About 1,000 show up in the Northeast to audition for 'The Biggest Loser'

About 1,000 hopefuls line up outside Planet Fitness in the Northeast for the casting call for the NBC reality show "The Biggest Loser."A total of 18 to 22 contestants were being chosen.
About 1,000 hopefuls line up outside Planet Fitness in the Northeast for the casting call for the NBC reality show "The Biggest Loser."A total of 18 to 22 contestants were being chosen. (RON TARVER / Staff Photographer)
Posted: July 16, 2012

The message painted on the wall of Planet Fitness in Northeast Philadelphia welcomes everyone to a judgment-free zone.

That's a nice mantra for shaving a few pounds off your Spandex-clad thighs on a treadmill or weight machine. But the 1,000 or so people who waited in the gym and outside in the parking lot Saturday to audition for The Biggest Loser television phenomenon are met every day by people only too willing to judge them because they are obese.

Very obese.

This time, they purposely put themselves up to be judged in the hope they will be chosen as one of the 18 to 22 contestants on the NBC reality show, which features professional trainers putting contestants through a rigorous exercise regimen and teaching them how to eat healthful, low-calorie meals.

At the audition, groups of 10 people sat down around tables to introduce themselves and tell a member of the casting crew why they want to be on The Biggest Loser.

They talked about the loved ones they wanted to live longer for and the hobbies they once pursued that they wanted to resume.

They said they needed the TV trainers' aggressive pushing to get them on track. Watching the show themselves made them believers that, unlike diets they had tried, they would lose weight this time. One reason many did not acknowledge: The person who drops the most pounds by the season's finale pockets $250,000.

After all the waiting, the interview took only about 20 minutes and seemed more like group therapy, complete with tears, than like a TV audition.

A top consideration for casting, said Ian Young, casting director with Shine America, the production company for The Biggest Loser, is an interesting personality and a background that represents a "type" of person - the parent losing weight for her kids, the doctor who feels like a hypocrite dispensing advice to patients.

While the prize money is an enticement to physically and emotionally reveal so much of yourself to millions of viewers, many of the tryouts gave other, sobering reasons for coming to the audition.

"I'm tired of being overweight, tired of being disgusted, tired of being dependent on others to take care of my children," said Terra LeGette, 38, of Levittown, a special-education teacher's assistant. She and her mother were the first two in line after spending the night in front of Planet Fitness.

LeGette, who bubbled with enthusiasm during the interview, got misty-eyed afterward as she explained that she does not go with her 8-year-old twins (a boy and a girl) and 4-year-old son to amusement parks because she can't fit in the seating for the rides. No KFC meal - her favorite fast-food venue - is worth that.

Kenny Swanson, 37, drove from Chesapeake Beach, Md., for the tryouts. The 6-foot, 374-pound fire-protection systems designer wants to lose weight for at least two special people - his 3-month-old daughter and his brother Chris, who in 2006 was killed in Iraq while on a patrol for the Army.

Chris had been urging him to get in better shape and was set to come home and help him lose weight before Kenny's wedding in 2007.

Instead of honoring his brother's desire to see him get healthy, Kenny Swanson said, he gained 100 pounds after his brother's death.

"I really was eating to cope. By the time I realized that's what I was doing, I was 374 pounds."

Being on The Biggest Loser, he said, would give him the best chance at honoring his brother by learning to live a healthy life.

This being reality television, of course, lines of logic did not always run through tryouts' reasoning.

South Philadelphia's Victoria Villone, 27, a player for the Philadelphia Liberty Belles women's tackle football team and a Philadelphia parole officer, didn't mind telling the casting staffer that she wanted to go on the show and trim down, in part, so she could "have sex with the lights on."

And she told the staffer and the nine others at her table that a health concern also motivated her to be on the show. Yes, she was prepared to be weighed on national television in front of millions of strangers, but, no, she didn't want her weight or the health issue in the newspaper.

The long line that curled around the parking lot was a good venue for making friends and striking up amusing conversations, like why Steve, the first host of Blue's Clues, left the children's show. Was it drugs? Was he murdered? But the line was moving. It was all good fun on a warm, drizzly day.

The fun would end that night, as tryouts learned then who would be among the 32 people called back for further consideration. Even if they did not make the cut, many said, they were inspired to try to be a big loser on their own.

"It's not a matter of choice anymore," said LeGette. "I've got to be there for my children."

For video from the casting event for "The Biggest Loser," visit philly. com/casting

Contact Carolyn Davis

at 215-854-4214 or cdavis@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @carolyntweets.

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