CHICAGO – The Maytag Repairman wasn't a lonely job for about 200 men who auditioned to wear the blue cap and uniform of the iconic television advertising character.
During an open casting call Tuesday, a husky salesman sang "One Is the Loneliest Number" to an imaginary washer and dryer, then did a kick line. A hospital worker struggled to fit the cap over his dreadlocks. And a 20-something actor talked to an appliance — again, imaginary — like it was an underappreciated wife.
Obviously, the next Maytag Repairman — always lonely, ostensibly because of the dependability of Maytag's appliances — could look a lot different from the somewhat older fellows with the hangdog expressions who have played the part in the past.
Whirlpool Corp. (WHR), based in Benton Harbor, Mich., bought Maytag of Newton, Iowa, last year, and company officials say finding a new repairman is part of plans to revitalize the Maytag brand.
Since appearing on television in 1967, he has only been played by three actors. The contract of the current repairman, Hardy Rawls, is not being renewed.
Whirlpool officials say they want the new repairman to be energetic, young at heart and outgoing. But he indeed has to be a man. America, it seems, is not yet ready for a repairwoman — at least according to their market research.
"If you think of other advertising icons out there ... where is Ben Crocker? Where is Juanita Valdez? Where's the Pillsbury doughgirl?" said Jeffrey Davidoff, Maytag's vice president of brand marketing.
"I think there is something that (consumers) see the repairman partially as a person, but really as a character. To be true to that character, one of the things we had to do was stick with a man," Davidoff said.
The company held auditions last weekend in Los Angeles and has a casting call scheduled Friday in New York City. Applications also are being accepted by mail; the new repairman will be announced in March.
At the Chicago auditions Tuesday, authentic Maytag repairmen — who either own stores or work at them — were perhaps only outnumbered by struggling actors.
Scott Thompson, 44, has owned a Maytag store for eight years in Valparaiso, Ind. He said he has seen some changes since Whirlpool took over Maytag — he now places orders over the computer instead of the phone, for instance — but is hopeful the expanded product base will help his business.
"It's new. I wouldn't say it's good or bad. It's just new," he said.
Those making it to the final round of Tuesday's auditions got to don the brimmed, blue Maytag cap. They were videotaped talking to an imaginary Maytag appliance of their choosing, then had to deliver a line of dialogue in several different ways — one man channeled John Wayne, another tried "Taxi Driver"-era Robert de Niro.
The auditions also drew a bus driver, a police officer, a stockbroker, a landlord, a construction worker — and a professional football player.
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Jim Sorgi backs up Peyton Manning, who has only missed one play because of injury in his nine-year NFL career.
Speaking to the media during Super Bowl week in Miami, Sorgi joked that he would be a good Maytag Repairman, "the guy bored out of my mind waiting for something to do."
On Tuesday, Sorgi attended the auditions as part of a promotional agreement with Whirlpool and went through the process like everyone else. In a pep talk delivered during his videotaped audition, Sorgi told an imaginary washer and dryer: "You're King Kong, baby, nobody can defeat you!"