We may have gotten Ali Stroker’s version of her love story with fellow The Glee Project contestant Dani Shay earlier this week, but that’s only half the tale. We talked with Dani — whose video for her song “The One” announcing the duos relationship to the world was released last week — about the whirlwind life the two have been leading since, what it was like meeting Ali for the first time, how they stayed in synch even when The Glee Project kept them apart. Plus we found out what to expect at their joint NYC show this Thursday (including one surprise cover song we can reveal!)
Ali told us she “wasn’t expecting anything” when you guys met, but what drew you to Ali?
It was by the hand of fate, I was getting lunch at the first day of callbacks and I was about to go sit with this huge group of people. The waitress goes, “I’m sorry, there’s not enough space over here, can you sit over there?” and directed me to a table where there was one seat available next to Ali. So it’s like, okay, I got it, got the message. I go and sit down and I introduce myself to everybody. While I’m interested in everyone, there’s a real nice ease in the way Ali and I talk to each other. We’re interested in each other as friends, and then the next day it was like, we were laughing so much — that may have been the first day, who knows. We weren’t trying to impress each other, but we were on our A-game because of the auditions. We were really well dressed, we felt good about ourselves, and we were really open to get to know each other.
Somewhere along the line we started talking about our ideas for characters for Glee, and I talked about how I wanted to play this androgynous character who caused people to question boundaries and labels they put on themselves. I was talking about having a girl love interest at some point, a guy love interest at some point, just to mix things up. She claims that I said, “why don’t you be my love interest.” … Okay, I think it is what I said. I said, “you can be my love interest” jokingly, trying to see where she stood. That week she was so flirty, not trying to be something other than herself, but just really really playful. So she goes, “oh yeah, I love that! ooh!” And I thought, “great, she would love that.” I still didn’t know if she was just kidding, and I didn’t know if I was just kidding. Throughout the next few days, we just continued to have a blast together. I didn’t know what would happen. I was in a relationship at the time, but one thing that I realized when I met Ali and at the end of that five days, it wasn’t that I knew I was ready to leave my current relationship, but after meeting Ali I could see what I was longing for and missing. It was that connection and the laughter and the lightness and the fun, while being able to connect with someone. Plus creatively get excited too. There were a lot of things that were exciting about our meeting, whether or not we were going to be a couple.
You left the show well before Ali. What were you doing during that time, and were you able to keep up with how you she was doing in the competition?
I didn’t have a way of hearing from her during the competition, but I had a good feeling she was doing really well. I had always had that feeling though, that she was going to do really well. While I was gone I was bettering myself every way I could — I started studying musical theory, I started doing P90x. I did it every day from the time I got off the show and I went back for the finale. I have to say, one of the things that motivated me aside from wanting to look my best and feel my strongest, was imagining carrying Ali up the stairs or helping her in certain ways. I wanted to be able to do that with this great ease. I had been thinking about going to New York and you know how things are in New York.
Did you research what it was like to have a partner in a wheelchair as it became more of a reality for you?
I didn’t read up too much on it, I just knew it would be helping her get in and out of the car sometimes. She can get in and out of her own car, but she has to take the wheelchair apart or, easier than that, is I put the whole wheelchair in the trunk. In most taxis it will fit without taking it apart, which is nice. If I’m there, I’ll grab — her current wheelchair is called Lil G because it has gold rims — Lil G out of the taxi or out of the trunk, and she can just transfer herself. But if we’re on something like The Glee Project, we were in vans. I had to scoop her up into the seat or down from the seat. That was my first experience with helping her, and I knew I wanted to be stronger. I could do it, but I wanted to be so strong like, “here you go, no problem.”
Ali told us she was writing you letters, were you writing letters as well?
As far as the letters go, she was writing one sided letters and so was I. I didn’t know I would be receiving letters when I got there, or that she was writing to me. I just saved them in a little pouch for her.
