They came from New York City and South Jersey and from western Pennsylvania with one goal in mind: musical stardom.
Between 4,500 and 5,000 people converged on the Prudential Arena in Newark early Saturday to audition for Season 12 of American Idol, the blockbuster singing competition on Fox that has launched the careers of Kelly Clarkson , Chris Daughtry, Jennifer Hudson and a host of other chart-toppers.
(See the video for performances by hopefuls and for scenes from Saturday.)
Most of the crowd was there by 5 am --- several had camped out since the night before -- and was fairly energetic despite the early hour. “Idol” staff kept the waiting contenders pumped with blaring pop and club music. The crowd was also instructed periodically to wave US flags enthusiastically as crews filmed.
But the highlight of the morning, at least until the actual auditions were held inside the arena -- which was closed to the press and the public -- was the appearance of Idol host Ryan Seacrest, who shook hands with the auditioners and later led them in cheers by megaphone. Dozens screamed out “We love you Ryan!” as Seacrest made his way through the crowd.
“I love it,” Seacrest said of New Jersey during a brief press conference held shortly before auditions began. “It’s actually not too hot right now.”
Seacrest, considered by many to be the heir apparent to Dick Clark, also spoke about his upcoming gig helping cover the 2012 Summer Olympics and his grueling routine.
“An alarm clock early in the morning, papers in my lap all day,” Seacrest said.
Saturday’s event in Newark is part of a tour of cities across the country now underway for Season 12 of the show, which begins in January. There have already been stops in Los Angeles, San Antonio, and Charlotte, NC, with more auditions planned in Chicago, New Orleans and Oklahoma City over the next few weeks.
Since the first season of Idol, the show has held auditions in the New Jersey-New York City area a half dozen times, producers said.
“We usually see talent with attitude here. That’s why we come back,” said Patrick Lynn, a senior supervising producer.
A bit of both was indeed on display Saturday.
Jordan Cunningham, 23, of Strousburg, Pa., is a husky guy who was dressed in a leather jacket -- and a dainty red tutu.
“This is what I always wear,” when asked to explain his choice of attire.
Noelle Hartje, a 26-year-old from Middlesex, was dressed up in a cute if unseasonable Christmas elf outfit (a reference to her holiday-themed first name, she explained).
Hartje, who had worked until recently as a health teacher, said she had always been a singer and had performed the National Anthem in front of crowds at the home of the Somerset Patriots baseball team.
“A lot of people have been telling me to try out for American Idol, and I just never had the time. This year I do,” Hartje said.
Romeire Brown, 21, may end up with a recording contract -- the top prize on Idol -- or he may land in a war zone. A specialist in the US Army from Philadelphia, Brown -- who was dressed in fatigues Saturday -- said he is currently scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan in 2014.
“Hopefully they’ll pull out by that time,” he said.
Among the youngest in the crowd Saturday was Desiree McKinsey, who at 15 is the minimum age for an Idol contestant (the oldest an Idol hopeful can be is 28). McKinsey, who traveled to Newark with her mom, grandmother and sister from Hanover, Pa., said her family held a car wash fundraiser to defray their travel expenses.
“I’m here to sing my heart out. I’ve wanted to do this show since I was a little girl,” said McKinsey, who hopes to follow in the footsteps of her idol -- and Idol discovery -- Carrie Underwood .
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