It's official: NBC's The Apprentice is the big TV hit of the year. Proof: the same newspapers that sent reporters out LAST year to cover the auditions for Fox's American Idol sent reporters out THIS year to cover the tryouts for The Apprentice 2, as a new batch of people vied to be fired (or maybe, with luck, even hired) by The Donald.

The size of the crowds of Trump-wannabees in the various cities was impressive, considering the fact that many people waited for over ten hours (and more than a few even camped out overnight): over 2,000 in New York City despite sub-freezing weather on March 18 (exceeding the 1,800 wrist tags that Mark Burnett Productions had on hand); 685 in Atlanta the next day; 1,000 in Boston despite more sub-freezing cold on March 20; about the same number in Chicago the same day; 800 in Austin, Texas on March 27 ... the list goes on.

Who knew that there were so many people willing to give up their day jobs for 15 minutes of fame? Oh, that's right, all the reality TV producers knew it already; attracting fresh talent is the lifeblood of their shows.

This group, though, was different than the normal "media jackals" who congregate on most reality shows. Most of them were well-dressed, well-groomed, sharp, intelligent, educated and successful. In fact, the problem for the casting team, according to the Houston Chronicle, was that they may have been TOO well-polished, well-groomed and well-spoken to create the type of controversy that draws viewers. In fact, they tended to spout more business cliches than Stephen Covey (Seven Habits of Highly Effective People) and Kenneth Blanchard (The One-Minute Manager) ... put together.

We wouldn't be surprised if, in the back of their minds, each of the casting team thought, "Omarosa, where art thou?"

The basic rules of the group-format interviews (10 to 20 to a group) was to ask controversial questions and evaluate individual responses in an 8-to-10 minute round table discussion. Some of the questions used to prompt discussions were views on gay marriage and business ethics, according to the Chicago Tribune, opinions as to why religious groups, which are normally anti-violence, weren't complaining about the violence in The Passion of the Christ, according to the Houston Chronicle, whether Clinton or Bush was a better president, whether a self-made businessperson was superior to an MBA, and whether Donald Trump himself is ethical, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, and even thoughts about the sexually-oriented behavior of the women on the current show, according to the Boston Herald.

According to the New York Times, the casting team generally picked out one potential candidate out of every three tables of people -- meaning that this very first cut winnowed out 40-60 people for evey one that stayed in. The "chosen ones" were quietly escorted out for a second round of interviews -- but they would still need to survive up to five more rounds after that before, maybe, getting the honor of going to "the suite or the street."

The New York Times located a tame professor (of TV and popular culture! -- what an academic, huh?) from Syracuse to explain the emphasis on reality TV casting: "If film is a director's medium, and television drama is a writer's medium, reality TV is without question a casting director's medium." Like most such statements, this is mere blarney (uh, despite the great skills of Francis Ford Coppola, look what happened to his Godfather III largely because of his huge blunder of casting his daughter Sofia as Michael Corleone's daughter), but the casting teams must love to think of themselves that way.

Apprentice executive producer Mark Burnett doesn't buy the idea of "one contestant fits all" for reality shows. "Many shows are looking for what they think would make good television, but my primary concern is authenticity. When it comes to Survivor, you are looking for adventurers and for The Apprentice, you want people who are genuine entrepreneurs." Makes sense to us. Real entrepreneurs, with all of their self-confidence and bluster, don't like to work in teams ... so casting such people means that conflict is virtually built into the idea of The Apprentice.

Real entrepreneurs could be found, all right ... but many of them remained outside the auditions. For example, in Boston and Chicago, people sold their wristbands for up to $500. Others sold coffee and refreshments to the waiting crowd. And, in Chicago at least, even some of the homeless got into the entrepreneurial spirit -- as many of the beginning spots in line were filled by homeless people who were PAID (up to $100) to sleep on the street overnight to hold a place for more well-heeled individuals.

Perhaps next time, the Apprentice casting team will even focus on these real entrepreneurs -- instead of the people desperately trying for their 15 minutes of fame.