Regular Folks Take a Shot at the Big Time

For anyone who likes to party, the ultimate job is up for grabs.

Over the past month, executives from the entertainment channel E! have been traveling across America looking for the next host of its popular party show Wild On E!

"This is the first time we're having an open call like this," said E! Networks director of casting and talent Dan Gibson, who estimates his team has seen over 4,000 applicants.

"We really wanted to open the flood gates because we know there are so many fans not only of Wild On but of E!" he said. "If we find our next host of Wild On that's wonderful, but we're also going to have the opportunity to meet a whole bunch of fresh talent for upcoming original programming."

The "open call" approach is designed to help find untapped talent. However, with thousands of would-be hosts vying for one position, the chances of being picked is pretty slim — and industry insiders say it's a long shot for up-and-coming actors.

"Generally, as an agent, I don't work off of open calls," said Mark Turner, head of the host and broadcast division at Abrams Artists Agency. "They're not an ideal way for my clients to book jobs."

But E! is not alone in taking the "cattle call" approach, and many hopeful actors inevitably show up for a shot at the big time.

In the summer of 2000 the HBO series The Sopranos held an open call in Harrison, N.J., for roles for its third season. The event attracted thousands of "wise-guy" wannabes looking for the chance to get whacked by James Gandolfini or talk tough to Michael Imperioli.

"It was pure bedlam," said Captain Paul Trucillo of the Harrison Police Department. "We made a decision in the interest of public safety to close it down early."

But it wasn't a complete bust. Trucillo was one of seven people there who were actually cast in the show.

"In talking to the producers I had mentioned that I put my picture in," Trucillo said. "A few months later I got a call from them and I auditioned, and I ended up playing a cop in episode 9, season 3."

Success stories like that, while rare, demonstrate that there is a sliver of hope for the hoards who hang their dreams of stardom on open calls.

And that's enough for Kate Mangen, 21, who drove to New York City from Philadelphia and waited in line for three hours before the doors even opened at E!'s Wild On audition.

"I'd be great for it, you know," she said.

Others take a "why not" attitude and just try to have fun with the experience.

Television segment producer Lauren Sivan figured "what have I got to lose," and became one of the New York finalists after three callbacks. "This job would be a dream come true ... I'm sure it's hard work and a lot of traveling, but you search for parties around the world. Your job is spring break. I can't think of anything that would be better."

Still others take a cautious approach. "My chances are slim to none," said Yve Lisse of the Dominican Republic. But she showed up nonetheless, "because you never know."

And industry insiders say while it's a long shot, it doesn't hurt to attend these massive events

"In this case, with Dan Gibson, the head of E!'s talent division present at the call, it appears the only way for one to obtain the Wild On! hosting job is through one of the events," Turner said. "Open calls can help someone that does not have any broadcasting experience break into the business. For instance, MTV's Dave Holmes was second in the 'I Want to Be a VeeJay' contest and five years later he's still on the channel."

And he's not the only one. Fox News Channel's entertainment correspondent Bill McCuddy got his start after winning a contest to appear as an entertainment host on the America's Talking Network in 1994.

"Some show business stories do happen like in the movies," said McCuddy. "It was an amazing overnight thing that happened to me. If it can happen for me, it can happen for anybody."

As a finalist, Sivan said she'll take it all in stride. "If I don't get the job I'm still me, but at least now I know that I have that little something extra. You definitely have not heard the last from me."