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story.lead_photo.caption "American Idol" hopefuls audition Wednesday at the River Market in Little Rock. - Photo by Jaime Dunaway

Thousands of people gathered Wednesday at Little Rock's River Market District to audition for the reality singing competition American Idol.

River Market spokesman Erik Holbrooks said he expected up to 5,000 people to audition at the tour's penultimate stop. The nationwide search began Aug. 25 in Orlando and is scheduled to conclude Saturday in Charleston, W.Va.

Hopefuls began lining up as early as 11 p.m. Tuesday, a spokeswoman for the show said. By the time the tryout began at 9 a.m. Wednesday, the line snaked around the River Market pavilion onto President Clinton Ave. and ended near Sonny Williams' Steak Room.

Little Rock resident Alexcia Pruitt, 22, said she arrived at the audition prepared to sing "I Have Nothing" by Whitney Houston.

"I wanted to audition so I could break out of my shell and show my talent for a change," she said. "A lot of people tell me I can't do it, but I've got so much talent, and I've been scared to show it."

Individuals were divided into groups of four to sing before recruiters at stations set up around the pavilion. If chosen, singers will perform before the show's executive producers in Denver on Friday or in Atlanta on Sept. 21. If the producers choose them to advance, they will then appear before judges Katy Perry, Luke Bryan and Lionel Richie.

One contestant, 20-year-old Thomas Stringfellow, won over the recruiters with renditions of "Say You Won't Let Go" by James Arthur and "Dark Times" by The Weekend.

Gallery: 2018 American Idol auditions in Little Rock

The North Little Rock resident, who recently moved from Bentonville, appeared on the show in 2016 and advanced to the top 14 before being eliminated.

"I wasn't expecting to go through because I didn't know if they'd want to give me another chance, but the judge said it sounded really good and that I've grown since then and mastered my art," Stringfellow said. "I have experience that a lot of people don't have, and that's given me a bigger drive. At the time, I was 17 and was just here to have fun. Then I realized how much I wanted it."

While Stringfellow and a numbered few left with "golden tickets," the majority of candidates left empty-handed.

"I'm OK. I went into it knowing there were super high standards, but it's something I've always wanted to do," 17-year-old Little Rock resident Emilee Hagewood said. "At least I can say I had the experience. The judges were a lot nicer than I expected, and they encouraged us to continue pursuing a singing career."

A premiere date for the revamped singing competition — in its second season on ABC after airing 15 seasons on Fox — has not yet been released.


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