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MUSIC: GF women try out for 'American Idol'

Jacquie Mercer and her friend, Brittany Anderson, both of Grand Forks, didn't make the cut at "American Idol" tryouts last month in Pasadena, Calif., but then again, neither did most of the other 11,000 people who auditioned for the blockbuster t...

Jacquie Mercer and Brittany Anderson, Grand Forks
Jacquie Mercer (holding the sign) and her friend Brittany Anderson (blond hair, to Mercer's left), both of Grand Forks, wait with 11,000 others to audition for "American Idol" in Pasadena, Calif. Their sign drew the attention of a newspaper photographer, and this photo was published the following day in the San Gabriel Valley (Calif.) Tribune.

Jacquie Mercer and her friend, Brittany Anderson, both of Grand Forks, didn't make the cut at "American Idol" tryouts last month in Pasadena, Calif., but then again, neither did most of the other 11,000 people who auditioned for the blockbuster television show

The two friends, both 20, spent a sweaty 12 hours at the Rose Bowl waiting in the hot California sun to be called for their auditions.

"By the time it came to us, we almost didn't want to go," Mercer said Monday. "We felt like we had heat stroke. The sun was just beating down on us, and the only water there was these little tiny bottles for $4 a piece."

After about 15 seconds of singing for the judges, they were told, "You're not what we're looking for."

Great experience

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Disappointing? Yes. But also a great experience in making new friends, girlfriend bonding, experiencing life in Los Angeles and -- for Mercer -- a chance to make her ailing mom proud.

Anderson and Mercer met as freshmen at Red River High School and became friends as volleyball teammates, eventually discovering they both loved to sing. As juniors and seniors, they entered Red River's "Rider Idol," the school's version of the "American Idol" singing competition, and won the People's Choice award, Anderson said.

This was Mercer's second try at auditioning for "Idol"; the first was in Minneapolis in 2006. Winning a spot on "Idol" was more Jacquie's dream than hers, Brittany said. She went along mostly to support Mercer -- and because Mercer's family gave her frequent flyer miles to make the trip, Anderson said.

During their five days in Los Angeles, they stayed with Mercer's aunt. While they were there, Michael Jackson died. They visited his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, figured out how to navigate freeway traffic, hit the clubs and went surfing.

Celebrities

One night, they got into Les Deux, a famous (and exclusive) Hollywood club often visited by the characters on the MTV show "The Hills," and where they learned that being from North Dakota brought them attention they weren't expecting.

"Once we told people we were from North Dakota, it traveled through the whole club," Mercer said. "They all said, 'You're from North Dakota? How did you get in here?'"

The "We're from North Dakota" sign Mercer was holding as she and Anderson waited to audition got the attention of a San Gabriel Valley Tribune newspaper photographer. The photo he took was published in the newspaper the next day.

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The women had preregistered for their "Idol" auditions a couple of days ahead of time. That morning, they left at 5:30 a.m. for their 45-minute trip to the Rose Bowl. They got stuck in traffic anyway. By the time they got there, they figured there were 9,000 people ahead of them.

"They kind of herd you like cattle," Mercer said. "They corral you and let us into the Rose Bowl at 7:30, 8 o'clock. Even in the morning, there was no shade."

Another shot?

Mercer said she may try out for "American Idol" again someday. After all, it took "Idol" winner Jordin Sparks four tries to be chosen for the show.

"I realize more than ever that 'American Idol' is more about luck than it is about talent," she said. To be selected, it helps to be an exceptionally good singer, or exceptionally horrible, she said. Also, many of the screeners are looking for specific types, like an Asian female or an African-American male. And if you're not the type, you get passed over.

It was a grueling day, Mercer said, but she has about 20 new Facebook friends to show for it, not to mention the memory of a special day she shared with Anderson, "One of the best people I've met here in Grand Forks."

Anderson, a UND student, plans to return to school in the fall. Mercer plans to move to San Diego and enroll in a Paul Mitchell hairstyling school.

And there's Mercer's mother, Tammy, who encourages her daughter's dream of having a singing career. Tammy Mercer has terminal cancer, and her daughter wanted to make her proud. Despite her illness, Tammy Mercer earned a degree in physical therapy and, after an upcoming surgery, hopes to work as a physical therapist.

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"My mom is amazing," Jacquie Mercer said.

Reach Tobin at (701) 780-1134; (800) 477-6572, ext. 134; or send e-mail to ptobin@gfherald.com .

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