TORONTO - It's enough to make track-suited Glee-hater Sue Sylvester steer clear of Toronto this weekend.
High schoolers from Ontario and Quebec are set to descend on the city's Sony Centre to strut their stuff at the Show Choir Canada contest.
And there's more than just prestige at stake. Glee clubs placing first through sixth will be awarded prizes totalling more than $25,000. Also up for grabs are scholarships to the Randolph Academy for the Performing Arts for exceptional individual performers.
Hosted by Juno winner Shawn Desman, there are 13 groups competing this year. That's five more than in 2011, when Wexford Glee nabbed the crown after squeaking by Splash from Etobicoke School of the Arts by less than a point.
"Honestly, the way I look at it is that we have to not beat the competition but beat ourselves last year," Merik Williams, 17, said before a recent rehearsal at Wexford Collegiate School for the Arts in Scarborough, Ont.
TV's "Glee," of course, has helped boost the popularity of school music and theatre programs, along with shows such as "Smash" and "The Voice."
"In Hollywood, the music and everything has become so big in teenagers' worlds so it just kind of exploded and now it's just kind of the thing to do," said Torri Webster, 14 and in Grade 10 at Wexford.
"People are starting to open up to the idea of the musical theatre and enjoying being on stage and singing and whatnot," said Masini McDermott, also 17. "It's cool. It's not a dorky thing to do anymore."
"The songs that we're doing are a lot more current and they're fun so that's probably what's bringing the attention in," Williams added.
Students audition to get into performing arts high schools and then audition to join extracurricular ensemble groups, such as the glee club. At Wexford, they must also keep up their marks so they can stay in the program, started in 1988 by director Ann Merriam.
Some of her students have been featured on TV shows including "Degrassi" and "Vampire Diaries" and in professional theatrical productions at the Shaw Festival, Stratford Festival and Boston Conservatory.
Many students aspire to similar careers. McDermott, for instance, wants to study theatre at college.
Gray Monczka, 17, plans to return to the program next year for a fifth year so he can focus on academic courses as well as a director's credit. "I'm keeping my options open because I'm not sure if I want to go into the field, which I probably will, or something more academic. It's something I enjoy and I really want to continue even if it's just as a hobby," he said.
"After I graduate I'm definitely going to be just developing myself more as an artist," said Williams. "Being here for four years I've really grown a lot in this program as a performer and now I'm liking the visual aspect to it and more of the film, the photography, the media and that sort of thing. So I feel like I'm going to educate myself a bit further on that after this journey."
All 13 choirs compete in the preliminary round on Friday. Each 30-minute performance must include at least three contrasting compositions. The field will be narrowed to six for Saturday. There will also be group awards handed out for vocals, choreography and show design as well as individual awards for top male and female vocals and dancing.
The Wexford group was tight-lipped about what they'd be performing, but that's how Merriam works.
"You can ask any of these students. Every show they've been in, everything has changed moment by moment. It's a very unusual way of working," she said.
"You can never kind of settle in because it has to continually be fluid. That's my philosophy — it's gotta stay fluid. So we definitely don't get stale."
"I think it keeps us on our toes. It keeps us driving and pushing forward. It's a good thing," said Webster.
Whether or not the students go on to become professional performers, they think the program helps develop life skills.
"You just learn so much discipline and it just comes in handy like later on in life. It doesn't matter if you pursue it or not. Those things will help you and it will get you far," said Webster.
"It really is a foundation and a lot of it is mind over matter," said Williams. "We learn to go inside and really connect with ourselves from that and then go external from there. I think that also develops a lot of self as well. So you kind of graduate knowing more about who you are as a person and as an individual in this society."
This year's Show Choir Canada judges are Jeri Brown, educator and vocalist from Montreal; music director/producer Mark Camilleri of Toronto; director/choreographer David Connolly of Toronto; educator/conductor Tricia Penner of Winnipeg; and Mike Weaver, a director and choreographer from Chicago.
For more information, visit www.showchoircanada.com or call 1-877-90GLEEK.