Hundreds of Tampa area residents turned out Wednesday to audition for the quiz show "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire."
Some came as early as 4 a.m. even though the daylong auditions didn't start until 7 a.m. More than 500 were at the first round of testing held at the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay near the Courtney Campbell Causeway. Testing continued into the night.
"We never know what to expect because every audition is different," says supervising producer Brent Burnette, who is on a six-city talent hunt.
"It's exciting to get this far," said Wilhelmina Kightlinger, a Tampa real estate lawyer who was among the first to pass a written test of general knowledge.
"It was much more difficult than I anticipated," she says. "It was more difficult than the questions they ask on the show, or at least it seemed that way. There were pop culture references and history questions."
Only 58 out of the first 500 applicants passed the 30-question test (given with a 10-minute time limit).
Burnette says the number of applicants that pass varies from audition to audition. He and his crew are looking for contestants for the next season of the show hosted by Meredith Vieira. Taping begins in August.
"If I find someone here whose personality pops out and impresses us, then that person could be in New York in a few weeks," he says.
Kightlinger, 41, who grew up on Anna Maria Island, says this was her first time to try out for a game show.
A fan of "Millionaire," she says that if she won $1 million she "probably would pass out first and then pay off some bills and treat my family to a vacation."
Contestants that pass the test face a brief interview session with producers. Burnette says they are "looking for outgoing people with personality, great energy, people that viewers can connect with, people with good stories."
Andrea Schuch, 34, who works in the education department at Lowry Park Zoo, also passed the test. She says she auditioned in 2009 when talent scouts came to Tampa and didn't pass it then. She's been brushing up on her general knowledge by playing live trivia at a South Tampa pub.
"I've been trying to get on the show because my grandfather Arthur Knudsen is a big fan of the show and Meredith Vieira and I could go on and say 'Hello, Grandad' and wave," she says.
John Bender, a freelance videographer from Treasure Island, credits passing the test to "having some success with multiple guessing."
"The test was challenging," he says. "This is my first time to try anything like this. I've been working in television for years but never in front of the camera."
He said he wants to go on the show for the money. "If I could win a million, I'd be debt free."
Bender, Schuch, Kightlinger and the others will have to wait to see how they fared on the interviews. Burnette says those who make the grade will get a postcard in a few weeks notifying them that they are in the contestant pool. Being in the pool means they could be called to be on the show for up to two years from now.
"Who Wants To Be A Millionaire" airs weekdays at 4 p.m. on WTSP, Channel 10. In September it will move to weeknights at 7:30.