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Wish Upon a Popstar 

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It’s 11 p.m. on Thursday, just outside Le Meridien hotel in Beverly Hills, and Frankie, Crystal and Melanie, three friends who’ve driven here from Las Vegas in a rented Mitsubishi sedan, are at the very front of a line that stretches a full block up La Cienega, winds around Arnie Morton’s steak house, then hops to the other side of the street. They are two girls and a guy here in the hope of getting into the Friday-morning open call for the WB’s music-based reality series Popstars. Last year, the show hand-picked five girls — weepy Ivette, anxiety-ridden Maile, stripper-sexy Nicole, bilingual child star Ana Maria and frequent voice loser Rosanna — and turned them into instant celebrities. Eden’s Crush, their self-named group, even had a No. 1 hit, the catchy pop-erotic admonition “Get Over Yourself.” This season, the producers plan on assembling a coed mix of 18-to-25-year-olds. But only 200 boys and 200 girls are guaranteed their 10-second song bite in front of the judges. By midnight, a block party of laughing, singing, shrieking and junk-food eating is in full swing. Will sleep occur?

“Probably not,” says Frankie, who is 21, white and soft-spoken.

“I can’t wait for 7 a.m. to get here,” says Crystal, 20, who is the chatterbox of the group and, like Melanie, black. “I want to go now.”

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Melanie, who has rigorously studied Christina Aguilera’s performances of “Come On Over” for her audition, has a reason why being first is good. “I’ll set the standard,” she says, hoping for a confident tone.

At 6:30 a.m., the group — well, they’re not a group group, but if all three whizzed through each elimination stage, they’d be together in a group, and how cool would that be? — is more pumped. And on only 15 minutes’ sleep. The early-morning sun glints off Melanie’s pierced bellybutton stud, and Crystal keeps laughing as she relates the odyssey of moving their car three times during the night to avoid ticketing before a generous employee at Fatburger offered parking sanctuary. Frankie holds a quick prayer group — something he and Crystal always did before shows at the Las Vegas Academy of Performing Arts they attended together.

Then, suddenly, they are escorted into the hotel, part of the first 25 girls and 25 boys to be processed. And instantly, they are separated. Led to a backroom with numbers on the floor and energetic production assistants offering lyric sheets and free L’Oreal hair gel, Frankie is instructed to stand on number 25 while his friends are at positions 1 and 2. Then, a new numbering system takes effect: Melanie and Crystal are given pink cards that read 14 and 15 and are sent to a pre-audition area. Frankie, at number 36, has to sit by himself in a different waiting room with his lyrics to Joe’s “I Wanna Know,” his head hung low, looking lost.

“We sang together for six years,” says Crystal, sounding as though Frankie has been shipped to another continent. “Why does he keep having to be by himself?”

Melanie has other things on her mind. The version of “Come On Over” she has committed to memory isn’t the same as the one on the lyric sheet. Crystal tries to tell her it’s no big, but Melanie spends the next few minutes cram-practicing Destiny Child’s “Say My Name.” (Everyone chooses one of three songs; the third for the girls is Nelly Furtado’s “I’m Like a Bird.”)

Are you ready, girls?

“I think,” Crystal says.

The first 50 hopefuls are seated in the camera-flanked audition set, arranged in a horseshoe around the five marked circles, which face the judges’ table. After waits of up to 15 hours, the five-at-a-time rollout is brisk and ruthless. Mere minutes after the cameras first roll around 9 a.m., Melanie and Crystal are passed over. Back in the hall, the show’s cameras focus on those who were asked to return tomorrow. Crystal starts crying. “I’m hurt and upset,” she says. “I don’t feel like I did worse than anybody in that room.”

“I think I sang the wrong song,” says Melanie. “But this doesn’t say whether I’m good or not.” She might go to the San Francisco open call next weekend.

Crystal is getting angrier. “These things are predetermined, I really do think that,” she says forcefully, wiping away tears. “I don’t like being sent through hoops. All I want to do is sing.”

Fifteen minutes later, no one is chosen from Frankie’s grouping. Greeted in the hallway, he is gathered in his friends’ arms. “I thought it went well,” mumbles Frankie. “It’s cool. We tried.”

Crystal says, “Well, we’re officially Eden’s Fallout,” which makes the others laugh. Before long, she’s crying again, harder than before.

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