By midafternoon, at quarter to 3, Harold Jennings was groaning: "We're probably going to be here three more hours."
He and two colleagues from New York University left Wildwood Crest about 12 hours earlier, joining a horde of thousands from all over the country, young people hoping for a shot at making it on American Idol.
As he waited in the Wachovia Center parking lot just after 6 a.m., Jennings seemed chipper, holding up his sign: "We called in sick today! Pick us?!?"
"And they're going to get fired tomorrow!" chimed in Carol Cartwright of Bowling Green, Ohio, waiting with her daughter, Angela Chesloch, who turned 16 last month - weeks before the show's birthday cutoff date.
"No, we won't. Our boss loves us," said Anna Palumbo, 25, Jennings' coworker in NYU's finance department.
But by midafternoon, Jennings, reached by cellphone, sounded weary, counting off how many sections had auditioned (10) and how many were left before theirs (7).
"They made us throw out the food we brought with us," he said. So they had to hit the pricey concession stands.
"We're just like sitting here relaxing playing video games, chilling."
Only about 1 in 50 to 75 tryouts yielded the yellow paper that signaled come-back success, he said. Some, of course, were of the can-you-believe-this-guy? sort.
"There are some freaks that have gotten through," he said.
After the doors opened to auditioners at 6:30 a.m., the Wachovia Center concourse took on a festive atmosphere. Knots of contestant broke out in rehearsal to keep their voices limber. Wannabes wore blue wristbands, their guests white. Garnier, the hair-product company, set up a karaoke stage and had stylists doing hair. Shortly after 8, a producer standing on the arena floor led the contestants in a chorus of "I Love Rock N Roll" to warm them up for the cameras.
As cameras rolled, sections of contestants, filling the stands, chanted things like "Welcome to Philadelphia, City of Brotherly Love."
One blonde, not shy about being on camera, held aloft a gigantic headshot of herself, looking "very busty," according to one auditioner reached by cellphone.
"There are no losers on American Idol," said producer Patrick Lynn, giving the rules. "They're non-winners."
Even host Ryan Seacrest showed up.
For the first time, Fox's TV juggernaut is holding tryouts in Philadelphia and the turnout has been enormous. The only thing redder than the strings of brake lights coming off the Walt Whitman Bridge this morning were the shades of some of the dos of wannabes lined for the Idol auditions.
Thousands flocked to the center (some were actually wearing feathers) just to register over the weekend.
Early this morning, they returned, covering the parking lot outside, standing, lying down, sitting on the asphalt, some in lawn chairs, primping, snapping gum, yawning, talking, happy, excited, eager, scared, anxious, depressed and bored.
Surprisingly, for a half-hour before the doors opened, nary a tune was crooned.
"I am really dumbfounded. I can't believe how many people are here," said high schooler Samantha Trudel, 17, accompanied by her mom, Kathy, from Massachusetts.
Samantha said she's always liked to sing and thinks she's pretty good, although she hasn't much on-stage experience.
Nadcia Jennings, 18, carefully done up with tightly braided hair and soft makeup, said she's been singing in public since she was 10, and even has made paid appearances.
She and her mom, Jessica, came all the way up from Richmond, Va., where the daughter will be attending Virginia Commonwealth soon.
Harold Jennings was the motivator in his group, said Palumbo, a long-haired singer-songwriter from Queens. Her sign read, "Amer I CAN / I DO l," colleague Patricia Marange's "Idolicious."
They seemed a little disappointed to find out they wouldn't be performing for Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson today. The judges only show in town after the thousands have been winnowed to dozens of the best and worst.
"At least we have the rental car for another day," said Palumbo.
Hope springs eternal - until you're shown the exits instead of a yellow paper.
Contact staff writer Peter Mucha at 215-854-43423 or firstname.lastname@example.org.