Something old and something new helped Malachi Nibbs make it through the first round of "American Idol" auditions Friday. But the vast majority of hopefuls trying for their shot on the hit Fox reality program were left singing the blues.
"This is extremely unreal; it's wild," said Mr. Nibbs, 20, of Braddock. "For years I've always said I'd try out, so when they brought it to Pittsburgh, I thought 'This is kind of in my back yard.' "
More than 12,000 young singers mobbed the shores of the Allegheny before sunup. Many were from out of town, having registered for the auditions two days earlier.
The Heinz Field crowds Wednesday and Thursday were dressed for comfort, but now it was showtime. Girls in sundresses and cowboy boots, ladies in cocktail dresses and 5-inch heels, guys with guitars and fedoras all gathered to help the producers shoot B-roll.
At 7:10 a.m., thousands chose to stay behind in the waiting pens, warming up voices and even catching some last-minute sleep. But several thousand trooped down to the plaza at the river's edge, where supervising producer Patrick Lynn instructed the masses to wave Terrible Towels and yell "Proud to be from Pittsburgh" and "This is American Idol!"
"Pittsburgh doesn't really have to do anything other than be Pittsburgh," said Mr. Lynn, explaining that the show's producers have had their eyes on the city for three years.
The location and its charm won them, over, and, he added, he's also impressed with how darn polite everyone here is.
Four cities into the seven-town audition tour, Pittsburgh has so far drawn the largest number of contestants. No official tally, although so many were registered that producers expected they might still have have singers auditioning as late as 10 p.m.
Some of those auditioning won their place in line through local contests sponsored by the Fox affiliates, such as Anika Bell of Oakdale.
"I tried out in Chicago [last year] but didn't get past the cattle call," said Ms. Bell, who finished first in a show at the Mall at Robinson. She didn't advance to the next round this time, either, but said she was fine with that.
Others were not quite as accepting. "They don't know what they're talking about, they don't!" stormed one Taylor Swift look-a-like as she exited the gates.
Marina Crupi, 18, from Staten Island, New York, said she had just begun singing when a judge waved his hand as if to ask her to stop.
"Then he said 'Oh I was just shooing a fly. But that's OK, you don't have to sing again.' "
Maria Sciullo: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1478.