Saturday, March 11, 2006

My Date with The Donald

From: Los Angeles Daily News

UNIVERSAL CITY - You just don't turn down a job interview with Donald Trump - not even if you're a newspaper reporter instead of an wannabe executive.

Trump was in Southern California on Friday to promote a 17-city casting call for the sixth season of the NBC reality show "The Apprentice," which will be filmed in Los Angeles for the first time.

A contact at NBC had arranged for my interview to be done by The Donald himself, so I worked late Thursday on my application and resume. I needed something extra to wow Trump and become one of 16 cast members. But even a magician can only do so much with "student, intern, reporter, reporter."

My printer failed about five minutes before midnight, and I made a quick run to Kinko's. I managed to get four hours of sleep before getting myself ready and driving to Universal City, arriving before 6 a.m., even though NBC had said not to.

About 25 people were ahead of me when I stepped into line at 5:44 a.m. It was so cold that Farrah Evagues was wrapped in a gray blanket as she sat in a pink folding chair at the head of the line.

"We left Orange County at 2, got here at 3 and then drove around for an hour trying to figure out where we were supposed to be," said Evagues, a 23-year-old director of operations for an Anaheim military-electronics company. Her mom was waiting in the car.

The line quickly grew to several hundred. But this being Los Angeles, hundreds of others had mailed in taped submissions.

Back in the line, dressed in a black suit and red T-shirt that read "future billionaire," was Jon Cronstedt, 24, a mortgage division manager from Orange County who lamented that interest rates were rising and his list of prospective clients was shrinking.

"The Apprentice," he said, would broaden his career opportunities.

"You watch three seasons of the show and you figure, Why not?"

Also looking for a career change was math teacher Bill Newyear, 58.

"An MBA is fine. Young and energetic is good. But an old dog can learn new tricks," said Newyear, a silver-haired teacher at New Vista Middle School in Lancaster who "would leave teaching in a heartbeat because the 250 grand or whatever sure beats the snot out of what teachers make."

Then there was David Schwartz, a 43-year-old artist from Oxnard, who already has plans for Trump City, "a fascinating place, very futuristic" that supposedly is being planned for the moon.
"My creative ideas can not only help the Trump industry but help the world," said Schwartz, who wore a black beret, tattered, paint-covered blue jeans and a jacket and tie.

Shivering next to him was Eric Mark, a business consultant from Marina del Rey who got a call-back interview when he auditioned in San Diego for season four.

Mark thinks he has a real shot of making the final cut this time and is ready for the reality TV ordeal: "It certainly takes a certain kind of person, the kind who enjoy challenges and humiliation."

After nearly four frigid hours outside, my back aching, I got into the warmth of the replica Globe Theatre. There were five tables inside a large room. Most had 10 applicants and two casting directors asking the questions.

My table had nine hopefuls - and Trump.

We had a former Miss Yugoslavia, an investment banking wunderkind and a 30-year-old once worth $60 million but now almost penniless, save the gold Rolex he kept as a memento from his salad days.

TV crews and their blinding lights surrounded us. I knew I was going to do something stupid. After introductions, which were humbling at best, Trump asked us to debate whether dating should be allowed among colleagues.

"If Mr. Trump were dating one of the contestants, I'd see a problem with that," said Alex, the kind but unsmiling investment banker from Goldman Sachs.

Trump and his casting producer based their picks on the way candidates interacted during the debate and articulated their points. I was at a loss, drowned beneath the din of a few dominating voices. I quickly learned how frustrating it must be to actually be on this show.

After about five minutes, Trump asked each of us to fire someone. Miss Yugoslavia, the first to decide, said something about "glasses" and pointed at me.

Scott Salyers, the casting major domo, told the group to avoid giving this journalist the boot. I asked that I not be treated special.

"Well, then, everybody is going to pick you," the amiable Salyers said.

Charles, who is still in college, was the other offender to finger me. I soon returned the favor.

"The first thing he said was, 'I'm interested in business.' I don't want someone who isn't interested in business," I said. "I want someone who knows business."

"You did say that, Charles," Trump nodded, validating my contribution.

And like that, 10 minutes after it started, our interviews were over.

We were told that everyone selected for a follow-up interview in May would be called by the end of the day. "So leave your cell phones on," Salyers advised.

Before I left, I pulled Trump away from the cameras and asked what I had been dying to know: How did I do?

"You did great," he told me.

It was 11 a.m. I went home happy. And I waited.

My phone never rang.