PASADENA, Calif. – Thousands of "American Idol" hopefuls showed up at the Rose Bowl on Tuesday with wide-eyed dreams of becoming the next Taylor Hicks or Carrie Underwood.
After waiting all night and standing in line for hours, most contestants got less than a minute to sing a few bars -- and then the boot.
Michael Taylor, 21, of El Monte, who works at a customer call service center, was among those quickly dismissed from the tryouts. Fox publicity representatives were more sensitive, saying he "was not moving forward."
"This is just a stepping stone for me and I'm looking past it," said Taylor, who asked an observer if he could sing a few notes to demonstrate his talent. He had a nice soulful style -- but obviously not nice enough.
Pasadena was the first of seven cities where producers of Fox TV's talent show planned auditions for the upcoming sixth season. Approaching the Rose Bowl, roads were clogged as auditioners hurried to meet the deadline to line up. Outside the stadium, early arrivals gathered -- some huddled under blankets, some wearing headphones and silently mouthing lyrics. Others did last-minute makeup checks.
The generally subdued early morning crowd roused itself occasionally, once when sample breath mints were tossed into the crowd and other times when TV news crews went on the air.
At 8:30 a.m., almost four hours after the official lineup time, producers started letting people in. The crowd wrangler urged the throng to cheer -- but "no pushing." Media were not allowed to watch the auditions.
The elimination process was surprisingly quick, said Ryan Duitch, 17, of Los Angeles. The hopefuls stepped forward four at a time to one of 14 judging stations. Each station was manned by three producers looking for that special "Idol" magic. Each hopeful had all of about 20 seconds to showcase his or her talent.
"Not what we're looking for," Duitch said he and others were told. But he, like other contestants, said this wouldn't stop them from pursuing their passion.
"Now we take him out to lunch and tell him how wonderful he is," said the teenager's girlfriend, Faith Altman.
Some contestants got what they came for.
Carrie Jo, 24, of Louisville, Ky., said she moved to Los Angeles recently to pursue her dreams of being a singer and dancer. On Monday night, she was pulling her regular shift as a waitress at Monty's, a Los Angeles restaurant. At work, bartenders made pseudo matching registration wrist bands and had her sign them as a gesture of good luck.
Hours later, she and her mother, Dottie Hubrich, also of Louisville, were camped out at the Rose Bowl to be among the first in line.
Carrie Jo, who sang snippets of Patsy Kline's "Crazy" and two other songs, said she was the first one to be passed through to the next round, which is scheduled for next month.
She called the audition "an amazing open door and an amazing opportunity."
Ken Fitzgerald, 27, of Cupertino was making his second try at getting past screeners. In season three, he made it as far as the on-air judges, where Simon Cowell said he would make a brilliant car salesman and he was dismissed.
This time, Fitzgerald said he planned to "give them a different taste" of his singing talents, choosing an alternative rock song instead of a pop tune. Asked if he was daunted by past experience or the crowd, Fitzgerald said: "This is about fun. Everybody's going to remember this for the rest of their lives."
Passing the initial scrutiny is just the beginning for those invited back, with follow-up auditions scheduled to winnow the pack even more.
Only a relative handful that get to strut their stuff for Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson and see their auditions -- good, bad or ugly -- featured on the show.
Those rejected in one city can jump to another and try again.
According to the Web site, hopefuls can be accompanied to the audition by a friend or relative and can tote in items such as blankets and water. On the banned list: alcoholic beverages, illegal drugs, animals and hair dryers.
"American Idol" has demonstrated its prowess as a starmaker and pop culture juggernaut by turning unknowns into overnight sensations with awards and hit records. As the top-rated TV show last season, it shattered expectations that it couldn't sustain its popularity.
On the new season that begins airing in January, "American Idol" will up the ante with a songwriting contest in which professionals and amateurs will have the chance to compose tunes for the finalists.
Upcoming auditions for singers: Alamodome, San Antonio, Friday; Continental Airlines Arena, East Rutherford, N.J., Aug. 14; Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex, Birmingham, Ala., Aug. 21; FedExForum, Memphis, Tenn., Sept. 3; Target Center, Minneapolis, Sept. 8; Key Arena, Seattle, Sept. 19.