They came with their wraparound shades, hair-styling tools and other items essential for a shot at fame. Thousands of people, many appearing to be teenagers or in their twenties, flooded into the Washington Convention Center this week to audition for Fox's popular "American Idol." (search

Candidates began arriving Monday morning — two days before the start of auditions — for a chance to win a spot on the television reality program that makes stars out of its winners. They camped out in the auditorium after police ordered organizers to allow people inside because of the heat and the long line.

Lavita Warren, 22, of Kalamazoo, Mich., drove 12 hours for her chance at stardom. In purple eye-shadow and glitter, she came armed with snacks, a sleeping bag, folding chairs, lip gloss, outfits, makeup, and her hair needs.

Danielle Jones, 28, made the trip with Warren, despite odds of "like a million to one," just so she could belt out a few seconds of Whitney Houston's (search) "All at Once."

"It's a chance of a lifetime. You'll hardly ever get an opportunity like this again," Jone said. "I say if the door is open, walk through it, and if it's your chance, you'll get through."

Some waiting for their chance at fame and fortune used the downtime to keep their vocal cords warm. One woman began singing Alicia Keys' (search) "Fallin'" to no one in particular.

Everyone who shows up before Wednesday's deadline will be heard, said Patrick Lynn, the coordinating producer. In the first round of tryouts, contestants will be asked to sing a chorus and verse from their song of choice for a producer.

"Then I'll make my decision right then and there," Lynn said.

Those who get cut won't get the rough treatment "Idol" judge Simon Cowell (search) dishes out. Instead, Lynn said he will thank the contestants for their time, and say they're not what he's looking for.

Those who pass the first-round head to tryouts Thursday in front of "Idol" executive producers. Second-round survivors get to sing for "Idol" judges Cowell, Randy Jackson, (search) and Paula Abdul (search) in Washington on Friday or Saturday. The trio of judges will decide who competes on the reality series.

Lynn says he can't give a number on how many of the thousands of hopefuls will advance or get cut in each round.

"We don't have a quota of who makes it or who doesn't," he said. "It's just a matter of who's good enough for the show."

The fourth season of "American Idol" begins in January. Auditions already have been held in Cleveland and St. Louis. The show also is planning auditions in Anchorage, Alaska; Las Vegas; New Orleans; Orlando, Fla.; and San Francisco.