Fired up

Lining up to be hired as the next 'apprentice' to The Donald or The Diva of Domesticity.

February 12, 2005|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,SUN STAFF

ALEXANDRIA, Va. - There are almost 700 people lined up outside the Mercedes dealership here, with their gelled hair and their pressed suits and their absolute conviction that they will be the next apprentice to Donald Trump or Martha Stewart.

Producers politely ask which show they are auditioning for - the fourth season of Trump's program, The Apprentice, or the first season of its spinoff, The Apprentice: Martha Stewart - but they didn't really need to bother.

Stewart's devotees are easily spotted: They're the ones who proffered their resumes in elaborately decorated hatboxes, wore pink somewhere on their person, came bearing gifts of chocolates or potted plants or heart-shaped peanut butter sandwiches, and/or filled out their applications using alternating shades of pink and green ink.

"OK, this is a Martha group, right?" asks one casting producer as she sits at a table of 10 hopefuls. Perhaps the man wearing a black-and-white striped prison jumpsuit with a photo of West Virginia's most famous inmate taped to his stomach tipped her off.

Yesterday, hundreds of ambitious men and women did whatever it took to make an impression. At stake: a spot on one of The Apprentice shows and a chance to win a $250,000 job working for Trump or Stewart. Financial analysts, police officers, teachers, kickball champions and others lined up before dawn in a Mercedes-Benz parking lot, standing amid German automobiles that they could not possibly afford.

After all, that's why they're here. And perhaps the cars were motivational. A Mercedes Maybach that all the applicants had to walk by en route to their interviews carried a sticker price of $331,250.

"We're not selling any cars today, I can tell you that," says Audrey Mulholland, marketing director for the dealership, which moved four cars out of its showroom to make way for the auditions. But she said the hope was that the Apprentice applicants were the kind of people who would one day drive a Mercedes. Just not on this day.

That Stewart is serving a five-month term in a West Virginia federal prison for obstruction of justice hasn't dimmed the enthusiasm of her fans here - even a Baltimore County police officer whose job it is to enforce the law. Jessica Hummel, 28, who is based at the Catonsville Precinct, wouldn't comment on her idol's time in the slammer.

"What I would say shouldn't be printed," Hummel says, though she still adores Martha. "I have all her books. Every month when I get the magazine, I try all the recipes. All my Christmas presents this year were decorated a la Martha."

Both the Trump and Stewart shows are produced by Mark Burnett Productions, which is holding open casting calls in 29 cities this month. (Alexandria is as close as they will come to Baltimore, and what that says about Charm City's talent pool is something we'd rather not think about.) Producers said the applicants have been evenly split between the two shows, and that Stewart has attracted a new breed of applicant.

"Martha has opened the doors to people who haven't tried out before - people who own catering businesses or architectural firms, interior decorators," says Scott Salyers, the casting producer for both shows. "But for Donald and Martha, we're looking for people who have drive, motivation, entrepreneurial spirit - the kind of people for whom working 40 hours a week is considered a slow week."

It also takes a healthy bit of ego - not to mention some immodesty - to think you are better than the thousands of others who will try out. When applicants in a group interview are asked to give the one word that best describes themselves, the dealership showroom rings with echoes of "leadership," "imagination," "high energy" and "creativity." (But when someone is the fourth person in a group to use that last word, well, you begin to wonder.)

Some also bring mementos to leave with the producers. Besides the cakes, candies and cookies, there are portfolios of photographs and design work as well as something called a bequillo. This is brought by Anna Jones, 31, of Washington, who describes it as a "combination blanket, pillow, quilt, beach bag - with one side terry cloth and one side canvas."

She also leaves a plant, to symbolize her potential for growth, of course. Can you guess which show she's applying for?

The Trump applicants are a decidedly less interesting lot. Many seem to think they will score points by shouting as loud as they can during the debate portion of the group interview. A debate on whether prostitution should be legalized begins with one young man saying, "It's wrong. It's biblically wrong."

Another jumps in, "Now you're legislating morality!"

A third says, "If my kids knew prostitution was legal ... then what are we teaching our kids?"

To which a fourth adds, "At least it gives them another job opportunity."

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