AVONDALE — More than 1,000 people flocked to an Avondale gym Saturday with one simple goal: to lose big.
"The Biggest Loser," NBC's hit weight-loss show that pairs obese contestants with personal trainers for dramatic reveals, hosted open casting at Planet Fitness, 3120 N. Pulaski Rd.
“I’m just ready to make a change," said Jillion Stadie, 30, who drove from Hampshire. Stadie hit her breaking point when she realized her own poor diet was impacting her twin 10-year-old daughters. They were overweight, too.
"If I can do this," Stadie said, "I can provide healthy adult lifestyles for them too. They'll be proud of me."
People began queuing outside Planet Fitness around 7 p.m. Friday, said Cat Thoreson, the gym's director of marketing. Some slept on the sidewalk. Others brought folding chairs. By the time casting sessions began at 10 a.m. Saturday, lines snaked down North Pulaski Road and deep into a residential block.
Becky Beck traveled from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to meet up with her cousin, Cindy Jensen.
"My brother had a [coronary] stent at 42," Beck, 45, said. "I just skated around that. I’m a walking heart attack waiting to happen.”
Beck has high blood pressure, while Jensen, 50, cited cholesterol issues. The pair heard about The Biggest Loser casting through Jensen's sister.
“I guess she thought we needed it," Jensen said with a laugh. "I've tried to lose the weight, and it hasn't worked. You need to be in that [focused] environment.”
NBC casting directors met with 10 people at a time during 10-minute sessions. Each hopeful was given 30 seconds to convince the directors he or she deserved a coveted spot in Season 15. Whoever wins "The Biggest Loser" will take home a $250,000 grand prize.
Despite the high stakes, would-be contestants were pleasant and supportive. When people left casting sessions, those still in line offered high-fives and "good jobs." As one man finished 10 squats in the parking lot, about 100 people cheered and waved.
“We all have a common goal," said Alicia Porter, 40. "We all know how each other feels. People who are overweight understand.”
The Lynwood resident gained 100 pounds while pregnant with her 2-year-old son. She said it's "embarrassing" that she can't run around a playground with him.
Others hoped weight loss would augment their careers. Luke Kulik, 20, from Grant Park, quit working as an amateur boxer to help care for his mother, who has multiple sclerosis. Kulik has since gained 100 pounds, and now weighs in at "four and a half," or about 450 pounds.
"I’d really like to get in shape and go pro," Kulik said, noting that he'd like to lose 200 pounds. The Biggest Loser is "professional help for free.”
Casting directors were slated to call back finalists before midnight Saturday.