The pin-striped, wing-tipped masses line up along the white-marbled walls in the entryway to the Trump Building on Wall Street, down the block from the New York Stock Exchange. They’re clutching leather-bound portfolios and résumés boasting names like Wharton and Harvard. They peruse notes that remind them how to sell themselves in their interviews with ”Apprentice” producers, who are casting for season 2: as an ”aspiring megalomaniac who has it all and wants more,” perhaps, or as a Russian-born businessman who hopes his success will ”show the triumph of capitalism.” They keep to themselves for the most part, though a few cluster in polite conversations. Many took a day off from jobs you don’t take days off from (as lawyers, Realtors, marketing execs), so they’re not here to mess around.
Then the gasping starts. And the cheering, and the jostling, and the rushing toward the man who just arrived with a phalanx of TV cameras. The leather-bound portfolios disappear into attaché cases and out come copies of ”Trump: How to Get Rich” and autograph-ready Sharpies. Donald Trump is too far away to even notice — from here, only the famous whoosh of rust-colored hair is visible — but that doesn’t stop anyone from trying. One black-suited annuity salesman, who drove five hours from Virginia to get here, thrusts a disposable camera in the air and snaps a few haphazard shots. Why abandon valuable rehearsal time for the off chance he’ll catch the top of Trump’s head on film? A shrug and a simple explanation: ”He’s the man.”
Months later, Trump sits in his plaque- and trophy-cluttered 26th-floor office at Trump Tower. It’s four weeks before the second season’s Sept. 9 premiere, and Trump is recalling those New York auditions in the fondest way he knows: by mixing big numbers and massive hyperbole. ”There were 10,000 people there.” (Newspaper estimates put the number closer to 2,000, which was still bigger than expected.) ”Not only that,” he adds, ”but they stopped the line because of security at the stock exchange.” Perhaps that’s opportunistic exaggeration, but Trump’s rock-star status cannot be denied. ”The Apprentice”’s first season transformed his image from pompous, model-loving mogul to eccentric-but-caring mentor — simply by showing him firing people every week. ”Most of us have been fired at some time,” creator Mark Burnett says. ”Maybe not as harshly as by Trump, but we can all relate.”
”The Apprentice” also made household names out of a bunch of sometimes conniving (Omarosa), sometimes nutty (Sam), and sometimes nice (Troy) overachievers as they drafted marketing proposals and rehabbed apartments on TV — not even for a ”Survivor”-style million-dollar prize, but for a measly $250,000-a-year job. Season 1 was so big — averaging 20.7 million viewers — that it garnered an Emmy nomination, spawned copycats (ABC’s upcoming ”The Benefactor”) and spoofs (”The Assistant”), and generated a cult following for boardroom sidekicks George Ross and Carolyn Kepcher. Then there was the merchandising frenzy: ”You’re Fired” mugs and T-shirts, a rushed-out first-season DVD, and even a Donald Trump doll.