When WKMG-Channel 6 in Orlando needed a new traffic reporter, it went the American Idol route and held open auditions and viewer "voting" for the winner. This recruitment idea was certainly creative--little cost and lots of publicity during May sweeps. However, the naming of the winner has generated some Florida-style election controversy.
When the first open audition was held in April, over 420 hopefuls, some in costume, lined up beginning at 4 a.m. for the "chance of a lifetime," as one person called it, and created a mini traffic jam in front of the studio. Anyone in line by 3 p.m. was guaranteed a 1-minute audition.
The only qualification required in the "job description" was to be 21 years old--no broadcasting experience was required, nor any specific knowledge of traffic. "We're looking for personality; we're looking for someone with enthusiasm," said station production manager Bob Kotek. "They don't have to be perfect."
While in line, each candidate was given a sample script to look over before the tapings. Station personnel also chatted with candidates to get a feel for their personal style and their familiarity with the area.
Ten finalists were then selected to deliver the traffic report live on the local morning news. Viewers could then cast votes for their favorites via the station's website.
However, unlike American Idol, voters didn't have the final say--station management reserved the right to make the selection based on candidate's on-air delivery, although it gave the public votes "serious consideration."
But that isn't what caused the controversy. Some hopeful candidates from the "open audition" started complaining on blogs that the finalists all had performance experience.
"I feel duped," complained one candidate, saying that experience was not supposed to be a factor in the selection process. "The issue that concerns me," said a blogger, "was that I spent 5 hours in line thinking I had a legitimate chance to make the finals. The sad fact is no matter how well the audition went, I really wasn't going to be considered."
"This was not American Idol, it was The Apprentice," said WKMG General Manager Henry Maldonado in defense of the selection process. "In that show, participants are judged not by their resume, but their performance. We were not basing our decision on previous experience, but on capability." In the end, Maldonado said, "This is not a contest, it is an audition."
On May 21, the winner was announced. Former actress and voice-over artist Kim Sanders, described by the station as "bubbly and refreshing with a crisp delivery and energetic style" was selected as the new traffic reporter.
You can view outtakes from the auditions on the station's website.