’ve also been doing this anti bullying campaign called Be More Heroic. Also I am writing a one woman show and I’m on a new dance team called Team Hotwheels. It’s a bunch of chicks in chairs and it’s really awesome. We’ve been performing a lot in California and we had a show in New York.
Sappy question — what’s your favorite thing about Dani?
My favorite thing about Dani is her fearlessness to be aware of all parts of me and this relationship. She’s so aware, and so connected. I’m never afraid to tell her how I’m actually feeling. What’s wild is we’re so connected now she can feel how I’m feeling about something.
Was there any hesitation on Dani’s part to get involved with you because of your wheelchair?
No, I never think that that was ever an issue. I think it was almost the opposite. We had this conversation in the first few days that we met, we were at the callbacks and I needed help getting in and out of the car. She was helping me, and she looked me in the eye and said, “you really deserve to be with someone who really loves to do this. Just so you know. I really love to help you.” It blew my mind that she picked up on that so quickly and said that. I was like, “how did you know that I’m sensitive about that and how do you know that is something I’ve always wanted.” That’s what I mean about her being so aware and so fearless. What’s cool is she always wanted to be able to pick someone up and whisk them away, play that prince role. And we’ve created that, literally! She’s got to pick me up!