American Idol fever is alive and well in Salt Lake City.
A mere 9 1/2 weeks after Murray's David Archuleta finished second in Fox's top-rated talent show, thousands who hope to follow win his footsteps or beyond lined up at EnergySolutions Arena in the wee hours of Sunday morning.
"I'm here because I think I'm the next American Idol. Why else would I be here?" said 16-year-old Jasmine Welch of Salt Lake City. She endured a bit of mocking from her friends for her bravado, but they showed up with her at 12:30 a.m. to get places at the front of the line.
And, as she pointed out, "You've got to have confidence or you're not going to get very far."
The hopefuls who turned out Sunday morning were taking only the first step in what they hope will be a very long journey. They received tickets and wristbands, ensuring them a spot when the auditions begin Tuesday.
And that ensures them of about 10 seconds to sing for an "Idol" staffer, who will make a snap decision about whether the singers will get any more chances. Judges Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul won't be in town until callbacks sometime in September. The ninth season of "American Idol" premieres in January, and this year's finalists will be chosen in February.
Not surprisingly, most of the people in line were from Utah.
"I think it's about time they came to Salt Lake because Salt Lake really has a lot of talent," said Samantha Bird, 19, of Layton.
"I think they'll be surprised about how much talent Salt Lake has," Welch added.
But, as is the case with all "Idol" auditions, the event brought people from hundreds, even thousands of miles away California, Idaho, Texas, Missouri, New Jersey and more.
There were already thousands of hopefuls lined up by 5 a.m. Sunday, and thousands more were there by the time they started handing out wristbands about 7 a.m.
Welch's cousin, Steven Tauteola, was also there to audition. He turns 17 next week, "and this is the biggest party I'll ever have," he said.
It was somewhat reminiscent of the thousands who turned out at the Gateway back in May to see Archuleta during his triumphant homecoming.
"I auditioned in San Antonio (three years ago) and I got there around 5 and I was wrapped around the back of the building, so I decided to get there earlier this time," Bird said.
Exactly how much of an advantage it is to be first in line is a little unclear. Organizers said the tickets handed out with the wristbands were random and that there would be no advantage to arriving early. Wristband and ticket distribution will continue until about 7 a.m. Tuesday.
Auditioners will get a seat in the EnergySolutions Arena and be called section-by-section to sing. And it's up to the production team whether they call sections filled with early arrivals first.
"They told us this morning that we would be first," said Bird, who added it "would be horrible" if that doesn't happen.
It was a well-behaved group quiet, even, in the early morning hours. The biggest noise came from those who were pulled out of line by the "American Idol" production staff for short interviews, a bit of singing and general weirdness.
If the chubby guy waving his belly around on camera makes it on air next year, just remember he's not local; he's from St. Louis.
And not everyone in line is there to audition. Up and down the line there were adults who were there to chaperone their kids. ("Idol" rules stipulate you have to be between 16 and 28 to audition.)
Among the parents was Brian Rayber, who was trying to nap "with my head on cement" outside the EnergySolutions Arena.
"We drove up from Las Vegas," said Rayber, who accompanied his 16-year-old daughter, Brittany. And she didn't drag him there.
"I didn't have to convince him," said Brittany. "It was his idea."
"She's pretty confident, and so am I," Rayber said. "We drove up (Saturday) and we're staying until Wednesday.
"I wouldn't drive 450 miles for nothing," he said with a laugh.
A lot of "Idol" hopefuls brought friends along.
"I came to support my boyfriend's sister," said Jessica Trevino. The 22-year-old flew in from Houston with 19-year-old Marjon Benam and they got lost a couple of times on their way to the EnergySolutions Arena.
"Last year, I made it to the fourth round, and the producer of the show told me I was 'too much,' whatever that means," Benam said, who auditioned in Dallas a year ago. "I don't know if that's a good thing or not. But I'm excited to try again this year."
Like a lot of people in line, this is a big deal in her life.
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