Garthia Elena Burnett: Open casting call

July 2, 2010 10:18:00 AM

Garthia Elena Burnett -

 

We pulled in to the Kohl''s store parking lot in Roswell, Ga., Saturday at 5:20 a.m. It was still dark. 

 

"Looking for the end of the line?" one woman asked, taking pity on us as me and my 13-year-old niece, Shamir, wandered aimlessly searching for the end of this winding snake. "It''s around the other side of the building." 

 

She pointed, alerting us to the hundreds of people already there -- waiting with backpacks, lawn chairs and coolers. 

 

Walking to the side of the store, there already was at least 250 people ahead of us. Five minutes later, hundreds were behind us, as well. My sister and a friend joined us with supplies -- snacks, water and lawn chairs. 

 

"I was cast in a cooking show, but I turned it down," said one leggy blonde behind us. She wanted to host a show about cooking. 

 

"And you didn''t bring us any samples of your work?" I laughed. My stomach wasn''t amused. It was clear we would be here for a long time. 

 

After about an hour of waiting in line and moving inch-by-inch toward a tent where we all presumed we''d make our big debut, crew members in Oprah Winfrey Network T-shirts, started handing out wristbands. 

 

According to Oprah''s website, only the first 500 people would get wristbands guaranteeing they''d be seen by the casting directors. 

 

Hundreds more than 500 had shown up, in hopes of being cast in a reality show competition: The winner would earn his own TV show on the new Oprah Winfrey Network. 

 

I got my wristband -- No. 818 -- at about 6:30, with instructions to return at 11. After breakfast at a nearby Burger King and shopping at the Kohl''s store, we retreated to a shaded area to wait for 11. (It was 9:30.) 

 

LaMondrae of South Carolina was just outside the store; he wanted to encourage people to "live life without limits," an inspiring message from someone confined to a wheelchair. 

 

Sophia Loren, a thin dark-complected girl with a light Jamaican accent, was parked on a bench, waiting for her 2 o''clock audition slot. At least I only had about one more hour to wait, I thought. 

 

She kept her wardrobe simple, with jeans, flat sandals and a black baby tee, complete with a tan ball cap. 

 

It made me wonder why I bothered with buying Spanx, a glamorous white dress accented with a patent-leather belt and matching black-and-white shoes. Hours earlier, the outfit fell apart. Literally. The slider stayed at the top of the dress while the zipper elements came apart. (I plan to have this repaired and try again in 10 pounds.) 

 

So I decided on a basic black dress. 

 

Sophia Loren lived in Florida and wanted to host a show about personal health, focusing on stress. 

 

"I know I''m stressed!" she exclaimed. 

 

Gearing up for more waiting -- at this point I already had been up for 30 hours straight -- we got to know each other pretty well. Sophia Loren, named for the Italian actress and model, had found two long-lost sisters on Facebook. 

 

"We have siblings who grew up in foster care," she explained. "I found two sisters on Facebook of all places!" 

 

Another would-be starlet joined us. Her audition also was at 11. She had shaved-close platinum blonde hair. Deep blue and coal eye shadow accented her caramel complexion, and she layered a black skirt on top of her jeans. 

 

She was no stranger to auditions. 

 

"I''m used to standing in lines with these little skinny girls. ... I''m representing fabulous Tomboys," she said. At 5-foot-10, she was no "little skinny girl," and she exuded confidence.  

 

By the time we left the bench to join the line of 800s under the tent, we had exchanged numbers and made plans to visit Sophia Loren''s family in Jamaica. 

 

OWN crew members were still handing out wristbands though 500 had come and gone long ago. 

 

Gayle from Baltimore stood in front of me in a tight skirt suit and matching pink pumps. She was on a mission to tell the world about slam poetry, an art form for everyone, a way to express and purge yourself. After several minutes of waiting and offering a poem about a popular, beautiful girl she admired throughout school, Gayle traded her heels for a pair of flip-flops in a book bag. 

 

"My daughter dressed me," she said. "''You have to wear heels,''" she added, imitating her teenage daughter. 

 

Once we got to the front of the line, we were ushered into smaller tents in groups of about 13. We had 30 seconds to talk about the show we wanted to host. The casting director made it clear, she would prefer even less. 

 

"I don''t want to hear about you or what you''re interested in," she urged. 

 

"I want to host a traditional talk show with a focus on school-age children," I said after introducing myself. "Together, we can take on the issues facing our children today, so they can conquer the world tomorrow!" 

 

The adrenaline had been building for months -- since the moment my sister, Givonne, called me with the news: "Oprah''s having a contest looking for the next TV star!" 

 

(I had been predicting this would happen for years, and Givonne was one of the few who believed in my not-so-prophetic abilities.) 

 

And just like that ... it was over. 

 

"If you don''t get a call, you did not make the show," she told us. "We don''t have time to call everyone who auditioned." 

 

Casting for the competition continues this month. And there''s still time to view and vote for my online audition: http://myown.oprah.com/audition/index.html?request=video_details&response_id=4079&promo_id=1