- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 19, 2004

It is 2,663 miles from the Washington Convention Center to Hollywood.

But the road to stardom got a lot longer yesterday for sad-eyed Nicole Fabiyan, a 19-year-old who traveled from Point Pleasant, N.J., to audition for the Fox Network’s popular reality show “American Idol,” only to get rejected.

“Last year I made the first cut. I practiced a lot since then and I was more prepared this time. I thought I did pretty well,” Miss Fabiyan said as she dabbed her blue eyes with a tissue.

Her audition wasn’t good enough to persuade a judge to let her into the second round of tryouts. So she grabbed her backpack and duffel bag, walked down the steps of a motionless escalator and out the convention center’s front door. So did thousands of other distressed divas and jilted artists trying to claim a spot on the fourth season of “American Idol,” which the network plans to broadcast beginning in January after tryouts in eight cities.

The District is full of people who clamor for attention and seek an audience on a typical day — lobbyists, Jessica Cutler, talking heads and members of Congress. The lure of fleeting television fame attracted thousands more. Fame seekers came from as far away as New York, Ohio and Georgia.

More than 9,000 people auditioned, “American Idol” Executive Producer Nigel Lythgoe said from underneath a Los Angeles Dodgers cap, and 22,000 people in all — singers and their friends and families — were at the convention center, making it the largest crowd to attend a casting call by the television show.

Everyone wants to be a star, but some shined brighter than others.

Cheryl Bak, a 19-year old from Clarksburg, Md., was one of the first to earn a spot in the second round of auditions after belting out “It’s Raining Men.”

Miss Bak floated down a long staircase from the audition room, clutching the sacred orange sheet of paper that gave singers passage to the second round.

But she maintained her modesty.

“I feel so incredibly blessed by God,” she said.

The show’s castoffs slowly filed down the stairs after their fruitless auditions, many dragging suitcases that thumped on each step as they descended toward family members who waited in a vast holding area. Only those auditioning were allowed inside the tryout areas.

Shante Moore, a 23-year-old from the District, got the boot. But her confidence remained intact.

“I want to be a singer. I will be a singer. This was just a learning process for me,” she said.

Carrie Budaj learned she didn’t even have a memento after her failed tryout because the “American Idol” staff claimed the red wristband — handed out to identify singers — once she didn’t make the first cut.

“I went in with the attitude that anything could happen. The only sad part is that I wanted to keep my wristband as a souvenir and they cut it off,” said Miss Budaj, a 27-year-old from Barnegat, N.J.

Rachel Watkins, 21, and Emily Buonodono, 21, didn’t expect to make the cut, but they drove together from Atlanta to give it a shot.

“We were just like, ‘We don’t have anything else to do.’ I didn’t really come to make it. I came for the experience,” Miss Buonodono said.

Garry Cofer, a 21-year-old from Baltimore, just wants to prove to his parents he can sing.

“If I make it, it’s like ‘hah — I told you so,’” he said.

Ryan Parker, 28, made it. Like Miss Bak, Mr. Parker clutched the prized orange paper that gave him entry to the second round of tryouts. People who succeed in the second round get to perform in a final round of tryouts beginning Friday in front of “American Idol” judges Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul.

“I believe in myself. I see myself being in the show. Sure, the odds are slim, but when it’s your time, nothing can stop that,” Mr. Parker said.

The convention center teemed with talent and persistence.

Tavon Brown, a 28-year-old who drove from Cincinnati, failed to make the cut after auditioning in Cleveland and St. Louis, two other cities where the show is plucking talent for the next season, and he drove here for one last shot.

“It’s now or never,” he said.

Through a few hours of auditions, Mr. Lythgoe had a tepid review of the vocal talent at the convention center.

“It’s not as strong as I’d like it,” he said.

Judges aren’t aiming to take a specific number of singers from D.C. tryouts, Mr. Lythgoe said, and they will take as many as are good enough to impress them.

But Midian Mathers, who signs artists for McLean, Va.-based Artist Management Inc., said “American Idol” was casting off scores of talented people.

“It’s absolutely baffling why some of these people are being rejected. Some of them will make it,” she said.

She gave business cards to a handful of singers, including Stacey Black.

Mr. Black, who lives in the District, used the acoustics of an overhang outside the convention center to perform a rousing version of a gospel song for a sprawling group after he was rejected by the “American Idol” judges.

“I’m not angry. I sang for four people in there. Look at how many people out here are listening to me,” he said.

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