It was a chorus line with a country twang in College Park yesterday when Opryland U.S.A. hosted auditions for singers, dancers, musicians and assorted others hoping for a spot in the Nashville limelight.
More than 75 applicants -- from a waitress/dancer awaiting the big break to a 63-year-old former employe of the top-secret National Security Agency -- came to Opryland's open tryouts at the University of Maryland, nervously clutching their sheet music, stretching into splits and practicing scales.
Then, often in less than a minute, their performances were over and they were left to worry about what the four auditioners for the Nashville theme park thought of their acts.
"I think I did all right," Laura Whitmore, a 19-year-old sophomore at the University of Maryland, said after belting out two show tunes. "They let me finish both of what I had, so it's a good sign."
But Lori Hall, a singer in a local country-western band, was fretting. "They didn't tell me anything. They just said thanks," said Hall, sweat dripping from her face after a rendition of "Heat Wave."
Jean Shevitz, a 77-year-old grandmother from Baltimore who sang and played the piano with pedal-stomping fervor, was more direct.
"Did you like it?" she asked entertainment manager John Haywood. "I've got a great parody of San Francisco -- do you want to hear it?"
Those three didn't make it but about 15 others were called back for second interviews and videotaped so that Opryland auditioners will be able to remember them by the end of the two-month, 29-city scouting tour.
The tour started in San Francisco earlier this month and made its sixth stop yesterday.
In all, Opryland officials expect to interview 8,000 applicants for about 375 jobs in live productions -- 12 shows that run the musical gamut from George M. Cohan to rock 'n' roll and, naturally, a hefty dose of the country sound.
"You don't need to be a country singer," said Bob Whittaker, Opryland's director of entertainment. "It's disturbing to us to see people who are not country singers coming in with country songs because they think that that's what we want."
What Opryland does want, Whittaker said, is "that magic that says, 'Hey, stop, look, listen to me, I'm going to entertain you.' "
Pam Martin, a 21-year-old George Washington University senior from Hicksville, N.Y., said she hoped to display some of that magic, even though there are easier ways to make a living. Opryland's starting pay is about $240 a week.
"There's got to be some reason I keep coming here walking around half-naked, putting myself in front of a hundred people and saying, 'Please like me,' " said Martin, who was dressed in an all-American, red-white-and-blue leotard and dancing to a song from "A Star is Born."
Entertainment director Whittaker said, "It only takes about 10 seconds for us to know" if a performer merits a call-back.
Still, he said, "If it isn't there we'll let them go a little longer just to get the experience." That results in some occupational hazards for the auditioners, who must sit through endless renditions of hit songs, until the sound of the opening notes make them grind their teeth.
"One of my all-time disfavorites is "I Feel Pretty," said entertainment director Haywood. "I still try to stay objective when people sing it, but. . . .