By Lyndsey Layton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 1, 2006
There is no cash prize, no Broyhill living room set, not even a free Metro ride -- just bragging rights and your voice piped into subway cars 33,017 times a day.
But the suspense mounts: Who will win the great Voice of Metrorail contest today? Which singular sound will be selected from among 10 finalists, whose voices range from bass to soprano, from smoky to bubbly?
Will it be the federal bureaucrat with the Southern twang? The second-grade teacher with the chipper tone? The sultry car dealership employee?
The finalists, chosen from 1,259 entries, awoke this morning to the possibility of hitting the big time, of being anointed the new voice of Metro and recording the "doors closing" message that plays on every Metro train after every station stop. The voice will replace a 10-year-old recording that transit officials said has grown so stale no one pays attention to it anymore.
The winner will enjoy a peculiar type of celebrity. His or her voice will become one of the distinctive sounds of Washington, intimately familiar to Metro's 700,000 daily subway riders.
Metro officials were stunned by the interest in the contest. The transit agency was flooded with audition recordings from as far away as Seattle. A panel of Metro managers narrowed the field to 10, all of whom live in the metropolitan area and half of whom ride Metro regularly.
This morning, three judges -- the head of marketing for Metro, a representative of the ad agency under contract with Metro and a former local anchorwoman -- will listen to recordings made in a professional studio and select a winner.
Who would compete for this faceless honor?
"It would be a dream come true," said finalist Steve Broido, a 30-year-old District resident. "It would be so awesome. I'm pretty excited, I have to admit -- just the idea that it could be your voice!"
Broido works for "The Motley Fool," a financial-advice radio program, but labors behind the scenes as a producer, not on the air. He practiced his "doors closing" announcements in the shower.
"It's going to be tough," said Broido, who sings bass in an a cappella group. "It all depends on what they're looking for. They're looking for a specific paint chip, and there are millions of paint chips."
John Howell, 35, is a federal worker with no radio experience. He does, however, have a deep voice and a 4-year-old son who is crazy about trains. "I saw this as a blatant opportunity to win Dad points," said Howell, who made his audition tape on a recorder in his Fairfax Station garage and was stunned to be named a finalist.
Randi Miller, a 44-year-old Woodbridge resident, was encouraged to enter by her manager at Lindsay Lexus, a car dealership. "Every time I page someone over the intercom system, everyone says I should do something with my voice," said Miller, a lease retention manager with a rich alto whose father was a voice-over actor. The sales team at the dealership is rooting for her. "Everyone's very excited," she said.
Jon Garcia's co-workers are also supportive, in their own way. "Ever since this happened, they've been replying to all my e-mails with quotes from the Metro," said Garcia, a 35-year-old producer for ABC News. "I sent some quotes from the president the other day, and I got replies like, 'Next Stop, Shady Grove,' with nothing else. Or 'Step Back!' "
Garcia, a daily rider who lives near the Court House Station in Arlington, said he was egged on by his girlfriend, who interrupted dinner one night and demanded that he repeat "doors closing" several times, with feeling.
Jill Apple, 28, did voice-over work in Manhattan for several years before moving to Washington in 2004 to get married and begin a career in education. Her second-grade class at Sidwell Friends School is rooting for Mrs. Apple. She took the opportunity to impart a gentle lesson. "I told them not to be disappointed if I don't get it, that it's still cool to be in the top 10," she said.
Mary Whittington and her boyfriend are both actors who live in the District. She entered the competition after he did. She made it to the finals; he didn't. "But we have domestic harmony," said Whittington, a former producer for "20/20" and CNN who records voice-overs for commercials and films.
Whittington, who declined to give her age -- "I'll never see 40 again," she confided -- said the Metro contest stands apart from typical voice-over work in Washington, which tends to be obscure. "It's for industrial films or government agencies, stuff that nobody ever hears," she said. "But this -- this is Metro! That's what makes this really cool and neat to do."
Six of the 10 finalists make a living with their voices or once did.
Sarah Fraser, 23, is a traffic reporter for Westwood One and part-time disc jockey for WARW (94.7 FM). "I thought it was really neat that someone from the community was going to be the voice of Metro every morning," said Fraser, who kept repeating "doors opening" and "doors closing" en route to her final audition recording last week. "It would be fantastic to go to work and there I am, 'Doors closing'!"
Carol Rabel, who worked on the air for radio stations as well as National Public Radio before recently moving to Silver Spring from New England, saw the Metro contest as a way to network. "It's hard to find a broadcast job," said Rabel, 58. "I thought this might be a good way to make some connections. What better way to get to people? You never know what may come of it."
Finalist Angela Stevens, 24, is a traffic reporter for Clear Channel. She said her decision to enter her voice raised eyebrows at work because the union that represents broadcasters has objected to the contest, saying Metro should compensate the winner. "I got a little bit of flak from people at work," Stevens said, adding that she went ahead anyway because she wanted the challenge. "If I get it, it goes on my résumé, and it says this is where I stand among my peers."
Linda Carducci works in the legal department at publisher Gannett Co. during the week and is a disc jockey for WRQX (107.3 FM) on Sundays. The 49-year-old Vienna resident rides the Orange and Red lines and has often silently critiqued the "doors closing" message, like a dentist noticing the uneven bite in the smile of a store clerk.
"I thought it was a computer-generated message because it doesn't flow very well," said Carducci, who was surprised to learn the recording was made by District resident Sandy Carroll in 1996. "I thought if it could be more conversational, that would help get the message across."
That's what Metro is seeking. "I'll be looking for a voice that commands attention," said Doris McMillon, a former anchorwoman and one of the judges. "I'm hoping to hear something commanding. But warm and friendly, too."