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Our Audition for "Millionaire"

My husband and I decided to accept an email invitation and audition for "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" in New York City. I know people are surprised to find that the show is still on the air -- in the Milwaukee area we get it on a cable station -- but it is, and since I had auditioned a number of years ago, I was on their radar as someone not living in the NY area and they wanted me to try again. The new host is Cedric the Entertainer, a comic with a respectable television show history. We decided to stay for one night and audition twice while we were in the Big Apple.

The filming takes place in an unmarked studio in the upper west side. We arrived at the correct time and we were all led downstairs to a room resembling a church basement. There we filled out application forms and waited --and waited -- and waited for more than two hours. We were quick to realize that filming for television involves a LOT of waiting. There were many more people than chairs and many people who had auditioned recently said that it was unusual that it was that crowded. We were finally ushered upstairs to the studio.

The studio is high-ceilinged, but otherwise much smaller than one would expect. We were seated in the second row behind the contestant, so there is a very good chance we will be somewhat identifiable during the show tapings! If people were seated in the first row, they had to move after each show was filmed. Some people wearing weird clothes (we were instructed to wear solids with long sleeves -- nothing white) were put in the back rows.

We all took the test and were told we would get the results at the end of the two tapings. It was a 10-minute multiple choice test with 30 questions. I knew some, guessed at others -- as did most people. There were a lot of celebrity questions.

A warm-up comedian works the studio audience first and he singled out three couples -- one being us. He asked how long we were married and how we met and when he found out we met on the Internet and that Steve waited 23 seconds after getting my phone number to call me, teased him about "not being desperate at all."

An hour later, Cedric made his entrance and we greeted him as if he just cured cancer. He must be bald and self-conscious about it as he wears a hat during the tapings.  He walked around the stage, waving to everyone. I did a little two-handed mini-wave and he stopped and repeated the wave back to me. It was kind of cool.

Then the show started. We were given audience instructions -- we were to stand and cheer each time Cedric walked down from his entrance spot, we were to jump up and cheer each time a contestant answered a question worth $10,000 to $25,000 and we had to be enthusiastic. Easy enough, we thought.

However, each show takes about an hour to film and that is a lot of jumping up and cheering. The bloom was quickly off this television rose. Then we got to do it all over again.

I don't know whether Cedric does not rehearse the reading of the questions and answers or what was the problem, but he makes very many mistakes and had to do very many re-takes, which meant we had to either sit silent or replicate our responses to the outcome. Not every entertaining, Cedric. The station people also fawned over him more than a bit, soothingly saying things like, "That was good, Cedric, but this one is just for us." Oh, brother.

When the second show was finally finished, the studio announcer was about to read who passed the test when SUDDENLY he gets a message in his ear and tells us that they just decided -- just this minute -- to film one more episode! Apparently the contestants for that episode knew to come to the studio but the employees in charge did not know there would be a third episode filmed that afternoon??? We were not given the option of leaving as they would not announce who passed the test until that third episode was in the can. They promised it would be a quick episode -- which did not make any sense as each episode takes the same amount of time to shoot.

The studio announcer then said they ordered pizza for all of us and then we would get tee shirts. Honestly, at that point, I don't think many in the audience cared about getting a slice -- we just wanted to see if we passed the test and then get out of there.

So, we sat -- and stood and cheered, of course -- for another show. One guy who survived 911 and Super Storm Sandy came on and lost on the first question. They re-taped Cedric's entrance, which led me to believe that this guy's brief appearance would never make it as part of the show. We also saw a guy risk $43,000+ when he was not sure of the answer -- he still had one of his two "jump the question" helps left -- got it wrong and lost all but $1,000. The biggest prize we saw went to a guy who walked away with $58,000.

When all the show hoopla was done and Cedric beat a hasty retreat, the announcer read off the names of those who passed the written test. There were only five out of 125 and they included a guy who took the test so many times that the studio people knew his name. The announcer also told stories of people -- obviously living in the area -- who took the test 15 or more times or took it over and over again for many years before passing. Alas, Steve and I did not pass. We were not told our scores nor how many we had to answer correctly in order to pass.

Our pizza dinner was a real bust. We were handed a slice of bland cheese pizza on a cheap paper plate, a tiny water bottle and then instructed to keep moving. Our tee shirts were tossed to us as we left the studio. Bah-bye. 

We were so worn out from our six-hour television ordeal and the third-show trick that we decided not to return for the next day's taping and test. Instead Steve went to the Natural History Museum and I went to the Frick Art Museum and walked through part of Central Park. Beautiful day.

Oh, by the way, if you are thinking of a trip to NYC, it is much cheaper to hire a car service to transport you from the airport (we flew into La Guardia) instead of a cab. Cabs are around $60 and a car service with tolls and a tip average $45. Much more comfortable, too. There are signs for car services at baggage claim and they are there to get you within ten minutes.

As we were in the middle of sitting, standing and cheering over and over again, I leaned over to my husband and told him, "This is why I do theater." Theater involves rehearsals, yes, but in the end, it goes fromstart to finish -- one take -- every time. And that's my final answer. 

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