It was part "Fame," part "42nd Street," part "Heartbreak Hotel."

They warbled. They wailed. They brought tapes and cassettes, leg warmers and Binaca, re'sume's ("Special Abilities: driver's license") and 8-by-10 glossies.

One man even brought his mother.

"My boy can't keep a decent job," the 60-year-old mother was heard to say. "I'm trying to get him into show business."

The makers of "Star Search," a new weekly TV show reminiscent of Ted Mack's Original Amateur Hour that debuts tomorrow on Channel 5 at 8 p.m., came to Washington's Capital Hilton yesterday to audition would-be contestants.

Two hundred hopefuls answered the call.

"I love attention," said 21-year-old Katherine Waller, who sang "Oh Johnny Oh" and was last seen at Jeannette's Bride 'n' Boutique Runway Show.

"I love my music. I love my people. I want to share it," said 25-year-old Vanessa Ann, born Vanessa Wallendorf of Brooklyn, who belted out "She Works Hard for the Money" in a flamingo-pink gauze blouse over skin-tight black unitard.

"I want to be a star because I don't have a choice," said Pamela ("I'd say my age range is 20 to 30") Roussel, who sings six nights a week at the Sheraton Washington. "I tried to be a straight person. It didn't work."

"If it happens, it happens. That's show biz," shrugged 26-year-old Chuck Spinelli, who wore his Air Force uniform and crooned, "I did it myyyyy waaaaaay".

Gayle Conetta, the "Star Search" talent coordinator in tight jeans, backless white T-shirt and cha-cha heels, rolled her eyes.


It started at 10 a.m. and by mid-afternoon Conetta had heard four renditions of "People," three of "Fame" ("I'm gonna live for-ehhhver, baby remember my na-yaaam"), a one-man band who played guitar, harmonica, drums and cymbals; a vocalist named Chocolate Cherry ("It's my real name. From birth."), a blind guitarist named Benny ("as in Jack Benny") Dean ("as in Jimmy Dean") and a dozen not-so-dulcet clones of Ethel Merman, Lionel Ritchie, Liza Minnelli and Barbra Streisand.

One man approached the sign-up desk and asked if they needed a professional bowler. "No? Well how about this leading man bit. I guess I could do that."

There were lounge lizards. Cruise ship crooners. Dinner theater divas.

They were supportive. ("So I'm standing in line, see, and this ----- cuts in front of me.") Patient. ("I can't believe I've been here FOUR HOURS. Who do they think they ARE?") Confident their employers would understand. ("I said I was having oral surgery," one man said into a pay phone. "That's a legitimate excuse.")

Their eyes blazed, their knees knocked. They puffed cigarettes in the hallway and rustled newspapers.

Mostly, they waited.

"Everybody wants to be a star," said Rudy (as in Valentino? Vallee?) Fenner, a 26-year-old computer specialist from McLean who sang, "Everybody needs somebody to lo-lo-lo-lo-LOVE." "Some people find other ways to do it than get up on a stage. But everybody wants to be a star."

"I'd make a good star," insisted Larry Bravman, a 24-year-old woman's clothing sales rep from Potomac who wore black shirt and pants, white suspenders and white bow tie for his dance audition. "I wouldn't turn on my fans, you know? Some of them get too big and ignore the people. I wouldn't do that."

Bravman twisted and turned on the ballroom's stage, where the artists waited before being called in to the smaller side room. There, they were given a microphone and two minutes to do their stuff.

"Everybody tells me my talents exceed what I'm doing. That I should GO for it."

He wiped the sweat off his face and looked around the crowded room, where women dug in their bags for more lip gloss and the mother of the jobless man wrung her hands.

"I'm not tense," said Bravman, who recently won the Michael Jackson dance contest at the Gaithersburg Marriott. "I'm hyper."

Hotel maintenance workers hung around in the hallway, waiting for the woman in the see-through fishnet top to stroll by.

Aside from the nationwide exposure, contestants on the show vie for thousands of dollars of prize money in eight talent categories. Conceived by TeleRep, the same folks who brought us "Entertainment Tonight" and "Solid Gold," the show will be hosted by Ed McMahon. Similar auditions have already been held in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. The talent hunt moves to Philadelphia next, then Boston.

And how does Washington stack up so far?

Gayle Conetta pursed her lips.

That bad, huh?

She nods.

The pits?

"So far."

Back in the ballroom, Bob Devlin, the one-man band, set up his equipment on the stage and began to sing for a television news crew. The music was infectious and the lyrical lunacy of his performance suddenly eased the professional tension among the contestants that had kept each in his private world.

Suddenly, the joint was jumping. Larry Bravman took to the stage with a spirited jig.

"Baby What I Say," Devlin sang.

"Hey-Ohhhh," the auditioners answered, clapping and singing.

"I should have brought my bucket," Devlin, the street musician, called.

"Put your hat down, baby," a woman answered.

As for anyone who says Washington doesn't have talent, shouted 22-year-old Delcia Cox over the din, "Well, they just haven't explored this city very much."