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'American Idol' looks for the next big thing in Fargo

"American Idol" hopefuls register for auditions at Delta Hotels by Marriott in Fargo. David Samson / The Forum1 / 8
Participants line up early Wednesday morning for auditions for "American Idol" at Delta Hotels by Marriott in Fargo. David Samson / The Forum2 / 8
Saige Cibble from Aberdeen, S.D., chats about her audition for American Idol in the waiting area. David Samson / The Forum3 / 8
Nancy Yearling, casting producer, talks about the audition process for the show. David Samson / The Forum4 / 8
Paul Schneider from Carrington, N.D., warms up for his audition by singing to his wife, Katie, at Delta Hotels by Marriott in Fargo on Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017. David Samson / The Forum5 / 8
Diane Rust and her daughter, Andrina Brogden, share a laugh while waiting in line for "American Idol" auditions. Brogden was a previous contestant on the program but didn't make it to the live shows. David Samson / The Forum6 / 8
Maddie Todd from Sioux Falls, S.D., warms up for her audition for "American Idol" at Delta Hotels by Marriott in Fargo on Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017. David Samson / The Forum7 / 8
Amanda Eggbraaten from Babbitt, Minn., waits for her audition. David Samson / The Forum8 / 8

FARGO — The halls of the Delta Hotels by Marriott were alive with music Wednesday morning as talented singers from North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota gave it their best for "American Idol."

The open auditions attracted about 500 hopefuls between the ages of 15 and 28 by 11 a.m. Applicants sang in front of one of the show's producers in hopes of getting a golden ticket, starting them down the path to a potential spot on the 16th season of the show. That path started with a line that formed at 4 a.m. when the temperature was just over 40 degrees.

Saige Sibble was first in line. The 18-year-old, her mom and a friend drove three hours from Aberdeen, S.D., arrived around midnight and stayed in the car until taking a spot outside nearly three hours before the sun came up and five hours before trials started at 9 a.m.

"We had four blankets, a sleeping bag and a sweatshirt," she said.

A big fan of "American Idol"—she watches clips repeatedly on YouTube—she was looking forward to whatever criticism she got from the judge after singing Ingrid Michaelson's "The Way I Am."

"Honestly, I'd be cool with it," she said when asked how she would handle the judges' sometimes harsh criticism on the show. "I'll take it and learn from it. That's all you can really do."

Her mom, Lisa McLean, sat on the floor nearby.

"I'm tired, but it's worth it for her," McLean said. "It's a dream. You do anything for your kids."

She paused. "Besides, she has to make money so she can take care of me," McLean said with a laugh.

Contestants sat orderly in rows waiting for their time to shine, but some stood in the back of the Crystal Ballroom trying to warm up their voices. At one point the room hushed to listen to a young woman sing Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You."

"I've been waiting for this moment for 16 years," said the singer, 21-year-old Elizabeth Hendrickson of Minot. "I've been watching this show since I was a kid."

As chance would have it, next to her in line was Amanda Ray Eggebraaten, 23, from Babbitt, Minn., a friend from Bible camp eight years ago. The two rehearsed together as Eggebraaten planned to perform her original song, "Close Your Eyes," accompanying herself on guitar.

She wasn't the only one who brought an instrument. Some brought pianos, some ukuleles.

At the back of the room, Paul Schneider strummed his guitar as he rehearsed Jason Michael Carroll's "Hurry Home."

The singer from Carrington, N.D., wasn't concerned about being one of the few to play a country tune amidst a crowd of pop singers.

"They seem to be open to anything," he said of the "American Idol" judges.

Nancy Yearing, a casting producer for the show and the sole judge at the event, said she was looking for authenticity as much as talent

"We're looking for somebody to be themselves. So often we get people coming in with what they think we want to hear," she said.

Yearing said 500 people is one of the smaller audition opportunities and estimates she has listened to as many as 900 in one day. She didn't have a goal for how many performers she wanted to select to take the next step on Wednesday.

An "American Idol" publicist said the production would not reveal how many people tried out or how many made the cut.

Performers found out immediately as they were either handed a golden ticket or shown the door. Shortly after 9 a.m., singers emerged from their test, some smiling, at awaiting friends and family, some tearing up.

"It was a little odd. Honestly, I'm not very impressed," Sibble said after her audition. "All they want is pop."

Well, that wasn't entirely true. Schneider emerged with a golden ticket only to disappear into another room for another performance in front of a video camera, an interview and a rough idea of what would happen next, which would include another tryout.

"It was fun. They said they could listen to my voice all day long," he said.

Maddie Todd was another of four to get a golden ticket before 11 a.m. She played Hozier's "Take Me to Church" and when she was asked for a second song, responded with Alicia Keys' "If I Ain't Got You."

The 23-year-old from Sioux Falls, S.D., was excited about taking the next step, but a little nervous as well. She said she would hear from producers in two weeks about the next round of auditions.

"I have a dog, a girlfriend and a job. I want to keep that," she said. "But I'm excited about making new connections and meeting new people."

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