Did they synch up weirdly when you read them? Were they on the same wavelength?
We were on the same wavelength, even though our experiences were totally different. When I got back we had realized a lot of the same things and learned a lot of the same lessons even though we were having completely different experiences.
I asked Ali this about you, so I have to ask you this about Ali: What is your favorite thing about Ali?
It’s her lightness and her ability to find the fun, but also be so genuine while doing it.
Since the video was released you’ve both been very busy with events.
Yes! Last night Ali was singing for ASTEP (Artists Striving To End Poverty). Lily May came along and supported her. The woman who started the program is a Broadway music supervisor, they go work in different counties and in the US to help end poverty.
And you had your first event together, for the It Gets Better Project.
Yeah, she was singing. It was a gig she’d booked pretty far in advance, then when everything came out they asked if I’d join her. It was awesome. I’d never heard Ali really sing like that, but I think after the video came out and she didn’t have to keep part herself secret it’s like she really let herself go. Something magical happened, it’s really cool.
It was so funny because she came back from this interview the other day and said, “They asked if I had worked on my poses with you!” And I said, “Oh my gosh, are we supposed to work on poses?’ So then 10 minutes before we leave we’re standing in front of the mirror and fixing our jackets and the last piece of hair, and we go, “Okay let’s do this!” And we worked out some poses!
Well we’re glad we inspired you!
Well we would have been on the spot! Like, “Okay, should I be on this side of you? Should I stand, should I squat?” Thanks for putting that into our brains.
And now you have a show on Thursday with Ali. What will that be like?
Thursday is going to be a night of originals from me, and for her some of the most meaningful songs she’s done. There’s going to be some surprises, I’m so excited! She’s going to do “Popular,” which she did at the end of The Glee Project. I’ll do songs off my EP, and I have a few others that people don’t know about yet — well, they know about but I haven’t performed live yet. Then we have a few songs that no one knows we’re going to do. Some covers that we’ve been working on — like when we’re driving together or on a plane or something, an idea would just pop up. One of them, for instance, is … well, should I say? We’re going to do “The Way I Am” from Ingrid Michaelson. You can put that one in print.
What’s the creative process like between you and Ali?
I do get a lot of big ideas, I admit that. The creative process of us working together is somewhat new. The first thing we did together was well after the show and I came up with the idea for the video. I have a lot of ideas that come to me, but she does too. We’re actually just now starting to really work on the best way to support one another in a creative setting. When we were on The Glee Project, she reminded me of this the other night, she was singing “Here I Go Again” she didn’t actually really like her line very much. It was “waiting on love’s sweet charity.” We were at the studio and having her look at the line in different ways and find ways to relate to it in different ways. The other night she reminded me how helpful that was, and that’s how we want to support each other. We want to help each other feel comfortable and connect, and not necessarily step all over each others creative process.
What’s your next steps?
I’m working on a full length album, I’m in the early stages. I’m really excited about that. Ali and I are working with ASTEP to plan a concert of hope and support for the Newtown Connecticut community in early February. Also in the end of January I’m going to LA to do some Be More Heroic appearances at schools.
What is it like working with teenagers? Are they apathetic to the process?
As odd as it seems, we’ve had 99.9 percent positive reactions. Any kid in the audience who looks like they’re so over it because they’re way too cool for this kind of thing, usually by the end they’re rocking out with us. We sing and talk to them, we’re not just in there talking to them. We engage about their lives, we talk about our own persornal experiences, and then we play music that ties it all together. The whole thing is very inspiring for us too. Getting to hear from them and connect to them directly is so cool. With the bullying, everyone wants to feel like they’re making a difference somehow. This is nice because you can really see it in their faces that something is sticking with them.
Can fans expect any more videos with you and Ali? You could have a whole series of adorable videos together!
I think we are going to have a series of adorable videos together. The ideas keep coming in. I think we’ll have cutesy ones, funny ones, unexpected ones. Just stay on the lookout!