Monday, May 6, 2013
Video: Look inside the Dallas Cowboys cheerleader tryouts
Auditioners come from 36 states and four countries.
ARLINGTON Lauren Herington is the last in her group of five. In a purple-with-pink trim dance outfit, she smiles as she faces the two rows of judges.
After the four other members introduce themselves, Herington takes the microphone. Cameras from a CMT reality show focus in. She has 10 seconds.
“I’m Lauren Herrington. I’m 19 years old and I’m from Decatur, Illinois. I’m a full time student working on my biology major and I’m also a client care representative at the local veterinary in my home town.”
After a moment, Kelli Finglass, director of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, releases the group to the floor. Ninety seconds of freestyle dance would either validate or repudiate Herington’s past six months.
Herington made the decision back in October. This year was the year. She was going to audition to become a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader.
She began working out three hours a day and found a full-time job in order to have the money to come to Dallas. When college got in the way, she switched to online classes.
“Some of my family was like, ‘Oh you need to just focus on your schooling,’” Herington says. “I’m still managing to go to school full time. I still have good grades. I’ve just got to stay up late and devote time to homework and everything like that.
“But my family has always been supportive. They know I’ve always wanted to do this.”
Herington is one of more than 400 at Cowboys Stadium on this first Saturday in May.
They come from 36 states and four countries. They are missing graduations and coming home from honeymoons. They are 18-year-old high school seniors and experienced dancers in their 30s and 40s. They are twins and grandmas, collegiate dancers, and cheerleaders from eight other NFL teams.
Hundreds of hopefuls audition for a chance to become Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders
“Everybody knows the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders are the cheerleaders,” Herington says. “Might as well shoot for the stars and miss rather just land on something that’s OK.”
The girls spread out among the concourse, applying makeup and fixing hair in the mirrors of the “Fluff and Puff Station,” taking pictures in front of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders sign, and finding empty spaces to practice steps and pirouettes. But most of all, they wait.
They wait for the others to check in. They wait for the first announcement. Herington arrives at Cowboys Stadium at 7:30 a.m. They aren’t brought to the section 123 and met by Finglass until 10:15.
Finglass is the leader, a former Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader now in her 23rd year of overseeing auditions. She stands on top of the field-level suites and lays out the journey.
Today, Saturday, is the preliminaries, a simple 90-second freestyle dance. Make the cut and you’re into to the semifinals on Sunday, where you’ll learn a choreographed dance routine. Then it’s on to the personal interview. Ace that and the finals await, consisting of a written test, a 90-second talent presentation, and a choreographed dance combination and kick line. From there, it’s on to training camp, where the veterans await. And by the way, more of them are returning than ever.
The judges grade on four criteria: appearance, figure, showmanship, and free style.
“Do you look attractive?” Finglass says to the group. “Does it look like you fit into our uniform?
“We want showmanship and bright smiles, dynamic people who can bring notice to us.”
There is still an hour until auditions begin. More pirouettes, more puffing and fluffing.
Eventually, the auditionees are instructed to take their seats on either side of the dance floor. The judges are coming. There are 15 in total. Finglass and Charlotte Jones Anderson, the Cowboys executive vice president. Choreographer Judy Trammel and fitness instructor Jay Johnson. Media members, sponsors, even the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders official dentist.
Around 11:15 a.m., it’s time to start.
Herington is No. 345, closer to the end than the beginning, and for more hours of waiting. She watches some performances, keeps her head down for others.
“I try to think (positively) so I don’t get in my head like, ‘Oh, I’m not good enough to do this,’ ” she says. “You just have to go in and be like, ‘I’ve got this.’ ”
The hour lunch break arrives. Herington still hasn’t gone.
That means more counting of steps, more dancing, more thinking.
“You have so many people back at home that are like, ‘Oh, you’re going to do this! You’re going to do this!’ ” Herrington says. “You don’t want to have to come home and be like ‘I didn’t do it.’ ”
And if that happens?
“I don’t know. I’m living day-to-day.”
Just after 3 p.m., a full seven and a half hours after first arriving, Herrington makes her introduction and gets her 90 seconds.
When the Top 40 music dies down and the flurry of hair flips, spins, and leg kicks stops, the contestants are brought to the front for one more pose. The judges make their final “yes,” “no,” or “maybe,” marking on their scorecards. Herington’s audition is over.
She dons a smile as she returns to her seat. It felt good.
“The routine I had ready, it didn’t really happen,” she says with a laugh. “I just started doing something.
“Once we got done we were like ‘We want to do it again.’ I was just so excited just to be up there. … It’s such a rush.”
The rest of the girls perform. The judge leave to deliberate. They say they’ll be ready with the semifinalists by 5:30 p.m. The white board containing the numbers of the semifinalists isn’t rolled until after 6 o’clock.
Security guard Phil Whitfield has that honor. He takes it outside, where a gray morning has turned into a cloudless afternoon and the girls wait in front of CMT’s cameras. Slowly, Whitfield rolls himself in the sheet, revealing the numbers.
There are screams and hugs and interviews with CMT. Herington stands way in the back, wiping away tears.
One hundred and thirty seven names were on that board. No. 345 wasn’t one of them.
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