All in all, the audition went well. I won’t know if they have selected me for the contestant pool until (and unless) Jeopardy calls me to come to Los Angeles. Personally, I think I have a good chance.
THE BACKSTORY: I drove up to Orlando the day before the audition. I checked into the hotel and got up to my room only to realize I had left my cell phone in the car. Never fear, the valet guy retrieved it for me and delivered it to my room. I rested and relaxed until dinner time, and then I took myself out for sushi. Protein is brain-food, and I wanted every advantage. I hurried back to my hotel to watch Jeopardy that evening and practice ringing in. I read a little bit of my almanac that night and got a good night’s sleep. The next morning, I had breakfast in my room and studied some more. I was feeling weak on U.S. Presidents and Vice Presidents, so I brushed up on those. I looked at world maps and capitals. I browsed a section on European Royalty, and it actually paid off in the audition. I checked out of my room, had a light lunch and hid myself away to calm my ever-increasing nerves by reading a novel.
My audition was called for 3:00 p.m., so I arrived a little before 2:30 p.m. I didn’t really want to talk to these people, especially the turbo-geek who was studying his flashcards. [Learned from taking multiple bar exams: if you don’t know it by the morning of the test, you’re not going to learn it then.] A few of us got to talking and — as usual for me — I ran into someone I knew: another woman from my town, a stockbroker with a firm who does business with WineGuy’s practice and who is one of his patients. Thankfully, we chatted about wine and food and took our minds off our nerves. BTW, DocThelma, she’s a graduate of MBC.
FIRST, a talent assistant informed us we’d be starting a little late because the morning sessions had run long. She laid out several papers we needed to pick up; then she directed us to a talent coordinator who took Polaroid pictures of us. We filled out Contestant Information forms and received blank answer sheets for the written test we would take later. Miss Talent Assistant tried to break the ice by finding out where everyone was from. There were lots of people from within an hour or two’s drive. Three people boasted that they were from Jacksonville. I spoke up for my local contingent, saying “We live in [SW Florida city], and it’s a 3.5 hour drive from here.” That shut everyone up. Miss Talent Assistant started calling me “Miss [SW Florida city]”; I was very pleased to have been noticed. She mentioned they had just come from Washington, DC, where they held auditions the week before. I replied, “My friend, DocThelma, was at those auditions!” She asked me to remind her who DocThelma was, and I did, glowingly.
SECOND, we filed into the meeting room filled with conference tables. A digital projector was set up in the middle of the room. There were two conference tables up front, at which were seated two production assistants, the Senior Talent Coordinator and Tony Soprano, the talent assistant who had just taken our pictures. Tony Soprano got up and started lecturing about how to play Jeopardy: to phrase responses in the form of a question, to wait until the question is fully read before ringing in to answer, to show your potential as a contestant.
THIRD, Tony Soprano conducted an informal Jeopardy round, giving each person a chance to raise his/her hand and answer a question. Tony read the first question. I waited until he finished reading and then shot my hand up in the air. He called on me, complimented me on my timing, and told me I answered correctly. He encouraged us to raise our hands if we knew the answers to subsequent questions, but he would only call on each person once. I made sure I stayed within his sightline and raised my hand for nearly every question.
FOURTH, was the written test. I agree with DocThelma that this test was the same degree of difficulty as the online test. There were 50 questions, and the whole thing was computerized. Each question appeared in written form on the screen while the announcer, Charlie Gilbert, read it aloud. We had 8 seconds to respond to each question. They told us to write neatly and not to worry if we skipped on or got out of order because they would hand-grade each one. I got a bit nervous in the first 5 questions. I definitely knew the answers to 2 questions and guessed on the third . . . about British royalty, which I had reviewed in the almanac that morning!! The rest of the test went swimmingly well. The obscure stuff I knew easily. The easy stuff tripped me up on a couple of questions. There was a question about a company Google acquired in 2006; apparently a lot of people did not know the answer was YouTube. Duh. One question was about performing on-stage, and I drew a blank. (Duh on me.) I wrote an answer and prayed the correct one would pop into my head. It did after a few minutes, and I corrected my answer. Tony Soprano and Miss Talent Assistant collected our answer sheets, photographs, questionnaires, and personal information forms. They took the tests outside to grade them by hand, but they did not and will not give us our scores.
