By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
The food court at Valley View Mall is crowded, even for a Saturday morning. Hundreds of people are milling around, and none of them is here today to shop. The mall's security guards obviously weren't expecting this many people to be here, and though it's not yet 11 a.m., it's already been a long day. Only a handful of rent-a-cops are patrolling the area, attempting to enforce the mall's rule about moving chairs from their designated spots in the food court area while a few hundred people keep trying to break it. Every time one of the guards stops someone from taking a chair, two more people slip past the goalie.
The security staff finally gives up, standing back and watching as chair after chair is snatched away and moved to the front of the stage that has been erected on one end of the food court. The stage is currently empty and will remain that way for at least another hour, yet no one seems to care. Later today, the future of pop music will appear on that stage. That's what Kidd Kraddick, host of the popular morning show on KISS-FM (106.1), has promised them.
Earlier in the week, Kraddick announced that he would be hosting an open-call audition at Valley View on September 25 for the "next ultimate boy band." That is, he would be attempting to create another Backstreet Boys or 'N Sync, another group that could be plugged into the formula that has been ruling the Billboard pop charts for the past couple of years, even though their own mothers would have trouble telling most of the bands apart. Kraddick passed the word along that he was looking for five good-looking, multi-talented guys between the ages of 16 and 23 that could sing and dance and chew gum at the same time, with the incentive that KISS-FM will provide the band with everything it needed to make it to the top.
"When their first single soars to No. 1, all of us in Dallas-Fort Worth can take pride in knowing that the boys will be ours, all ours," Kraddick promised, and it sounded more like a threat.
So 91 hopefuls have showed up at Valley View today, and they all believe they have a chance. All of them. Not one of the contestants will admit defeat, even though in some cases, it stared them in the face earlier in the morning when they were looking in the mirror, carefully applying the perfect amount of gel to their hair. That is, after all, what this audition really amounts to, a beauty pageant where the talent portion counts slightly more than usual. The first round of the competition involves only 30 seconds or so of actual singing and one photograph, and it's hard to tell which is more important. Well, not really. There's far too many young men in line trying for the ugly-but-talented role that all prefabricated pop groups require. (Someone has to do all the heavy lifting.) But that doesn't stop them from believing.
"I'm pretty sure I'll make it," says Octavius, No. 84. He's been standing in line for almost an hour, waiting to sing a song he wrote for the occasion. "I hope so."
"Oh yeah. We have a pretty good shot," says Joey. He and his friend Brandon have just finished the preliminary round; they both sang 98 Degrees' "Because of You."
Brandon, who turned 21 yesterday, is a little more modest. "There's a lot of good talent out here," he says. "There's a lot of stiff competition. It all goes down to the personality, and you know, the moves. Everybody's doing really good, though. It's really going to be tight."
Joey is not. "They don't have shit on me though," he says, laughing.
Whinthony and Hanston, who were the first two people in line this morning at around 9:45 a.m., are too busy scarfing down burritos from Taco Bell to worry much about the competition. Not that they would have anyway.
"I just came out here to sing, just because I kind of like to," Hanston says. "I didn't do it because I'm looking at a career in singing."
"We're the best out here," Whinthony says. "I don't know if they realize it or not."
Apparently, none of the judges did. Whinthony and Hanston both failed to make it to the next round. So did Octavius, Joey, and Brandon. Maybe next time, fellas, thanks for playing. At least they got a free T-shirt out of the deal. The 32 contestants whose numbers were called are hoping for much more than a T-shirt; they want a career. Corralled in the makeshift backstage area, you can see that the pressure is getting to them, shifting nervously with their tapes in their hands as they speak to one another in short, clipped sentences.
By the time Kraddick takes the stage at noon to begin today's final round, the area in front of the stage is swarming with teenage girls in Backstreet Boys and 'N Sync T-shirts, singing the bands' songs to one another as if they were appearing here today rather than a couple of dozen pretenders to the throne. Some even have the names of the groups written on their arms in marker. When Kraddick introduces one of the judges, Cynthia Johnson, a representative of Interscope Records, and asks her to name off a few of the bands on the label, they cheer frantically when she mentions Jordan Knight, the former New Kid on the Block and elder statesman on the boy bandwagon. Johnson then lists off Nine Inch Nails and No Doubt to no response at all before Kraddick cuts her off, realizing it's going nowhere. After Kraddick names off the other judges -- including former Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader Judy Trammell, casting director Lynn Ambrose, talent agent Suzanne Horn, and KISS-FM's music director Dave Morales -- it's time for the finals to get under way.