Chants of "Animal liberation!" rang outside Hogle Zoo while the Oscar Mayer Wiener song was sung inside over and over again on Saturday.
The food manufacturer is touring the country looking for children to sing in its commercials and found plenty of applicants in Utah. Meanwhile, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) object to the hot dog maker's famous Wienermobile being at the zoo and to the campaign in general."The response has been awesome," said Mike Batka, who was directing the commercial auditions inside the zoo right next to the giant hog dog automobile.
At least 100 children had tried out for the commercial by midafternoon and one youngster will be selected from the nationwide search to appear in ads for Oscar Mayer. "It's really important that they use real kids out there who are eating their products," Batka said.
As for the animal rights protesters who have been following the talent search from city to city, "it doesn't concern our job at all," Batka said. "Our focus is on the kids and the families, enjoying a beautiful day at the zoo and making sure every kid out here feels like a star."
Stephanie Avis and her daughter, Sadee, who will be 4 soon, thought the audition would be fun. Sister-in-law Janet Avis and her daughter, Krystal, 4, really want a shot at the TV exposure.
"I would like to get her into commercials and acting so I'm working on that," Janet Avis said. "She's in ballet and she has a dream of winning the Olympic gold medal in ice skating. I thought commercials would help out financially."
Avis said she had mixed feelings about the animal rights protesters outside the zoo. "I'm kind of for it and kind of against it. Sometimes they get too out of hand with their protests, but on the other hand I don't think animals should be abused."
The Avis girls, dressed alike in white dresses with red cherry designs and red bows in their hair, needed only a little encouragement to sing the Oscar Mayer Weiner song while waiting their turn.
Meanwhile, another child who was suffering a touch of "mike fright" while auditioning got some help from the commercial's producer and talent coordinator who softly sang along with the girl and cheered at the end.
Outside the zoo, Sean Diener, who heads the Utah Animal Rights Coalition and represented PETA at the protest, said the 23 participants wanted to raise public awareness.
"We want to promote vegetarianism and get the stage-happy mothers to realize that while they're making fun and games of eating hot dogs, pigs in factory farms and slaughterhouses are being tortured and killed," Diener said. "If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be a vegetarian."
Diener, a Weber State University student, got interested in the movement as a sophomore at Layton High School when he read "Diet for a New America."
He said he's not involved in the "direct action" part of the movement that includes people who open mink cages, but he feels deeply about the issue. He drew a parallel between the "direct action" activists and abolitionists who freed human slaves during the Civil War.
Protesters marched back and forth carrying signs proclaiming such slogans as "Meat is Murder!" and chanted, "Oscar Mayer, what do you say? How many animals have you killed today?" reminiscent of the "Hey, hey, LBJ! How many kids did you kill today?" chants directed at President Lyndon Johnson during the Vietnam War.
One protester, Sarah Ewing, was with her daughter, Grace, 4, who is being raised a vegetarian, although they do consume dairy products. Grace said her favorite hot dogs are made with tofu, her favorite sandwich is peanut butter and jelly, and her favorite food is a banana. "I'm going to be a vegetarian all my life," Grace said.