Several thousand young people got a chance to be part of "American Idol" on Tuesday and for most of them it was short and bittersweet.
Out of the estimated 4,000-6,000 who showed up to audition at the EnergySolutions Arena, only about 200-400 were expected to make it to the second of three rounds. Those who did, however, could hardly contain their excitement.
"I was freaking out. I was so nervous. I started shaking like crazy," said 18-year-old Skyler Holman of Salt Lake City. "I was so happy, because I've dreamed about this forever. Ever since the show came on."
"It's intense how fast everything happened," said Nicole Christensen, 25, of Midvale, a ventriloquist who performed with a "elderly" dummy on her arm. "It's Simon Cowell's grandmother," she joked.
At the other end of the spectrum were the vast majority who were told the show is "looking for something different" this year. There was a lot of disappointment and a few tears.
But that didn't mean the effort wasn't worth it.
"Yeah, absolutely, it was a good experience," said Chris Aaron, 27, of Orem. "Nerves got the best of me."
"It wasn't how I expected it to be, but it was still fun," said Jordann Gasser, 20, of Midvale who's expecting a baby in September. "Just to come out here and try out was worth it. You're part of 'American Idol,"'
Which is the reason thousands turned out.
"This is their tangible way of touching the show. Being a part of the show," said "Idol" senior producer Patrick Lynn. "Whether or not they're coming out here to take it seriously, or whether they're coming out because they just love the show, they're coming out. And that's the most important thing."
He said there was no "quota" on Tuesday. "We usually send through anywhere from 200 to 400 people out of this crowd, but it's really whoever we think is good enough for the show."
Tuesday's auditions were the "cull." On the floor of the arena, 12 pairs of "Idol" staffers sat at tables. Four auditioners at a time stood before a pair of judges, who spent about four minutes with each group.
Those chosen few will return to sing for the executive producers, who will pick maybe 100 to sing for judges Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul.
The date and location of the next two rounds is a closely guarded secret for security reasons. "I've got a lot of people who are here today that probably want to be there that can't be there," Lynn said.
All we know for certain is that Rounds 2 and 3 will be in Salt Lake City sometime in September.
Some of the hopefuls apparently didn't entirely grasp the situation. One was holding a sign reading, "Simon, let's chat."
Hopefuls were told to be prepared to stay all day. And they quickly discovered there's more to "Idol" auditions than just auditioning. There were camera crews filming contestants in line, getting them to sing and doing brief interviews. There was the big crowd shot on the northwest plaza outside the arena, where crew members in orange T-shirts exhorted hopefuls to scream, yell, jump and wave their arms in the air.
Once inside, there was more cheering, and they sang "a bunch of songs" together.
"A lot of people expect that they're just going to show up, sing their song and leave," Lynn said. "We're sort of here to educate them that 'American Idol' is a lot bigger and takes a lot longer than that."
But everyone who registered for the auditions got their chance.
Hopefuls began arriving at about midnight, despite the fact that what time they got there Tuesday morning had absolutely no bearing on how quickly they got to audition.
Lynn said the crowd was "on par" with what he's seen in other cities.
"I mean, Salt Lake City is not the biggest city in the country, so we've got a pretty good, sizable crowd, and they've really been steady coming in," he said.
(The 4,000-6,000 estimate did not include parents and friends who accompanied auditioners.)
Lynn said he's more interested in the attitude of the people who show up rather than just the number.
"I've got to say, Salt Lake great attitude (and) even-keeled," he said. "These guys are actually ... taking it seriously. They want to get their shot." Unless somebody's camera was pointed in their direction, people in the crowd were indeed quite calm. Only when camera crews from local TV stations, "Entertainment Tonight" or "Extra" were pointed in their direction did the screaming and cheering begin.
The fact that screaming their lungs and throats out for the cameras might not be the best thing for a singer to do shortly before an audition didn't seem to occur to a lot of them.
First season runner-up Justin Guarini was doing interviews for the TV Guide Network. And the lights and camera were more important to some of those in line than the one-time "Idol" star who proved fame is fleeting.
"I had no idea who he was," said one young man, who (not surprisingly) didn't want to give his name.
There were moments that were pure Utah like when a group of girls started singing "Popcorn Popping on the Apricot Tree." And one sign declared, "I'm better than David Archuleta" the Utah teen who finished second on "Idol" in May.
Last year, more than 100,000 people auditioned for "American Idol." So is it really possible that somebody from Utah could come out of these auditions and make the finals next May?
"Well, last year I think there was a kid named Archuleta," Lynn said. "So I think the chances are pretty good."Of course, did we get all of the talent with David Archuleta? Only time will tell."
E-mail: [email protected]