Thousands of would-be "American Idol" contestants gathered in the early-morning hours Tuesday outside Time Warner Cable Arena, hoping to impress judges and keep their dreams of music stardom alive. The first big step toward pursuing that dream began at 8:30 a.m., when producers of the Fox TV show opened the doors at the arena and began the audition process.
Estimates of those auditioning in Charlotte have ranged from 6,000 to 15,000, with only a handful getting a call-back for further auditions later this summer. Their eventual goal: Land an invitation to Los Angeles later this year, where 24 finalists for the 12th season of "American Idol" will be selected.
Police had closed portions of uptown streets early Tuesday morning, as a crowd of auditioners grew. But after the doors to the arena opened a few hours later, the congestion disappeared almost immediately.
Registration for the auditions had taken place Sunday and Monday. Despite the large number of young people gathered at the arena, there were no reports of traffic problems Tuesday morning in the uptown area. It appears as if many people headed to work had heeded warnings and found alternate routes.
Several Charlotte TV and radio stations did their morning shows from the arena, which helped add to the festival-type atmosphere. Charlotte Checkers mascot Chubby Checker walked through the crowd around 7 a.m., and the atmosphere grew lively about the same time when Fox TV crews began taping shots of people outside the arena.
Scotty McCreery, the Raleigh-area country singer who won the Season 10 competition, made an appearance shortly before 8 a.m., earning cheers as he walked through the crowd to the arena. Then around 8 a.m., the TV show's iconic host, Ryan Seacrest, made an appearance.
He was hoisted aloft on a forklift and with a bullhorn (and the Fox cameras going), he asked the crowd, "Are you ready, Charlotte?" Seacrest later told reporters, "I'm really excited to be here."
Finally, about 8:30 a.m., the doors to the arena opened, and people began streaming inside. The show's producers said it would be about two hours before the auditions would begin. The crowd outside the arena disappeared within a few minutes, as the auditioners moved inside for screening by the show's judges.
While most of the crowd sat in the stands and waited, people were called to one of several booths on the arena floor, where they got one quick chance to impress talent scouts. The first round of auditions will take place Tuesday, but those who impress the judges will be asked to return later this year for second and third rounds.