DULUTH - Wild Bill's stage was filled all day Saturday with country music star hopefuls decked out in the South's finest attire - boots, jeans and cowboy hats - all vying for a spot on USA Network's "Nashville Star" during its fourth season auditions.
County music fans drove from all over the Southeast to audition at Wild Bill's, one of the largest country-western venues this side of Texas. With a maximum capacity of more than 5,000, it was no sweat housing the 1,000 people who walked through the door.
"I came this morning at 8 a.m., and people were wrapped around the parking lot in line," said Edie Thornton, Wild Bill's marketing coordinator.
By 3 p.m, the hit TV show had 457 contestants signed up to audition and they were still accepting more applications, said Shanna Shrum, "Nashville Star" associate.
"Last week in Tampa, we only had 230 people audition. There are four different teams all over the country this weekend, and I think this team has the most people (auditioning) than any other team," Shrum said.
Three years ago, Tom Siliven, Wild Bill's general manager, contacted the show's coordinators and pitched the idea for them to conduct auditions at Wild Bill's.
"We're fortunate we have live concerts here so it's all set up," Siliven said. "They ("Nashville Star") can just turn it on and get rolling."
"Nashville Star" has returned ever since. In fact, in the second season, Snellville native Matthew Lindahl auditioned at Wild Bill's, was chosen to perform on the show and toughed it out to the finals, walking away with third place.
The stage lights shone bright on the contestants, but silhouettes of people in the audience sitting on bar stools sipping a beer, standing next to the stage with their guitar waiting for their turn, or commiserating at a group table with other country star hopefuls could be seen.
"It's been a dream of mine to be a country music entertainer," said Roy Weaver, a musician who traveled five and a half hours on his first weekend off in nine months to audition. "The easiest way is to sneak in the back door, and that's what I'm trying to do." Weaver normally sings with his band, "The Roy Weaver Highroller Band," but this day he sang Modern Day Bonnie and Clyde acappella.
Judges will announce call backs for today, and the contestants will then compete again. After that round, contestants compete in the regionals, where they will sing an entire song and answer various interview questions. The regional auditions will be held in Austin, Texas, and Nashville, Tenn., Jan. 5 and 6. Ten contestants will be chosen from that group and will go on to compete on the show, which airs in early March on USA Network and runs for 10 weeks.