It's time for another high school singing competition and we are astounded by how Mr. Schuester has again failed to pick a set list ahead of time. There have been weeks of pretense about preparing for sectionals! Yet despite his apparent easygoing attitude, one thing about "Hold on to 16" was made clear after every character seemed to utter or receive the moral of this week's story: embrace your youth, kids! Overkill aside, though, the songs were generally a success.
"Red Solo Cup":
Finn recognizes that the New Directions have to deal with performer problems before they deal with a set list; he tells Schue that he's going to use Facebook to convince Sam to come back from his new school in Kentucky and takes Rachel with him. Turns out, Sam is making the big bucks as a stripper nicknamed White Chocolate, but he really just misses being a teenager and convinces his parents to let him return to McKinley. Everyone welcomes him like he didn't just awkwardly slip away at the end of last season, and he celebrates by singing Toby Keith. Cue awkward country dancing and imbibing sparkling cider out of red Solo cups but also a surprisingly natural country twang from Sam. The number is still feeling the effects of last episode, though, and the choir room performance feels mostly stale. It should also be noted that Santana makes a cameo to welcome back Trouty Mouth with a stellar notebook-penned homage that begins, "Dear Lisa Rinna..."
There's a ton of drama to work out before we get to sectionals. Mike's dad is still pissed that his son wants to be a performer and Tina goes to persuade the elder Chang but winds up getting both of them mad at her; Quinn wants to tell Figgins about Shelby and Puck to disqualify the Troubletones from sectionals but Rachel warns Quinn that she'll hit rock bottom if she does so; Quinn tries to win Sam back but he tells her he can't deal with her rich white girl problems and quotes John "Cougar" Mellencamp to best describe his philosophy ("Hold on to 16 as long as you can"); Sam tries to win back Mercedes but she pleads loyalty to her football-playing boyfriend; creepy Warbler Sebastian is back and he and Kurt declare their mutual dislike for each other: "I don't like your obnoxious CW hair," Kurt says, comically echoing our own thoughts; and Blaine and Finn resolve their issues – turns out Finn was threatened by the Warbler. Of course!
This year's sectionals judges are an especially qualified bunch: a DMV employee of the month, a judge from the Court of Appeals and Western Ohio's Birthday Clown of the Year for three years running. Things kick off with the Unitards, featuring Harmony (or as Kurt aptly remembers her, the Gerber baby from his and Rachel's NYADA competition). She's front and center as Eva Perón for a number from Evita that includes background dancing reminiscent of Vocal Adrenaline's polished choreography. Harmony brings Latin flair and proves that she's legit vocal competition, but the song as a whole has the weird effect of feeling both over-the-top and watered down at the same time. We did enjoy Kurt and Rachel mouthing the words in the crowd, though.
"Survivor/I Will Survive":
The Troubletones were so confident in their win that they offered the New Directions a "contingency plan": if the Troubletones won, anyone from the New Directions would be welcome to join them during regionals. Though that left the New Directions aghast, the ladies went on to confirm their status as queens of the mash-up with a seamless girl-power blend of Gloria Gaynor and Destiny's Child. Unlike their previous conquering of Adele, the vocals lack a certain rawness, but they get the crowd up on their feet nonetheless. Well, except for the New Directions; Blaine and Finn are confident that they have this one in the bag.
"ABC," "Control" and "Man in the Mirror":
On the same day that Glee announced a Michael Jackson tribute episode, the New Directions pulled from the whole Jackson family catalog for a trio of performances. They proved that Glee still has quality performances in it, somewhere – the show just has trouble finding them consistently. Tina took the lead on "ABC" with help from Mike, Kurt and Quinn in what felt like a flashback to the New Directions' group performances of yesteryear, when it was all about an over-the-top, feel-good attitude (see: all of the boys busting out their dance moves during the bridge). Next, Blaine and Artie took on the title track from Janet Jackson's Control, leading the group in slick dance moves. Finally, the main boys kicked off the quintessentially Glee "Man in the Mirror" that got everyone – even Papa Chang – up on their feet.
"We Are Young":
After New Directions finally nab a sectionals win – and we find out that Harmony is only a sophomore – everyone celebrates with a little fun. (as in the indie-pop trio). Quinn, caught off guard by Shelby's maturity when Quinn threatens to reveal Shelby's relationship with Puck, opts not to tell Figgins after all and thanks Rachel for pointing her in the right direction. She uses her newfound maturity to persuade Mercedes, Santana, Brittany and Sugar Motta to rejoin the New Directions with a promise from Schue and Rachel that the Troubletones will get to sing at least one song at each competition. The breezy pop of "We Are Young" is performed with silly spirit in the school auditorium, another throwback to simpler and successful Glee moments.
Bottom Line: While the message was undeniably heavy-handed for the first half of the episode (and seemed to set the stage for the fuzzy plan that Glee has set forth about what will happen next year when half the crew graduates), once sectionals actually started, "Hold on to 16" succeeded in spite of itself – and somehow, Quinn became the voice of reason.