Who Wants To Be A Contestant On Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?

The producers of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire are coming to town Friday today to audition contestants for the show. Our Craig Hlavaty has already gone down this road before; here's his tale and some tips on how to get picked.

Back in the summer of 2005, when I was slinging dough for Domino's and studying for a law degree, I was coerced by my dear old mother to go to try out for the syndicated version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.

At this point the Millionaire phenomenon had run its course. In 1999, the show was must-see television for Americans, and it was a weekly hit for ABC. Regis Philbin's acerbic wit with contestants was a huge draw, as was the idea of winning a million bucks for knowing who Ghenghis Khan was. Along with CBS's Survivor, the Philbin vehicle was the first in a long line of what many called the dumbing-down of television.

Flash forward to an unused storefront in on the ground level of the Galleria. My friend Chad and I woke up around four in the morning to head to the cattle call. We were given two tests. The first was a general-knowledge test we both bombed hilariously. The second was a movie-trivia test. I aced this one with flying colors, much to the chagrin of the largely older and staid crowd. Obviously the bald, tattooed heathen had cheated.

I meet with a bubbly producer in a side room to get a once-over. He asks me about my personal life. I tell him about my college work, cheesy day job, military (sorta) career and my current girlfriend. This guy only wants to know about my tattoo sleeve. I glance down at my "Rated R" tattoo and he beams. It's simply the symbol for restricted movies.

I told him I got it because I loved movies so much, but honestly it was for my favorite band at the time, Queens of the Stone Age and their second album. He loved my "look" and said that he would be getting back to me. Yeah right, not with this switchblade going through a heart on my forearm you will.

Come November and I get a phone call while I'm watching Tyra, from the same producer. I had been picked for the show, and I need to be in New York the first week of December, in roughly a month. (You pay your own way, but get a discount hotel rate.) My studying begins in earnest that night, pouring over everything with Leonard Maltin's name on it and living on the Internet Movie Database.

Just before a few days before I left for New York, my grandmother passed away from complications from smoking her whole life. That made the trip a little more bittersweet, seeing that she wouldn't be able to see my appearance.

I arrive in New York a day before the taping and do the whole tourist thing. Visit CBGB's, take pictures at Strawberry Fields, and grope a wax figure of Jessica Simpson at Madam Tussaud's. The usual stuff.

The day of the taping, I get nervous. I get my phone-a-friend locked in, my friend Natalie who is also a major film buff. I'm all set to slay these bastards and take home a check for a million bucks. Plus, there was a guy there who loved telling me how his beloved White Sox just swept the Astros in the World Series. He ends up losing by not knowing who directed Pulp Fiction. Karma rules.

My turn comes and I'm loose and full of coffee as I walk up to the "Hot Seat". Meredith Vieira is certainly an attractive older lady. What's the next level past cougar? In person, two feet away she looks weathered and aged. But she was extremely nice to me, and our banter is breezy and light. In fact, I am told later on by friends and family that I was mildly flirting.

I fly through the easy questions about The Fugitive, 101 Dalmatians, and Risky Business. She asks about my life and work. I show off all my tattoos on television, forever marking me as "one of those". My artist at Secret Tattoo off West Alabama, Dustin Whelan, is delighted by the free advertising still.

I hit a wall on a question about They Call Me Mister Tibbs. Out of sheer nerves and a little hubris, I flinch and pick the wrong final answer. I leave NYC with a droop in my step, an extra grand, and a story to tell people until I die.

My episode aired in February 2006 to the amusement of everyone I know. For a week I was a hit with local Pearland folk, and a few exes come out of the woodwork and want to hilariously reconnect. My money came soon after and I use some for a computer, textbooks, and new tattoo to commemorate the fleeting ways of money.

My only advice is to have something to make you stand out to the producers. Make them remember you. I'm not talking a rainbow wig and roller skates. Have an interesting story about your life, and what you would do with the big prize. Wedding plans, retirement, houses, school. These things make producer's hearts melt and audiences cheer.

Or, just have a few cool tattoos.

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Craig Hlavaty
Contact: Craig Hlavaty