Friday, May 29, 2009

When "Idol" Came to Cleveland

Here is one of several stories I wrote in 2004, when "American Idol" held auditions in Cleveland. This one deals with the mass auditions.

"What are we, fugitives from justice?" one American Idol contestant wondered out loud as a helicopter buzzed over Cleveland Browns Stadium.
"We're a circus," a friend replied.
Maybe you've dreamed of winning American Idol. Singing your heart out on national television, with a band and backup singers. Getting new clothes, a cosmetic makeover, an album deal, tours.
That wasn't the American Idol you would have found in Cleveland on Tuesday. What you saw there was the gritty first step people had to take toward the glamorous finish, an endurance contest with an occasionally festive air.
Among those taking part were two of the three auditioners chosen for coverage in a Beacon Journal competition, 20-year-old Ryan Thompson of Medina and 28-year-old Jessica Vaughan of Clinton. (The third, 22-year-old Tiffany Allison of Cleveland, planned to join the auditioning crowd early today.)
Thompson had arrived outside the stadium a little before 3 a.m. Tuesday, when he estimated the crowd was in the hundreds -- and people had to avoid lawn sprinklers that came on abruptly.
With him was a group of friends that included auditioners Kelly Cass, 17, and Linda Cameron, 18, both of Medina. He had also brought a change of clothes, bottled water and some caffeine-laden Red Bull.
"Until we get our (audition) wrist bands, I'm not concerned about sleeping," he said. Later in line, he and his friends passed some of the time with board games.
Vaughan, accompanied by her husband, Roger, had arrived about 5:15 a.m. with clothes, some books, crossword puzzles and her guitar. "Worst-case scenario, I get 24 hours of practice," she said.
They were among thousands of would-be Idols invited to Cleveland Browns Stadium beginning at 6 a.m. Tuesday, just to line up for the actual auditions beginning today.
With Cleveland the first site of the latest Idol auditions, people came not only from Northeast Ohio but from Detroit and Indianapolis, Buffalo and Erie.
Some passed out in the morning heat. Still, many auditioners, most in their teens and 20s, were confident, even giddy. "I'm ready for my interview now," one young man repeatedly told a reporter.
Reporters from TV, print and radio were scattered in the crowd. Levi Morse of Gladwin, Mich., got the media spotlight when it appeared he was the first in line (and he was the first to pass through the gate). His mother, Shelley, noted she had taken time off from three jobs to come to Cleveland.
But the first wrist band went to Dave Iwanowicz of Albany, N.Y., who had come to Cleveland on Sunday and spent a long time camped out in his car while waiting for the auditions to begin.
His and others' wait included lingering around and near the stadium before the line officially formed -- and the crowd was thick well before 6 a.m. People were gradually moved into rows separated by metal barriers, where they waited for the gates to open. Four hours later, they began to get through the gates after having their bags inspected, their identification checked and their entourage shrunk. (Each auditioner was allowed just one companion.)
Some baggage was also gone. Chairs, tents and coolers were banned from the stadium, instead filling large metal trash bins to overflowing). Alcohol, fireworks, beach balls, laser pointers, bullhorns, whistles and food also counted as contraband.
So people had to ponder the purchase of $3.50 bottles of water or pop, or $5.50 nachos. A sign next to one stand called those "American Idol prices," but a vendor said those were standard stadium rates. There were also Idol shirts on sale for $15 to $30.
As the morning turned to afternoon, those still waiting outside found a trail of trashed food -- empty bottles, discarded pizza slices, french fries, emptied boxes of Fruit Snacks and Skippy peanut butter bars.
And getting into the stadium meant enduring 90-degree heat. Umbrellas some contestants brought to fight the early-morning showers instead served as sun shields. Other participants used free fans with signs promoting Fox TV shows.
After marking seats in the stadium, many stretched out in the shadier enclosed areas. By early afternoon, it looked like summer at a seedy, carpeted beach.
"I expected them to move a lot faster and to be more considerate of us as human beings," said Carolina Frattaioli of Akron. "They are treating us like dogs."
Yet many people were, if not cheerful, at least philosophical about their situation.
Sure, there were occasional disputes about people jumping the line -- and Michael Boschetti, head of Idol security, easily caught a young man trying to sneak by without ID. But the early-morning hours had a mellow quality, with people playing cards, chatting with friends and occasionally breaking into song.
In the line around 9 a.m., a small group began singing Richard Smallwood's gospel anthem Total Praise. Others far removed from that group picked up the song and joined in, some clapping along, until the song ended with whoops and cheers.
Much later, inside the stadium, people passed the time at a karaoke booth. One woman practiced back flips before the crowd got too thick.
They had come not for creature comforts but for a chance at stardom.
"People are pretty cooperative because we have something they want," said Boschetti, who remembers when the show was so little known that it held auditions on city streets. "Whatever we want them to do, they'll do."
After all, somewhere at the end of the process lay a chance to be a star doing something you love.
"I know there's a lot of talented people here," said Javar Parker, 18, of Mansfield. "I just brought myself and my talent."
"I love to sing," said Tawana Joseph of Akron, who at 28 was taking advantage of the newly expanded Idol age limit. "I've been singing since I was little."
"I've always loved singing and thought I would give this a try," said Arianna DeGeorge of Akron.
Not even the unhappy Frattaioli could turn away.
"I figured I came this far, I might as well keep suffering," she said.

