EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Thousands of would-be American Idols crooned, rapped and wailed their way through auditions for the hit show's sixth season Monday, with most waiting hours on line only to see their dreams of stardom quickly dashed by curt words from persnickety judges.
"I need therapy," social worker Blaire Finkelstein joked outside the Continental Airlines Arena after being rejected following her 20-second audition.
She and thousands of other hopefuls showed up for the tryouts, part of a series of auditions taking place across the country in seven cities.
Finkelstein, 24, took a day off from work to try out with a friend; neither made the cut.
"I feel disappointed, but I don't think anything can stop me," said Finkelstein, her face grim.
Sabriena Stone, though, couldn't stop beaming. The 27-year-old blonde said the judges gave her a different message: Come back again. She said they complimented her on tone.
"It was pretty nerve-racking," said Stone, who sang "Oh! Darling" after arriving at about 4:45 a.m. for the 8 a.m. tryout. "I felt confident for the most part."
Stone said she had called out sick from work for the audition, and now needed to let her boss know the truth. She planned to spend the next day resting.
For many of the Idol wannabes, Monday's tryout involved a long day and early start.
LaShonia Hunter left her home in Pennsylvania's Poconos at about 3:30 a.m. Monday morning and arrived in East Rutherford some two hours later to find throngs of other aspiring contestants lined up to audition for the top-rated television show.
"I'm here to be the next American Idol," said Hunter, 23, as she stood among a crush of thousands in a line that wrapped around the arena.
Hunter already had endured the drill, having tried out last year in Boston.
"I'm a lot more seasoned," said Hunter, who books appointments for a plastic surgeon when she's not singing. For this tryout, she packed a blanket and food and a funky platinum blonde, curly wig.
The crowd of hopeful contestants gathered at the Meadowlands could be one of the show's biggest ever, said Patrick Lynn, American Idol's coordinating producer.
New Jersey state police estimated the crowd at about 16,000, but Lynn said he's less concerned about crowd size than discovering talent.
"To me it's not about the numbers. It's about finding the right person," he said, standing outside the arena before the 8 a.m. tryouts began. "We need very few people out of this group."
Each contestant thought they should be one of the chosen.
Nicci Marciante, who arrived at 3 a.m., said she should be picked because of her talent and ambition.
"I want it more than anyone else here," said Marciante, 19, of Long Island, N.Y., who planned to sing a Linda Rondstadt tune.
Shaquanna Jenerette, of Queens, N.Y., clutched a small green bible as she waited to sing "Jesus Loves Me."
"I'm always singing. Why not try out?" she said. "It can't hurt."
Those who make it through the first round of the competition will be invited back for another audition later this week in Manhattan.
Contestants face another round after that one before being invited to Hollywood.
Lynn had some advice for the hopefuls: "Just be ready," he said.
The show is scheduled to return to the air in January.