There was a chance to Make It Big yesterday: Another of those Hollywood-celebrated moments when a porcine, cigar-chewing producer tells a knock-kneed chorus girl, "Kid, we're gonna make you a star."
But for the more than 20 hopefuls who showed up for the Opryland USA entertainment audition at the University of Maryland, success would not mean a chance to croon next to Roy Acuff at the Grand Ole Opry or even to play backup fiddle on the next John Denver album. It would mean a chance to perform for pay at a variety of theme-park shows in the Opryland entertainment conglomerate in Nashville -- anything from dancing to singing old show tunes.
"Only about 10 so far," said Danise Childs at the registration desk as the aspirants filtered through. But it was early yet -- only 20 minutes after the audition had opened. Four Opryland USA talent judges waited on the Tawes Theatre stage for the performers to gather. Which they did in scattered threesomes, twosomes and onesomes all over the auditorium.
In Row 9 David Berkheimer scratched mutely on his Ovation guitar, waiting for his turn. He had driven from York, Pa., that morning, he said, not to be a star but to get work. Being a star, declared the 26-year-old guitar instructor, would be "too many headaches and being worried about what others think of you." He wanted to "just make a living. When you're talking about the music business, you can't ask much more than that."
But there was to be no work this time for Berkheimer. On stage, his fingers slipped, and he muffed a few chords, then stopped halfway through the next song. "Big, big lesson," he muttered to himself as he packed up his guitar. "I did good on what I thought I'd do bad on, and I did bad on what I thought I'd do good on."
"I'd like to do one of the Opryland USA pop shows," said Doug Fester, 22, a singing waiter, who warmed up for his audition by standing on one leg and pulling the other behind his head. "Or the 'I Hear America Singing' show."
He made it and celebrated with more stretching.
Carrie Whitely, 21, an aspiring singer from Hagerstown and a University of Maryland student, had higher visions. Breathy and nervous, she claimed to be a theme-park-audition veteran. She had tried unsuccessfully in the past for King's Dominion and Busch Gardens, she said, and "they cut me off after 10 seconds" at an Opryland audition in Ohio a few years ago. "It was terrible. I was about 17 . . . I was in tears."
She didn't get over the hump yesterday, either. "I did terrible," she said on her way out of the auditorium. "I just -- nerves. I -- well, that's the breaks."
But there were others who made it to the call-back, joining the pool of applicants who may be notified of openings next year. Nicole Gaines, 19, a student at Western Maryland College, grinned through her silver dental braces after getting the judges' nod for her singing. "I got called back . . . But I didn't appreciate having to wait, because I'm a nervous person."
"I was a little nervous," said Billy Dye, 26, an athletic, smile-studded singer from Baltimore, who won them over with Eubie Blake's "Memories of You." A professional already, he had just come from a Philadelphia audition and was now en route to Alexandria and Rockville for dinner-theater tryouts.
"I got bills," he said, with another smile.
"It's been slow today," said entertainment director Bob Whittaker, who has been with Opryland for 15 years. "We'd expected to see a few more . . ." Yesterday's audition, Whittaker said, was part of a 30-city search for more than 400 performers. Auditions, he said, are "traumatic experiences even for the seasoned performer . . . Hopefully we're astute enough to see through the nervousness.
"But we're serious and want them to be successful . . . At least get them relaxed enough so their knees aren't banging together."