Who Gets the Blues?
When Eileen Leonard got a call from America's Got Talent producers asking if her Jackson, Tenn.-based senior citizen dance troupe would come to Memphis and audition for the show, she assumed it was a prank.
It was not.
That's how the ladies of the Tip Top Tappers came to find themselves rehearsing their dance routine — set to Elvis Presley's Blue Suede Shoes — on the upper level of the Cook Convention Center Tuesday morning, surrounded by a host of other performers tuning their instruments, warming up their voices and stretching their unusually dexterous dancing limbs while waiting to audition for the NBC reality show.
AGT executive producer Jason Raff said that part of what makes the show unique is what a wide net they cast during their talent search.
"With X-factor, Idol and Voice they only go to 5 cities," Raff said, "So unless you can afford to go to them you're out of luck."
This year the show, which is in its 8th season, will recruit in twice as many cities as in years prior, with 14 stops between November and February.
Beginning Sunday in Birmingham, the 18-person team kicked off a seven-day surge through the South which, after Memphis, will take them from Nashville to Georgia then on to North Carolina and Virginia.
Until then, Raff and his colleagues are making their home in two tour buses that were parked outside the convention center all day — another new addition this year for the AGT team, none of whom denied being pretty sleepy on Tuesday morning following their first night on the buses.
By noon, they had already registered close to 500 performers and Raff guessed they would see well over a thousand people before packing it in at 8 p.m.
Those who are selected to move on will get a call from the producers sometime in early 2013 and will then perform during a taped audition session in front of a celebrity judge. "We have no set quotas in any city," explained Raff, "so we could find 20 acts in Memphis, or we could find 100.
"Personality is a big part of it. Some people come in and they just light up the room and you know they have that star potential."
Among those hoping to exhibit that "star potential" were the Morph Twins — a lyrical dance and comedy duo whose entire bodies were covered by black and white checkered leotards — and teenage country singer Katie Logan, who drove six hours from Missouri with her parents and had to reschedule several of her final exams in order to make the auditions.
Eighteen-year-old Morganne Warf, a senior at Bartlett High, also missed a day of school with her mother's blessing to sing for the producers Tuesday.
"I was singing before I could talk," Warf said, adding that while her audition was nerve wracking she was proud of her rendition of Why I'm Home by Go Radio.
Warf's mother, Melissa Maher said that while she knew the odds were long she was happy to afford her daughter the chance to pursue a lifelong dream.
"It's a one in a million shot," Maher said. "But you can't be the one if you don't show up."