The excitement in the air in downtown Oklahoma City on Friday was as palpable as the Oklahoma summer humidity when about 10,000 people crowded Thunder Alley, ready for their chance to be the next “American Idol.”
It was audition day for the Fox TV talent show, and the crowd started gathering as early as 2 a.m., though the festivities didn't start until about 7 a.m.
That's when camera crews boarded cherry pickers, key grips hoisted their microphones on boom stands and “American Idol” host Ryan Seacrest made his first appearance to shoot footage for the show.
“I love you, Ryan!” several people shouted from the star-struck crowd. Seacrest smiled, waved,talked with people and kept a cheerful, energetic attitude during the shots.
Senior supervising producer Patrick Lynn, bullhorn to mouth, shouted instructions to the enormous crowd.
“Look at the camera! Don't look at me! Signs up! Cellphones down!” he boomed. He prompted the group to shout several phrases as cameras swept the crowd.
“In three, two,” he said he as he counted down. He then mouthed the word “one,” prompting the crowd to shout in unison: “Welcome to Oklahoma City!”
“I'm Ryan Seacrest and this ... is ‘American Idol,'” Seacrest said, the city skyline in the background. “Are you ready, Oklahoma City?”
“We're ready, Ryan!” the crowd shouted back.
“It's so exciting I want to cry. This is something that is absolutely the greatest dream ever, so if I get through, I don't know how I'm going to react. It's going to be crazy,” said Kaitlyn Lanoy, 18, of Guthrie.
She had a prime spot in the front row of the enormous group.
“This is exactly why we do ‘American Idol,' to see a group like this come out with so much excitement and enthusiasm,” Seacrest said in a news conference before auditioners were let into the Chesapeake Energy Arena. “I'm guessing that we're going to find some good talent.”
Jessica Chitwood, 27, of Moore, said she hopes she'll fall into the category of “good talent” and get a callback for Round 2 of auditions.
“It's my last time and my first time,” she said, referring to the age 28 cutoff in “Idol” rules. The 27-year-old said she sang as part of a traveling evangelical mission for nine years and thinks her voice is much like Christina Aguilera's. For her audition, she said she'd sing “You Lost Me” by Aguilera.
With her flame red “rave shave,” self-described “fab goth” clothing ensemble, lock-and-key tattoo over her heart, fishnet tights and knee-high combat boots, Chitwood was definitely an original in the crowd.
“Today it takes somebody that stands out,” Seacrest said. “Today, what we really look for is potential. You don't have to be perfect in this audition. But we want to find potential that we can work with through the next rounds. Star quality.”
Dominique Blackwell has a spark of that quality. The 21-year-old lives in Atlanta and flew to Oklahoma City for the audition. He was pretty confident of his skills.
“What kind of singer are you?” I asked.
“A good one,” he replied with a huge smile. He calls himself “Dom the Bomb.”
And if Katie Sherwood, 16, of Del City, doesn't make it onto TV, you can likely catch her singing at the grocery store, school or anywhere she feels inspired.
“I usually sing wherever I get the chance to. I can randomly be in Walmart and burst out singing,” she said.
“True story,” her companion confirmed.
It was clearly an Oklahoma crowd with dozens of women in short dresses and cowboy boots and men in cowboy hats. One such man was Gary Beckett, 20, of McLoud.
Beckett and a friend, Tyler Ledford, 23, also of McLoud, said their biggest singing exposure thus far has been at karaoke night at a local tavern.
“I sing whenever I can, that's about it,” Beckett said. He seemed unusually calm and collected, though he said he thinks he'll be very nervous when it's time to belt out his song of choice, “Lean On Me,” by Bill Withers.
“I think there's a lot of anticipation that's been building up,” Beckett said. “Everyone is so excited to get in there and give it their all that they're just kind of in the zone.”
After Friday's auditions, about 500 likely will move on to the next round of local auditions. From there, they'll be whittled down until a final local audition, when some of the talented few to make it that far will receive the coveted “golden ticket” to Hollywood Week, which takes place in the fall.
“I know the spirit of this city,” Seacrest said. He was at one of the Thunder's home playoff games. “This is an incredible crowd that's packed the streets this morning, so hopefully we'll see somebody great and take them back with us to Hollywood.”