SAN DIEGO - Thousands of people hoping to be the next Kelly Clarkson, Jennifer Hudson or even Sanjaya lined up outside Qualcomm Stadium on Monday as auditions for the seventh season of "American Idol" began.
Some brought makeup kits, Starbucks cups filled with throat-clearing salt water and even karaoke machines. Others came before dawn, armed with sleeping bags and pillows.
"Why wouldn't I get here early? My No. 1 goal is to be on the program," said Lonnie Beatty, 20, who spent the night on a trolley platform just outside the stadium grounds in order to be one of the first in line.
A publicist for the show said 12,000 people showed up for their chance at stardom.
John Edward Carey, 27, was one of the lucky few rewarded with a ticket to the second round of tryouts.
The custom guitar builder and post-punk rocker from Van Nuys, near Los Angeles, made it to the final 25 last year on his first outing and said he decided to give it another shot after dropping 35 pounds and getting an encouraging e-mail from a producer.
"Last year I thought, 'I want to make it to the top 50,' and I did," Carey said after his tryout. "This year I want to make it to the top 10. This year I want to win it!"
His wife, Annie, said she pushed her husband to audition after listening to him criticize contestants on the show.
"He kept saying, 'I can sing better than that,'" she said. "So finally I just said, 'Fine, you go audition and stop interrupting my show!'"
Would-be contestants began lining up at 3 a.m. They had already spent hours in line over the weekend waiting to register for wristbands to get into the tryouts: neon yellow for singers, slate gray for supporters.
"I haven't slept in two days," said 16-year-old Jessica Schaffer of Temecula, explaining she drove around all night until she was allowed into the stadium grounds.
With the Comic-Con entertainment expo drawing a record crowd of more than 120,000 to San Diego over the weekend and thousands more in town for a sandcastle competition and an international youth soccer tournament, "Idol" hopefuls who wanted some shut-eye resorted to the classified Web site Craigslist.org or even military bases for beds.
Sgt. Jessica Robson, a 26-year-old Iraq and Afghanistan veteran stationed at Fort Lewis, Wash., said she snagged a bunk at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot but got up at 4 a.m. anyway.
"I don't think it matters where you are in line," she said from somewhere in the middle of the crowd.
People in line waved signs proclaiming their love for Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson, but the celebrity judges were absent. In their place were 23 show producers who handed over Willy Wonka-style golden tickets to the people they wanted to put in front of executive producers and, eventually, the real judges later on this fall.
Show executives said they hoped to winnow the contestants down to between 300 and 500 for the second round.
"We'll see everyone who wants to be heard," said Patrick Lynn, a senior producer. "It's all about trying to find out who's going to be the person who's going to make it past the judges, who's going to make it to Hollywood."
Six more auditions are set in the coming weeks in Dallas; Omaha, Neb.; Atlanta; Charleston, S.C.; Miami and Philadelphia. The show returns to the air in January.
On the Net: