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Wannabe 'Losers' flock to casting call

DULUTH - Jazmine McKellar, a 22-year-old college student from Macon, weighs in the neighborhood of 330 pounds.

The bubbly communications major wants to hack her weight in half. She's watched her grandmother struggle with obesity for decades and consequently die of a heart attack.

McKellar needs to stem the tide of her dangerous genetics, she said, but dieting and friends' support might not be enough.

Her saving grace could be a wildly popular reality TV show, she said. A place where losers are heralded as champions.

"I want to improve my willpower," said McKellar. "I just need someone to push me."

More than 500 full-figured hopefuls shared McKellar's conviction Saturday at Wild Bill's nightclub in Duluth.

Leaders with NBC's reality hit "The Biggest Loser" - a weight-loss competition that taunts contestants with caloric delights - held a six-hour casting call as part of a 13-city, nationwide search.

They were looking for about 50 camera-friendly couples, or single applicants who really shined, for season six, which shoots later this year. The show last scouted Atlanta in 2003 for season three.

The chance at $250,000 in first-place cash - not to mention a healthy transformation of body and spirit - was a huge draw in Duluth. A handful of auditioners even camped outside the nightclub Friday for a prime spot in line.

"Work let me off to come here," said Janice Galdo, 43, a Lilburn resident who supplies clothes to homeless people. She teamed with her daughter, Ada Bahena, 26. "We want to get on there and be healthy for our families," Galdo said.

The tryouts were fairly simple. People filled out one-page applications, then sat around talent scouts in a sort of round-table personality test. No need for song and dance.

"We've seen really great people," said casting director Jan DeMartino. "We've already started booking call-backs. There are good contenders."

The next step for about 100 lucky applicants will be more personal. In the next couple weeks, scouts will invite prospects to a different metro Atlanta location for on-camera interviews.

Only 12 teams of two will be pulled from the thousands producers meet nationwide for season six. The final decision won't happen for a couple of months, DeMartino said. The Duluth scouts scoot on to Miami next.

Auditioners' charm and wit trumped the right degree of obesity in the eyes of scouts Saturday.

"We're really just looking for teams of two that have a strong connection, but also single auditioners who are amazing," said Jacque Shakta, casting director. "It's really about personality and having that bond."

After some haggling, Buford resident Venus Ridgely, 46, persuaded her son to try out with her. She's a "Loser" devotee.

"I've watched this from the very first show," said Ridgely. "When you're overweight, you feel very alone in the world. Then you see these people who have the same thoughts, and it's inspirational."

Ridgely waited four hours in the empty, cavernous nightclub for her son, Nick, who was tied up elsewhere. When he walked in, she beamed.

"I have for the last 15 years seen the struggles she's gone through," said Nick Ridgely, 25. "I want to see her happy. I'm here to make her feel comfortable."