Across the United States, tens of thousands of young people dream of becoming the next singing sensation. In pursuit of that dream, they're lining up to audition for American Idol, a wildly popular television show that promises to find the country's next superstar. Joshua Levs wandered along the line that formed when the producers came to Atlanta, Georgia.
People started lining up at the Georgia Dome two days before the tryouts even began. They had to, to make the cut-off. For some of the stories I've covered as a reporter, it's difficult to get people to talk. But showing up with a microphone in front of Idol wannabes? This wasn't one of those stories!
"I embody everything that an American idol should be," said Amy Pinna from Tampa, Florida. "I'm smart and cool to hang around with and I'm hilarious and I've got a good voice," she said.
Just steps away in this long, winding line leading inside the football stadium to a chance at stardom is Sean Michael Scott, 19. "I just know man, I got the look, I got the talent, it's just on, I'm just that good," he said.
Anybody who's watched American Idol knows the judges are especially impressed by people who can really belt out a song. The crowd seems pretty supportive of each other, probably because they know they're stuck together for a couple days. They have pillows, blankets, coolers, books to read, cards for playing games.
Once inside the Georgia Dome, they audition for producers of the show. These 'first-round' judges consider sound, style and entertainment value and decide who will audition for the three American Idol judges. And since they're not allowed to leave their spot in line for any length of time, by the time all these people actually start the audition process, they won't have showered for at least two days.
"I'm sorry to the judges who have to see all these nasty people. What are you gonna do?," asked Jamie Beckerman, 17. "We're out here sweating... I brought some makeup, slap it on the face, make it look a little better. So we'll see."
Those selected to face the three American Idol judges will be competing for the chance to go to Los Angeles for the next stage in the competition for $1 million record deal. The biggest challenge is impressing judge Simon Cowell, known for issuing some of the harshest criticism possible. He has told auditioners they sound like animals, even labeled one the worst singer in the world.
"I'll give him a few choice words… piece of my mind. If he says I'm good, I'll kiss his butt," said one contestant.
But Douglas Christian Jr. from Winston-Salem North Carolina plans to follow more of a divide and conquer strategy. He'll focus on the one female judge: former pop star Paula Abdul. "I mean, just serenade her," he said. "You gotta know how to serenade a woman," he said.
Just when I started to think all the contestants had read the same how-to-be-confident handbook, came this shocking moment of realism.
"I don't think I'm good enough to be the American Idol but I think I'm good enough to be in the music business," said Michael Donahoo, 18, who auditioned for the show the last two years as well, but never made it out of Atlanta. He thinks it'll be good for his career just to make it as far as Los Angeles.
There is a lot of talent here, which is a reminder of just how daunting this competition is. American Idol already held tryouts in Los Angeles and Houston and after Atlanta, it's on to New York and Honolulu. The judges will pick the best, whittle the group down further at the next stage of auditions in Los Angeles, then introduce the young singers on TV and let Americans across the country call in with their votes. It's a phenomenon at its height, with the power to make a star out of anyone with the talent and conviction to make it through this grueling audition process.