The doors of a Westin Crown Center conference room burst open Tuesday afternoon, and the “Jeopardy!” theme music came blaring out.
“Come on! I want to see you dancing,” shouted producer Maggie Speak, with host Alex Trebek’s face looming over her on a large projection screen, as about 20 wannabe contestants scurried to their seats. Some outwardly danced; others barely moved their shoulders. A 30-something man even tried to twerk.
The quiz show is in town through Wednesday holding a series of auditions for its upcoming 32nd season. Nationwide, about 3,000 people passed an online test to make the cut for this qualifying round — 350 of them are competing here in Kansas City — but only about 10 percent of those are expected to make it onto the show.
These weren’t auditions for “Masterpiece Theatre,” Speak liked to say. Smarts aren’t the only requirement. Contestants needed to show personality and have fun. High energy and loud voices at the auditions were a must. They also had to master clicking their buzzers and listening to the entire question before answering.
They took a 50-question test and competed three at a time in a practice game in such categories as “Mountain Ranges” and “Recent Novels.”
Speak then asked the contestants about themselves and what they would do with the money if they won. Many said they would give to charity or take their parents on vacation. Answered one man: “I would like to go to London, and if I make enough, I’d like to bring back a butler.”
Emily Rollman, 34, traveled from Illinois for her fourth in-person audition in the past 12 years. Recalling her first interview as a “hot mess,” Rollman, an attorney, said she is always surprised how friendly and welcoming the producers are. She’ll keep trying until she gets on, she said.
The show, she said, “gives everyone a chance to feel smart.”
Being a contestant would fulfill a lifelong dream for Ben Wissel, 33, of Kansas City. This was his fifth time auditioning, but his first time in person. The substitute teacher said he has watched the show every single day since he was a kid. At this point, Wissel’s family refuses to play any type of trivia game with him, he said.
“I’ll be the most famous person in the family if I get on,” he laughed.
There’s a secret behind the 32-year success of the show. Wissel’s tongue-in-cheek explanation, in true “Jeopardy!” form:
What is Alex Trebek’s mustache?