Stuart Johnson, Deseret Morning News
Carmen Rasmusen
Editor's note: Beginning Friday, "American Idol" finalist and Utahn Carmen Rasmusen will write a weekly column about this season's show.

Imagine this: Standing in line at your favorite restaurant in Salt Lake City and getting a number.

"How long will the wait be?" you ask as you casually look down at the number the hostess gave you.

"About eight hours."

Eight hours? Appalled, you look down at the number once more: 13,171. You think to yourself, "Am I crazy? Can this really be worth the wait?"

Strange as it may sound, five years ago I was in a somewhat similar situation — but not at a restaurant or even Salt Lake City.

Location: Pasadena, Calif. Purpose: To be on Fox's No. 1 show.

Is it worth the eight-hour wait?

Absolutely. After all, this is no restaurant. This is "American Idol."

Season 7 kicked off last week with a record number of people auditioning for the famous Simon, Paula and Randy in Philadelphia. As I watched the hopefuls belt out their best one after another, I couldn't help but think: How in the world did I ever make it?

Waiting in line for eight hours under the hot California sun was actually the easy part. Auditioning in front of the harshest critic in America? Yeah, I would say that was tough. Little did I know that I would have to survive several rounds of auditions in front of the show's producers beforehand. (FYI — those horrible singers you see on TV have already been through these "producer auditions" and have been given free passes to appear in front of judges Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson for entertainment value only. Imagine that!)

When auditioning for the producers for the first time, I went in a group of five. We stood in a line and took a step forward when our number was called. We sang only a line or two. I was the only one in my group asked to stay, so I realized then how important it was to make a good impression. After all, when you're up against thousands of people, you gotta do whatever it takes to think outside the box.

Way outside the box.

"So, Carmen. Tell us something unique about yourself." Wracking my brains, I quickly blurted the first thing that came to mind.

"I can talk with my mouth closed!"

And that, coupled with a version of LeAnn Rimes' "Blue," sent me over the top.

This season, there have been several people who took their weird talents — or habits — to the extreme. One guy actually brought in a collection of his old fingernails in a Ziploc baggie. Why? Because albeit extremely odd, it set him apart. We remember him. (But sadly, he will forever be known as the "Fingernail Dude.")

Others have taken a similar approach: Disney characters, Statues of Liberty, the token drag queen ... well, you've seen the show.

Keep in mind that over the past few years, "American Idol" has also tried to give us — the viewers — a good first impression of the contestants.

Remember Kellie Pickler from Season 5 — she was talented, funny and enduringly naive. But the icing on the cake was her dramatic family life, what with her father in and out of jail, no mother, living with her grandfather in a small town. Hers was a true rags-to-riches story that made everyone in America fall in love with her.

And this year has been no exception. Angela Martin, a 26-year-old from Chicago, told a heartbreaking story about her daughter with Rett syndrome, a neurological disorder that is profoundly disabling. Angela has a sweet personality and a powerful voice. But because she opened a small door to her personal life, she, at that moment, became a character on the show — a person with a unique story that we can cling to.

Only time will tell if Angela will become the next Kellie Pickler.

If you're one of the 30-million-plus "American Idol" fanatics who is glued to your TV or TiVo every Tuesday and Wednesday night, watch how the contestants creatively leave a lasting impression on the judges and stand out from the crowd.

After all, no one wants to be just another number.

Utah recording artist and actress Carmen Rasmusen came in sixth place during the second season of "American Idol." She wrote about her experiences in her book, "Staying in Tune." Her first full album is "Nothin' Like the Summer," featuring the single of the same name.