Read more!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Drew Carey Does Cleveland

This is one of several posts I plan about "The Drew Carey Show's" Cleveland connections. I'm starting with one from 1999, when the show used Browns Stadium for an episode, with the cast and crew coming to town. My story from the Akron Beacon Journal on Aug. 30, 1999, can be seen by clicking on "Read more."

Thousands of people rose before dawn yesterday for a peek at the new Cleveland Browns Stadium and at the hit television show taping there.

Since Friday, The Drew Carey Show, which is set in Cleveland, has been taping segments in and around the new stadium for an episode premiering Sept. 29. (The episode includes Drew and friends trying to sneak into the stadium, Drew's girlfriend Sharon shown kissing another man on the giant Brownsvision screen, and Drew's brother Steve proposing marriage to Drew's adversary Mimi.)

Offering free tickets to yesterday's event, the show ended up handing out a jaw-dropping 19,000 to people willing to spend at least part of the 12-hour shooting day at the stadium.
The attraction was "to see the Cleveland Browns Stadium and to see Drew Carey," Dave Zeleznak of Hinckley said.

And which was more important? "To see the stadium," said Zeleznak, while other members of his family interjected, "Drew!"

Carey admitted Friday that a free look at the new stadium was part of the draw for people. In fact, the taping serves as Carey's all-is-forgiven to the Browns and the National Football League.

"I was really so down on the NFL after they left," Carey said. "I never watched football except to watch Baltimore get beat. It's better now. I can really feel the excitement.. . . I remember watching the Dallas game and getting all excited, even though it didn't count for anything." Still, he was grateful that so many people had wanted tickets.

"I can't believe all these people are showing up just to be extras," he said after a taping Friday night. "It really means a lot to me. Nobody can believe it.. . . It says a lot about how people support the town. They know it's going to be on TV, so they want to come out and make the town look good."

He was thanking people again yesterday morning, telling the crowd how great it was to show Hollywood "a real city with real people that have real jobs."

By 7:30 a.m. yesterday, those real people formed two lines stretching more than half the stadium's length -- and the line grew steadily over the next hour.

Roger Carr of Eastlake arrived shortly after 7 with his wife, Kim, and son, Dustin. "We thought (the line) was pretty long, until a half-hour or 45 minutes later," he said. "Then we were glad we got here when we did."

Carr, who also said both the stadium and Carey were draws, pronounced the stadium "gorgeous" as he looked down on it from one of the uppermost seats.

It bore the wear marks from Saturday night's Browns-Bears game. Peanut shells and cups still lay below seats. Sometimes there was the smell of spilled beer in the breeze. Plastic bags full of trash lay here and there. But those details didn't deter people eager to take part.

A casting call for a few small parts had yielded "a mailbag absolutely crammed with photographs of people," said Carey executive producer Deborah Oppenheimer. "And not just people. People who, maybe, didn't want to be on the show but here's a picture of their dog and wouldn't it be great if we put their dog in the show."

As for yesterday's extras, almost all honored the show's request that they wear Browns colors -- and then some. Besides a host of Tim Couch and Chris Spielman jerseys, there were dawg-bone necklaces, bone earrings, bones in the hair and on each side of the head.

People arrived in brown-and-orange face and body paint, or painted each other while waiting in line. They carried pennants and hand-made posters. One boy had a box of dog biscuits.

A quartet of girls burst into a gleeful chorus of Cleveland Rocks, the Ian Hunter song used as the Carey show's opening theme. People along the line hooted, barked and gestured as camera crews, including one from syndicated show Access Hollywood, passed by.

By about 10:30 a.m., 3,000 to 5,000 people had gotten inside the stadium, and more were arriving.

While that didn't look like much in the 73,200-seat facility, the show really just needed enough people to create the appearance of a full stadium for the episode. And it had already created that illusion with far fewer people during a taping Friday night.

The spectators quickly learned what a TV taping is: a lot of waiting interrupted by bursts of activity. And the activities could be odd.

More than once, the show's crowd coordinators sent whole sections moving, like mice in a maze, to other parts of the stadium to accommodate camera angles. The audience also had to learn how to pantomime wild cheering -- silently rising from the seats, waving their arms. Some boisterous fans didn't get the idea, and the taping's emcee, Ben Amick, had to say, "Remember -- pantomime is no sound."

Still, Carey's cast and crew have marveled at how cooperative and easygoing local people have generally been.

