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Chicago ‘Idol’ hopefuls line up at United Center for their shot at fame


An estimated 9,000 “Idol” wannabes registered for the opportunity to get 30 seconds or so to sing in front of producers and be among the roughly 400 who’ll advance to the next “executive producer” round.

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Updated: August 14, 2012 6:26AM

Looking ready for war in his combat fatigues, U.S. Army Private First Class Isaiah Hayes joined the ranks of thousands of “American Idol” hopefuls auditioning Thursday at the United Center.

“My heart’s definitely beating faster than it has in the Army,” confessed Hayes, 20, who got up early — even by military standards — to drive from his hometown of Hobart, Ind., and be in line by 5 a.m.

The Second City is the fifth of seven stops of open auditions for the upcoming 12th season of Fox’s popular singing competition, which will feature at least one new face on its celebrity judging panel. Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler said Thursday that after two seasons on the show, “it’s time for me to let go of my mistress ‘American Idol’ before she boils my rabbit.” He’s bailing on “Idol” to focus on his music.

Only a tiny fraction of the estimated 9,000 people who registered for auditions in Chicago will get the chance to impress whoever is Tyler’s replacement. Would-be “Idol” contestants had a scant 30 seconds or so to sing for producers Thursday in hopes of being among the roughly 400 advancing to the “executive producer” round. But before they could even enter the arena, they spent several hours standing in the United Center parking lot.

Camera crews on ladders and scissor cranes filmed footage of the cheering crowd as they erupted into wild applause for “Idol” host Ryan Seacrest.

The last time Seacrest blew through Chicago for “Idol” auditions was 2009. He said he likes coming to the city because he can do one of his favorite things: Put on a pair of headphones and jog along the lakefront.

After 11 seasons of scouring the nation for “Idol” talent, Seacrest and the production crew have become pretty adept at plucking talent from a pool of thousands.

“We can tell who’s got potential in 20 seconds,” he said.

Tamika “Dani” Jackson hoped she fell into that category. The Oak Park woman took vacation from her producing job at ad agency Leo Burnett to try out for “Idol.” She planned to sing a few bars of Cee Lo Green’s “Fool for You.”

“I’m 28 years old, so I just made the age cut-off,” she said.

Season 10 finalist Haley Reinhart turned up to sign some autographs and film a few scenes alongside Seacrest.

“It’s déjà vu,” said the Wheeling native, wearing a gold necklace with the words “Listen Up,” the name of her recently released debut album. “Walking in and seeing the crowd, it takes me back.”

Reinhart auditioned at the United Center last time “Idol” was here. That year, she didn’t make it past the celebrity judges’ round. It was a letdown — a feeling the vast majority of Thursday’s crowd knows all too well after their “Idol” dreams were cut short.

One teenage girl from Yorkville got a dose of disappointment before she even auditioned, and it stemmed from an unlikely source: a hug from Seacrest.

“He’s way tinier than I thought he would be,” said a tall Anna Kay, 15, sporting a pink sequined cowboy hat. “I used to want to marry the man.”

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