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They long to be Martha's minion

Cold can't stop a Tampa casting call for The Apprentice and its spinoff, The Apprentice: Martha Stewart.

Published February 12, 2005

[Times photo: Stefanie Boyar]
Meredith Myers, 30, of St. Petersburg brought a collection of her handmade purses in hopes of helping her chances of landing a part on NBC's The Apprentice: Martha Stewart. Open casting calls for the Martha Stewart version of the show and for the original The Apprentice were held at WFLA-Ch. 8 studios in Tampa on Friday.

TAMPA - The wind tearing off the Hillsborough River felt cold enough to freeze hand-churned ice cream, but it didn't deter those seeking apprenticeship with the Domestic Diva.

Bearing tins of toffee, handcrafted jewelry, armfuls of custom handbags and a belief that business and creativity can complement each other, several dozen hopefuls lined up Friday morning for an open casting call for the new Mark Burnett-produced show, The Apprentice: Martha Stewart on NBC.

They were seriously outnumbered by those hoping for a spot on the next season of the original kiss-up-to-the-big-boss reality show, The Apprentice with Donald Trump.

The Apprentice: Martha Stewart will have the same format as the original series, including weekly eliminations, but be tailored to Stewart's personality and brand identity.

NBC and Stewart, who is scheduled to be released from federal prison next month after serving a five-month sentence for obstructing justice, announced their deal for the show Feb. 1.

More than 300 people showed up for the dual casting calls at the studios of WFLA-Ch. 8 in downtown Tampa, said Tara Mills of the television station's marketing department. A few of them camped on the sidewalk Thursday night.

The majority had clearly polished the Trump-wannabe look cultivated by past Apprentice contestants: men in sleek dark suits and buckets of hair gel, women in nipped-in jackets and spike heels like shiny weapons, both sexes in enough black leather to upholster Trump Tower.

But here and there something colorful broke out, and it was often someone hoping to be Stewart's apprentice.

Meredith Myers, a bubbly redhead, carried a dozen pink, orange and silver fabric handbags on one arm. "This is my moneybag," she said, showing off a green bag of fabric printed with bills. Around her neck was a matching scarf, emblazoned with the words "Hire me."

"I made them last night," said Myers, 30, a fifth-generation St. Petersburg native who moved back last year after working for five years as a publicist in New York. Stewart, Myers said, is "a strong woman, and I like the whole idea of her having an empire - the magazines, the television show, the products."

Myers said Stewart's legal problems don't bother her. "We've all been in trouble. She's done her time," she said.

Myers started her handbag business while working on two novels: "I got bored during the hurricanes and taught myself to sew." With Stewartlike entrepreneurial zeal, she was selling bags while waiting in line.

"I figured, it's almost Valentine's Day. But I think these guys don't want to go in (to the interview) carrying one."

Lindsey Rodgers, 24, of Tampa was there in the same spirit. "Ultimately, I'm here to get publicity for my own business," she said.

Rodgers, a suntanned blond in a trim dark suit, has owned a swimsuit shop, Troo Loo's, with her younger sister for two years.

Rodgers said she wasn't sure which show she wanted to try out for. She said Stewart was "making a comeback. I think this is going to help her."

But the new show is an unknown quantity, while two seasons of Trump's show make it easier to figure out what qualities contestants need to compete.

"I could run Martha's company, but I couldn't sew a sweater," Rodgers said.

Jim Schalk of Tampa also said he wasn't sure which show to try out for, although his 23 years in the hospitality business had him leaning toward Stewart's.

Schalk, smartly turned out in chef's whites, waited with his wife, Lisa, who offered samples of the sweet wares from their shop, Toffee to Go.

"We opened it at Thanksgiving and sold 5,000 pounds of toffee in a month," he said.

Lisa Schalk said daughter Courtney, 12, was the catalyst for getting her father to audition. "We always watch The Apprentice, and she told him, "Dad, you're better than anybody on that show.' "

Kristin Evancho, 28, of Land O'Lakes was a staunch Stewart fan. "As soon as I heard about this, I knew I had to try for it."

A graduate student in nursing, Evancho said her people skills could translate well to the boardroom. "I used to be a psych nurse at a state mental hospital. I know how to deal with a lot of aggressive men."

Therese Frazier, 40, of Dunedin works for a payroll company, but she said working for Stewart appeals to her creative side.

She said she loves crafts: "I made this coat, the bracelet, the ankle bracelet, the jacket. My father was a builder, and I could probably build you a house."

She has e-mailed Stewart in prison, hoping to be mentored in her crafts business. But she hasn't heard back. "I'm sure she gets a lot of e-mail."

After the interview, Frazier and Evancho said it wasn't what they expected. Instead of one-on-one chats, about 15 people around a table were given a topic and asked to discuss it in a rapid-fire session.

Evancho said she was "a little star struck" to see Apprentice winner Kelly Perdew in the room.

The topic for the Stewart group, they said, was whether men and women were treated differently in top companies.

Joyce Schnatterer of Safety Harbor tried out for Trump's show, and she said the format was the same, but the question a little different: "They asked, "Do you think it's okay for large companies to lie, cheat and steal? And has anyone in the room ever lied, cheated or stolen?' "

[Last modified February 12, 2005, 00:36:07]

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