On Friday night, about 1,000 people provided the atmosphere for some stadium scenes, giving out a cheer on cue while cast members Carey, Ryan Stiles (who plays Lewis), Diedrich Bader (Oswald) and Christa Miller (Kate) walked by again and again.

"The incredible thing about Cleveland is the way the people turn out, and they're so incredibly disciplined," Bader said at the time. "If we were to shoot this in Los Angeles, there's no way we could get this number. . . or get people to actually cooperate. They took their cue tonight perfectly every single time."

"L.A. people would just be going, 'Gee, we have to stand here so long,' " added Stiles. "People here were, like, 'Hey, this is fun.' "

Noting the crowd expected yesterday, Stiles said, "That's more than they could get for a Rams game in L.A.. . . That's why the Rams left L.A. -- they couldn't get more than 8,000 to a game."

Why are Clevelanders so nice?

"Massive insecurity," Bader said with a grin.

"I think that Cleveland has gotten a bad rap for a long time, and I think that people just feel that," he explained. "They feel it in their bones and, you know, compensate for that. Part of the outpouring towards us and towards the show is that we're good for Cleveland."

Carey is the driving force for reflecting his home city.

"All of the signs, all of the details are focused on Cleveland because Drew is, you know, obsessed," said Bader. "He loves the town."

"I'm sure if we weren't as highly rated as we were, we wouldn't get away with it," Carey added as he walked back to his trailer. With autograph seekers and cheering fans keeping pace, he was reminded that he once joked that the show would make him the Elvis Presley of Cleveland. "I am now," he said with a laugh. "I don't want to blaspheme the King -- but it is kind of weird, don't you think? All this stuff? But not weird in a bad way. In a good way."

Read more!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

"The Office": "Cafe Disco"

Erin asks Dwight about a printout of directions from Scranton to Youngstown.

Dwight: Attention, office! Who here is planning a trip to Youngstown, Ohio? ... This location is the Superior Court. ... There's only a handful of reasons why someone would ever go to a courthouse in Ohio and not be charged with a crime: to claim an inheritance from a deceased relative, to obtain a learner's permit at age 14 1/2 instead of 15. ...

Jim and Pam talk to the camera crew.

Jim: There are other reasons to go to Ohio.
Pam: We're getting married today!
Jim: So it turns out it's the closest place to get a marriage license without a three-day waiting period.

More info about Ohio's marriage laws is here. Read more!

"30 Rock": "The Ones"

Liz Lemon to Jack Donaghy: "Have you ever met anyone that's killed somebody? I think my grandpa may have, but he never really liked to talk about what happened at -- Kent State." Read more!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

"Almost Famous": Cleveland

The rock-journalism movie included its band, Stillwater, visiting Cleveland. Clip from that sequence here:

Then there's the greatest Cleveland homage in it, from Dennis Hope (played by Jimmy Fallon) as he explains the music business to the band:

Do you know how to keep from getting charged for the ice below the floorboards of Chicago Stadium? Do you know how to do a headlining tour, do you Claire Rothman at the L.A. Forum? Do you know Bobbi Cowan, Lisa Robinson, Jim Ladd, Frank Barcelona? ... This is Cleveland. Where's Kid Leo??

(From the "Almost Famous" script, posted here.) Read more!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

"Stalag 17": Lunch time

Price, the character played by Peter Graves, is from Cleveland, leading to this confrontation with Sefton, played by William Holden:

Sefton: When was Pearl Harbor, Price, or don't you know that?
Price: December 7th, '41.
Sefton: What time?
Price: [smugly] 6:00. I was having dinner.
Sefton: 6:00 in Berlin. [to the other barracks members] They were having lunch in Cleveland. Am I boring you boys?
Hoffy: Go on.
Sefton: He's a Nazi, Price is. For all I know his name is Preissinger or Preishoffer. Oh, sure, he lived in Cleveland. But when the war broke out, he came back to the Fatherland like a good little Bundist. He spoke our lingo, so they sent him to spy school and fixed him up with phony dog tags.

(Transcription from IMDB) Read more!

Welcome to the blog!

First detailed post will appear in 24 hours or so. But here's the idea: To post nuggets of dialogue, plot lines and other items from TV shows -- mainly scripted, but I'll take selected reality shows -- in which NE Ohio makes an appearance. Items may also include notes about how comments came to be, and errors in them.

For instance, in the famous "Seinfeld" episode where George came to Akron, my friend and colleague Glenn Gamboa noted that "jumbo jets don't fly into Akron airports very often. ... Firestone doesn't have a board of directors any more. And its parent company, Bridgestone/Firestone Inc., left Akron for Nashville, Tenn., in 1992. ... The room where George met the Firestone board was as big as some closets in the executive suites over on Firestone Parkway."

More to come, although I'm not sure how often I will post. But feel free to suggest items in the comment area. Read more!