Scottish-born singer Storm Gardner, who packed up everything and moved to America as a teen to pursue his showbiz dreams, has performed as a backup vocalist for Carrie Underwood, Neil Young, Ricky Martin, Ozzy Osbourne, Desmond Child, Meat Loaf, Big Time Rush, and the Rock of Ages movie, and he competed on The X Factor U.K. in 2010. But his most rewarding professional experience came when he landed a job as a background singer on Glee, a gig that lasted for the show’s entire six-season run. Now, as the series finale airs this week and Glee comes to an end, Gardner reflects on the cast’s final recording session.
The last song.
Walking into the recording studio, it was like any other session, with the usual formalities and Los Angeles friendliness I had grown accustomed to after a decade of session singing. But as I walked in the control room of Studio A at Henson Recording Studios on La Brea, I choked up.
This was the studio where USA for Africa had recorded the historical “We Are the World” all-star charity single for the starving people of Africa. Michael Jackson, Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder, Elvis Presley, Justin Timberlake, Lady Gaga, Madonna, and probably every recording musician over the years had graced these halls.
And I was on the last day of Glee. A show that changed my life. It reminded me of the healing power of music and how it saved me as a young singer growing up in Scotland. Through a well-crafted song, we can find truth and clarity on things that our conscious mind can’t grasp — a breakup, marriage, birth, our struggle with God and sex and even death all have a soundtrack. And we sang it all on Glee.
The vocal arrangements created by vocal arranger Tim Davis and executive music producer Adam Anders pushed me beyond what I thought my voice could do. Within weeks, I was scooping and bending, swelling and whispering in harmony with singers I had never met, but over the years we would become a family of the most talented and brilliant vocalists you could ever hear. We all came from different walks of life: African American, Swedish, gay, Christian, Scottish, Texan, married, divorced, etc. We mourned deaths, celebrated births and birthdays, and I even became an American citizen during a Glee recording session — commemorated, of course, with a rendition of “America the Beautiful” that I really wish I had recorded because it was sung with so much passion.
It was bittersweet to be back one more time in Studio A, where it had all started for me years earlier. Adam and Tim were busy at work when I was the first singer to arrive at the studio that warm day in February. There, we would record the final song, “I Lived” by OneRepublic. It made sense to end with an anthem for living a fearless life, a song that encapsulates the Glee message of believing in yourself and surrounding yourself with others who elevate you and believe in you.
As the other singers trickled in, we all had teary looks in our eyes. We knew this would be the last song we would sing together, the last time we would put away our differences and harmonize. Cast member Kevin McHale stopped by and even tweeted how he felt he needed to be with the background singers who might not be in the foreground of Glee viewers’ minds. He expressed gratitude for all the singing we had done — well over 800 songs from every genre, decade, and style. “For five years, you guys and girls have all sang your faces off! I wouldn’t miss this,” he said.
Working on Glee made me a better friend, a more tolerant person, and without a doubt a better singer. Laying background vocals down for six seasons of a show that changed the world, and spoke in a compassionate voice to those who feel alone, unsafe, and bullied, is the single greatest achievement I have been lucky to experience. And to me, the reason Glee had and will always have viewers is simple: the music.
I will miss Glee for many reasons. The variety and challenge of the songs, the late nights and shenanigans in the studio with Adam and Tim, and the talented recording engineers. But mostly I will miss standing next to some of the greatest singers in the world, taking a deep breath, and SINGING! I am living proof that you can come from nothing with a dream, work hard, take chances, and you might just hit it big. But it's the people, I have realized, that are the real prize.