Millionaire Audition, by Bill Gage
Posted by: Mark Nichols
01 Jun 2007
I wanted to respond to your story about auditioning for "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" with an account of my own, which began back even before the first episode aired. In response to some print advertisement, like a lot of people, I tried to get on via the phone-in selection process -- without success. Then, when they started doing auditions "on the road," I tried three times: in Dallas, in Denver, and then, once again, when they actually came to Albuquerque (where I live). I passed the written test each time, but I probably had less luck with the post-passing "audition" process. They didn't sit down with each potential contestant individually, but rather, called a small group of three or four up to stand in front of everyone and did a bit of group questioning. The first time, in Dallas, I'm sure I did very poorly because I had no idea what to expect and wasn't very well-prepared. I think I did better the second time, in Denver (I took the bus up from Albuquerque and spent the entire time reading Regis's autobiography!). And I think I did still better in Albuquerque. However, after three attempts and three failures to get into the Contestant Pool, I reluctantly hung up my "Millionaire" shoes and went back to my life.
Fast forward to late last year, when I rediscovered "Millionaire" in its syndicated version and started watching it again. I've always liked the show, and it wasn't long before I began to get the urge to try again to get on it (picture the scene from The Godfather III, where Michael Corleone says, "Just when I thought that I was out they pull me back in!"). Unfortunately, my timing was decidedly off, and I had to wait for the 2007 auditions to begin in order to renew my efforts. But anything worth having is worth waiting for, so I bided my time, and when the 2007 audition dates were posted on the "Millionaire" website in April, I made my move. I selected May 21st as my first date and May 14th as my alternate, and got the 21st at 5:00 p.m. (I selected these dates because one, they were Mondays and would allow me to take the least amount of time off from work, and two, they were far enough in advance that I could get a good price on airfare.) I flew in on Saturday and stayed with an old friend who still lives in New York, enjoying the weekend in the city before showing up at the appointed time and place on Monday afternoon.
I'm not a superstitious kind of person, but there were some things that happened before I got to the audition that I felt were auspicious. A week before I flew to New York, I opened a fortune cookie and found the following: "Good news of long-awaited event will arrive soon." Then, on the Chicago-to-New York leg on my trip, the pilot came on the intercom before we took off and said he was going to give us three "state capital trivia questions" to ponder during the flight, and then he would give us the answers on the approach to La Guardia. (Name all the state capitals whose first letter is the same as its state; all the state capitals named for former presidents of the United States; and all the state capitals beginning with the letter "A." )
The confirming email I got from the folks at "Millionaire" said to arrive 15 minutes before the scheduled start time of 5:00 p.m., but the queue was already quite lengthy at 4:30. I took a place at the end and started chatting with other would-be contestants. The PAs (production assistants; I don't think they are "interns" as you characterized them earlier) were keeping order (trying to keep the sidewalk clear, e.g.) and checking IDs to see that everyone in line was on the list to audition at five o'clock (a woman immediately ahead of me showed an Alabama driver's license). You know how the rest went: metal detector; another ID check; here's your test; don't open the envelope until instructed to do so; walk here; sit there; etc. While they were getting ready to start the test, one of the PAs, while walking in between the tables with a "Millionaire" tee shirt in her hands, said that she would give the shirt to whomever was the first person to respond after she described the selection criterion: in this case, whoever had gone shopping prior to coming to the audition and could prove it by showing a shopping bag. My hand shot into the air and I got the shirt! (I'd bought some bow ties earlier that day.) They also solicited people to try out for this season's "Netflix Movie" and "Play to Pay for Your Wedding" shows, the latter being limited to engaged couples only. (Later on, one wag piped up and said that he and a woman sitting nearby had "just become engaged."" The PA responded, without missing a beat, "Come back when you have a ring." )
I don't recall many of the questions on the test, except that I thought they were mostly fairly easy. I specifically recall the three I know I got wrong: (1) Number of states that begin with a vowel (I guessed 10, but the answer is 12); (2) name of the "Brat Pack" actor who appeared in The Breakfast Club who did not also appear in St. Elmo's Fire (I had no idea, and guessed Emilio Estevez, but I think the correct answer was Molly Ringwald, based upon some post-test Internet research); and (3) vitamin that is also known as folic acid (I guessed vitamin A, but it's vitamin B). I have every reason to believe that I got all the rest of the questions right, based upon the fact that I recall having at least a 90% certainty about each of the answers I gave. The foregoing three were the only questions I knew I didn't know the answers to at the time and had to guess at (100% wrongly, as it turned out). But all's well that ends well, and I passed the test nonetheless, giving and a loud "Yes!" and making that classic downward gesture of victory with my fist when my number was called. The interview was extremely short and, of course, I have no idea what sort of impression I made. I find it hard to imagine that they can get a reasonable impression, whether for good or ill, in so short a time. Obviously, I'll find out soon enough. (Back in the day, as I recall, you only got a postcard if you were selected for the Contestant Pool, but I think I like the idea of getting one, one way or the other, is better." At least that way, you know you have to try again!)
Good luck with your future audition!