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Potential ‘Idol’ contestants audition in line at United Center

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Updated: August 12, 2012 6:27AM

Thousands of “American Idol” hopefuls will try out for Fox’s hit TV show Thursday at the United Center. But even before they belt out their first note, their auditions have already started.

“See that African-American woman over there, the one in the sunglasses?” asked “Idol” senior supervising producer Patrick Lynn on Tuesday morning, as he sized up a corral of contestants waiting to register. “I like her look. Confident. She stands out.”

Standing out can be just as important as staying on key when you’re trying to survive the singing competition’s cattle-call auditions. Chicago is the fifth of seven stops for “Idol’s” upcoming 12th season.

Registration began Tuesday and will continue around the clock until early Thursday. That’s when “Idol” wannabes get less than a minute to sing in front of producers, hoping to be among the estimated 300 to 500 to move on to the next stage. That herd gets culled to around 120 before the celebrity judges roll into town later this summer and dole out those all-important tickets to Hollywood.

Lynn scanned the crowd that queued up Tuesday in the parking lot to be first in line to get their wristbands and tickets. He liked the energy emanating from a bubbly girl in a polka dot dress. A Justin Bieber look-alike grabbed his attention too. He spotted a mother and daughter and speculated they might have an interesting story.

“What people don’t realize is we have producers walking up and down the line all the time, and we’re always talking to each other about what we’re seeing,” said Lynn, who’s been with the show since season one. Armed with Flip video cameras and a keen eye for that “it” factor, producers have been known to approach people as they linger in line, recording their names and faces and keeping an eye out for them.

“If I see somebody that’s got a crowd of people around them, I’m going to pay attention to that,” he said.

Of course, there’s more than one way to garner attention. Dressing up in a banana suit is guaranteed to get you noticed. (“I will always put at least one banana suit through,” Lynn admitted.) But your oddball odyssey almost certainly will end before the live shows.

“You have to strike a balance between wearing a Statue of Liberty costume and just wearing a T-shirt and jeans and going, ‘eh, whatever,’” said Dave Della Terza, the west suburban mastermind behind, an “Idol-”inspired website that encourages viewers to vote for the least talented (and therefore more entertaining) contestants.

Something else that’s good to have: a story.

“If you have some kind of rare illness or slept out of your car or got into a horrible accident at some point, play that up,” Della Terza said. “They don’t just want good singers. They’re making a TV show.”

Even so, a story doesn’t have to be tragic to be compelling, Lynn said.

“Some people think their story is boring but it really isn’t,” Lynn said. “A good example is Lee DeWyze from Chicago a few years ago. He didn’t think he had a very exciting job, yet going to the paint store he worked at was one of the most dramatic moments of the season. He broke down crying.”

Thursday’s tryouts will mark Glen Ellyn resident Keila Buthman’s second stab at “Idol.” The 22-year-old auditioned for season 10 in Milwaukee. “They said I needed to work on my stage presence,” said Buthman, who plans on singing Beyonce’s “Halo” on Thursday.

And you’d better make those 20 to 30 seconds count, said “Idol” alum and Wheeling native Haley Reinhart.

“You want to pick the best part of the song,” Reinhart said. “If there’s a long, boring intro, cut to the chase and get to the juicy parts.”

Reinhart, 21, first auditioned for “Idol” the last time tryouts were held in Chicago, back in 2009. She got as far as the celebrity judging round. The following year she made it all the way to third place. She — along with “Idol” host Ryan Seacrest — will be at the United Center on Thursday, giving encouragement to those waiting in the same line she once stood in.

“From what you’re wearing to how you present yourself to what you’re talking about, make sure everything is unique,” she said. “You want to make everybody in that room believe in you.”

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