FIFTH, was the practice round. Every person got the chance to play a practice round of Jeopardy. They called us up to the front in groups of three. We got to hold an actual buzzer (it’s really a clicker) and practice ringing in. As I predicted long ago, the key to winning at Jeopardy is how quickly and accurately you ring in. There is a real science to ringing in first, and I first read it in Michael Dupee’s book, How To Get On Jeopardy … And Win! You must scan the question quickly and formulate your answer while Alex Trebek reads the question aloud. As soon as he’s finished, neon lights illuminate on the side of the Jeopardy board. The critical thing is to ring/click in repeatedly as soon as the lights go on. I rang in a few times and answered correctly.
SIXTH, was appearance, stage presence and personality. IMVHO, I was “all that” and more than most of my group (20 people, of which 5 were women). About appearance: we all received prior instructions to dress as if we were going to appear on TV. Most of the men were dressed in jacket and/or ties. Note to male contestants: regardless of your girth or size, wear clothes that fit you, that aren’t too tight, too short, or too threadbare. One fat guy — a dead ringer for Baby Huey — failed in all those categories plus was wearing a tie that was at least 5 inches too short. A couple of men were dressed neatly but casually and looked presentable. The men spent a lot of time telling the talent scouts about the stuff they collected: war memorabilia, postcards, boring. Some of them had funny stories; the ones who had good stories and good speaking voices made great impressions.
Three of the five women there looked dreadful. The other hometown woman was an intelligent but weak-chinned woman in a drab grey business pantsuit. She spoke fairly well but looked weak overall. The other two women were from the Jacksonville area, where apparently they don’t have decent hairdressers or clothing stores. The bigmouth from Harvard, in her red Sally-Jessy glasses thankyouverymuch, had on a crappy black t-shirt tucked into too-tight dress pants and sported a too-small sweater haplessly tied around her more-than-ample shoulders. She looked like she hadn’t combed her hair that day at all. She spoke up but didn’t answer too many questions in the practice round. The other woman was an accountant. Enough said. No? She looked to be in her late 40s with long, dishwater blonde hair pulled back in a Hillary Headband. That one forgot her reading glasses and wore her “vintage” prescription sunglasses so she could read the screen. She was in a red jacket that began as an Indian blanket, complete with pilling and pulled threads. She looked like a total dork, and her personal stories were dopey. Bzzzzzt — next! The one other woman who was well-dressed and interesting appeared to be in her late 50s or early 60s. She was a handsome woman in a beautifully tailored, but drably colored, pants outfit. She was a former business executive who spoke very well and had an interesting story.
My appearance: I dressed in a bright red linen jacket (carefully pressed, PA Mom!) with a black Slinky tank and pants underneath. I had on a little bit of jewelry and took great care with makeup that morning, including my red lipstick. My hair was freshly clean and brushed and looking marvelous (thank you, David). I looked fabulous . . . but I need to start my diet now.
Stage presence and personality: I have loads of experience performing on-stage, and it doesn’t phase me. I smiled a lot, spoke up and out often but in turn. I used my best stage voice in telling my personal stories. When asked what I would do with the money if I won on Jeopardy, I responded that I would endow a fund for the Cornell Chorus, where I earned my chops. Everyone else said they needed the money for their children’s education or wanted to use it to travel . . . to places like Cooperstown and Europe. I said I wanted to take my family to Australia and New Zealand for a month and then, perhaps, to Israel. Like Mr. Sondheim said, “You gotta get a gimmick.” And, Ms. Marcy Syms concurred, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”
I am confident that I came across better than 98% of my group. I feel like I did as well on my written test as I did on the online test that brought me to Orlando. Now, it’s just a waiting game. The odds are slim: over 125,000 people took the online test. Countless other people had live auditions in Los Angeles and elsewhere. There are only 400 contestant spots each year, and I auditioned towards the end of the process. Hopefully, that’s a good thing.
The Senior Talent Coordinator explained that Jeopardy will call people from June 2007 through April 2008 from this contestant pool. They give you 2-3 weeks’ notice for you to fly to LA for taping. They only tape on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, five shows each day. Each contestant is responsible for paying his airfare and hotel room, until he has won five times. Then, Jeopardy will pay for the return airfare. Third place winners receive $1000; second place winners receive $2000. As ABBA said, “The winner takes it all.”
That’s my story. I hope to compare notes with DocThelma. I hope we both get called to LA, but not on the same show.