I'll admit it. I'm completely addicted to the Apprentice (not as in "I like it," but closer to "I have a problem"). That being the case, I snagged myself a press pass that allowed me to go poke around at the first casting call for The Apprentice 2, which took place in New York today.
The first thing I saw as I made my way to Trump's building on Wall Street was a throng of well-dressed Donald wannabes that snaked for more than six blocks through the heart of lower Manhattan. Never mind that a miserable wet snow had been falling for the last two days. That couldn't deter the first people in line to audition, one of whom said he had been waiting to get in since 11 PM two nights before. Most applicants, however, choose to arrive somewhere between the sensible hours of two or three that morning, some after having a night of St. Paddy's Day fun.
Why, you may ask, did these people (along with 750,000 others who Trump said had applied) want to get on the show?
"For me this has been a fun, geeky project to get into," said Jamie Hazan, who held up a by-now tattered poster board advertising his Web site, I-Want-To-Be-The-Apprentice.com, which he says has so far generated hits "in the six digits."
Others maybe just wanted to show off their entrepreneurial side.
"Somebody should be out here selling Trump Ice," suggested a very cold, and apparently thirsty, Swietlana Cahill, referring to Trump's line of bottled water that contestants on season one had been tasked with selling. Unfortunately Cahill probably didn't get to display her business savvy for Donald and the gang; she arrived at 7 AM and was stuck at the tail end of the line. One woman, Ashley Cheisler, had dashed into a convenience store to buy several pairs of socks that she was selling as gloves. So far, she had been the only taker.
One notable oversight on Donald's part that people waiting in line pointed out again and again: "Where are the porta-potties Donald!?"
The contestants entered through the gilded doors of the Trump Building twelve at a time, where they were ushered to a table headed by a member of the show's casting department. The group leader would expertly go around the table asking for an introduction from each contestant (not too long, mind you). All kinds of people showed up. High-powered Wall Streeters looking for an adventure sat cheek-to-jowl with people just out looking for any old job.
After introductions were made, the group leader would throw some sort of bone to generate a group conversation, something along the lines of "What makes a great leader?" Everyone knew that was the signal to start the fight to get to the top of the conversational heap. People quickly began tossing out their most-polished verbal nuggets, careful to take a position that would be distinct, but not offensive. "A leader has to be strong!" one would offer, followed up quickly by someone across the table who would fire back, "Oh, so you've got to be a man to be a leader? That's what you're saying aren't you?"
Not too many contestants were able to strike the right balance. But for the ones who did, a magical thing would happen. In one Orwellian stroke, a single person, perhaps a pair, would suddenly get called back to the table by an Apprentice staffer. A couple of whispers would be exchanged with the unsuspecting applicant before another staff member-amid the chaos of the milling applicants and the jostling media-whisked the chosen ones off behind a closed side door.
When they came out of the mystery room, as I began to think of it, I tried asking how it went, but the once garrulous applicants suddenly turned sheepish, saying "We're not supposed to talk to the press."
The whole process was really something to behold. I asked casting director Rob LaPlante how he had gotten so good at seeing through all the BS that gets thrown at him in one of these round-table sessions. "It's definitely a learned skill," he answered quickly as he gulped down another Trump Ice and waited for the next group of 12 to arrive. "I've cast 16 reality shows. That's how you learn how to do it."
Donald decided to put in one last appearance before going outside to work the crowd. He sat down at one of the casting tables, like he does in the boardroom on the show, with his sidekicks Carolyn and George on either side of him, and told the stunned, slack-jawed applicants, who surely weren't expecting to actually meet The Donald, that he knows they would all be great on the show.
"Some of you may get on," he said in his oft-imitated manner. "But for those of you who don't, well, you'll always have this to remember." Then, with a flash of the Donald smile, he was off, full press corps in tow.
So the race is on to find the next Sam, the next Omarosa, the next Troy or Kwame. The Apprentice 2 has scheduled open calls in 11 more cities from now through April 3. Then the contestants who make the cut go to Los Angeles for a full battery of medical and psychological exams before the final group gets selected. No doubt that leaves room for plenty more buzz to come.