Simon Cowell sure knows how to attract a crowd.
Arriving in masses for the 6 a.m. call, more than 18,000 aspiring performers vied for a shot at a $5 million recording contract at the first audition stop for The X Factor on Sunday morning at the Los Angeles Sports Arena.
Though Cowell himself was in London, producers Andrew Linares and Rob Wade, who also work on the U.K. version, were on hand with Cowell on speed dial to offer constant updates.
“Simon is so thrilled about the size of the crowd,” Linares told PEOPLE. “He hopes to find magic.”
With no maximum age limit for those auditioning (minimum age is 12), Linares says The X Factor could very well be “a chance for those people who missed out earlier in their life to do what they always dreamed of doing.”
That was the case for twin brothers Tom and Tim Zehnder, 43, from Los Angeles. “We’ve tried to do our own shows and getting people to come out can be demoralizing,” says Tom. “But now we’re just going to let it go and do our best. What have we got to lose?”
For Jon Axelrod, 63, performing in karaoke joints back home in Las Vegas served as a way for him to ease the loneliness after his wife passed away three years ago. “I wanted just to show to myself that I could do this,” says Axelrod. “But I would feel like five million bucks if Simon gave me his stamp of approval.”
Thirteen-year-old singer Lexi St. George’s mother Louise, 51, of Palmdale, Calif., is sure her daughter’s fate is written in the stars – or at least in her dreams. “I had a dream that me and Simon ended up being really good friends,” said Louise. “I was like, ‘Come on Simon,’ who said, ‘I’d sign her, but I have to go through the whole protocol.’ She’ll make it!”
Next, The X Factor heads to Miami, Newark, Chicago and Dallas in search of talented singers. Click here to sign up for an audition.