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Simply the area's best families?

Fewer families show up than expected for The Simple Life auditions at the Hernando fairgrounds, but casting directors like who they see.

Published February 15, 2004

BROOKSVILLE - When the three young blonds arrived at the Hernando County Fairgrounds Saturday morning in their shiny, black Volkswagen Cabriolet, they were immediately disappointed.

In their designer jeans, sunglasses and makeup, the women, from Inverness, had come expecting to catch a glimpse of Paris Hilton or Nicole Richie, the stars of the Fox reality TV show The Simple Life.

At the very least, they were expecting to rub shoulders with a throng of North Suncoast residents eager to audition for the next season of the show, which pairs ordinary families with the jet-setting Los Angeles socialites.

Instead, they saw about 10 cars and trucks in the large, empty field that served as the parking lot and a handful of families quietly waiting to be interviewed at picnic tables set up outside a fairgrounds building.

"I was expecting a fair," said Roxanne Helton, a 24-year-old paralegal, who heard about the casting call on the radio.

"We were expecting RVs," said Regina Ballard, a 38-year-old insurance agent, alluding to Hilton's and Ritchie's plans to tour the country in an RV during next season's show.

But if Hernando, Pasco and Citrus County residents love The Simple Life, they kept it secret Saturday.

By 11:30 a.m. 15 families had shown up for interviews with the three casting executives from Bunim/Murray Productions, the Los Angeles company that produces the show. By 12:30 p.m. another 10 had come. By 5 p.m., when the audition was scheduled to end, the casting executives expected to have met 50.

"We're not getting a lot of people," said Damon Furberg, a casting director. "But we're liking a lot of the people we've seen."

One of them was the first family to arrive, the Hands, of Spring Hill, who were represented by their matriarch Karen Hand, 42, and one of her four children, a precocious 8-year-old named Victoria.

James Hand, the patriarch, drives a garbage truck for the city of Brooksville and could take the stars out on some of his rides, said Karen Hand, who works as a customer service representative for DirecTV.

Furberg liked the Hands so much that after they filled out a one-page application and were interviewed, he invited them to fill out a second longer application. He also snapped a photo of Mrs. Hand, a dirty-blond in a jersey and sweat pants, and Victoria, a brunette with long curly hair.

Bunim/Murray plans to select families from several locations across the country, Furberg said. The stars will stay with each family for about a week, he said.

Auditions also were held Saturday in Grand Canyon, Ariz. Another audition is scheduled for Lafayette, La., Tuesday.

The Simple Life also is doing a casting call in Kissimmee, though Furberg did not know the date.

Saturday's competitors were told they would get a call Saturday night if they made the first cut. The casting executives intended to pick nine families for callbacks, which are scheduled for today. The semifinalists will be videotaped in their homes.

Over the next week, casting executives also will audition a handful of Hernando County families nominated by public officials as good representatives.

The company intends to pick finalists by March, Furberg said. Taping of the show is set to begin in the spring.

Widower Theodore Boecker, 79, a Brooksville snowbird from Pittsburgh who lives alone in a double-wide mobile home, was among those applying.

How would you describe your family to someone who hasn't met them? "Yesterday's beautiful memories," the retired engineer wrote.

Describe your family at its best moment: "The day she said yes and married me."

Describe your family at its worst moment: "The day she said goodbye in the hospital - and died."

Boecker looked up from his application. "You think I should put snowbird in?" he said. "They may not know what that is."

On the walk from the building to the field where they had parked, families ruminated about the interviews.

"You don't know what answers to give," said Butch Hostetter, 25, a father of three and diesel mechanic, who came to the interview in a camouflage dress shirt and baseball cap.

"I was a little wary of it at first," Hostetter said. "I don't want the whole nation seeing me or my house. But then I thought, "what the heck.' It might be fun."

[Last modified February 15, 2004, 01:15:45]

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