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A casting call from Oprah

Locals join thousands in contest to become hosts on new lifestyle network

By Johnny Diaz
Globe Staff / July 9, 2010

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Jacqueline Carly has never fulfilled her dream of being on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,’’ but the Watertown fitness blogger may get the next best thing: her own talk show on the Oprah Winfrey Network.

Carly is one of 9,500 people who entered an online competition in which Oprah.com visitors will pick which contestant they think should host their own TV show. The top five vote getters, who will be announced today, will join a pool of 40 semifinalists that network officials will winnow to a group of 10 finalists who will star later this year in a reality show called “Your Own Show: Oprah’s Search For The Next TV Star.’’ That show, which will be produced by Mark Burnett of CBS’s “Survivor,’’ will ultimately determine which contestant will get his or her own show on the network, which launches in January.

Winfrey, who last year said that she would end her daytime talk show in September 2011 after 25 seasons in Chicago to concentrate on creating her cable channel with lifestyle programs, launched the contest in May. The idea came from a network brainstorming session.

“Oprah wants to see new faces on the network, and since she’s known for finding some of the best, we collectively thought this was the perfect way to find a great new talent and make a dream come true,’’ said Lisa Erspamer, chief creative at OWN, based in Los Angeles.

People auditioned by submitting a video to Oprah.com, and 6,100 others entered the contest by attending a casting call at one of four Kohl’s department stores in New York, Dallas, Atlanta, and Orange County, California.

The contest has five audition categories: traditional talk show host for people who want to showcase their interview skills; cooking for folks with culinary skills; design for interior or fashion dreamers; health and well-being for doctors, therapists, or fitness experts; and wild card, which gives contestants a chance to show off their talent or special skill.

“We’re looking for people who have ‘it’ — a big personality, sense of humor, and an undeniable spark,’’ said Erspamer. ’’ We want people who are passionate, have something to say, and are ready for their big break.’’

Submissions for the competition, which was only open to US residents who are 21 or older, came from all over the country. Many of those aspiring talk show hosts hailed from New England. Themes for the shows run the gamut.

Carly, the Watertown woman who came in third-highest with 7 million votes on the final day of voting July 3, said her show would focus on people who make a positive difference in their own lives and communities.

“When people see good things that are happening, they not only feel better, they are also inspired to do their own thing,’’ said Carly, who works as a social media director for a Cambridge software company. “This has been a really fun experience. I had not anticipated the response.’’

In her video audition, Maria Salomao-Schmidt, a Holliston resident, told viewers that her traditional talk show program, “The Maria Show,’’ would focus on spirituality and being your authentic self.

“We feed our minds, we feed our bodies, but we don’t feed our souls,’’ said Salomao-Schmidt, 43, who auditioned after seven friends suggested it. She garnered more than 29,654 votes on the show’s audition site. “My gift to this planet is to be the fire that ignites people’s souls,’’ she said.

Tampa schoolteacher Phyllis Tucker-Wicks suggested a teacher reality program that would tell the stories of everyday teachers in their classrooms. The show would also pay tribute to an inspirational teacher at the end of each show.

“The teacher is the mother to all professions!’’ said Tucker-Wicks in her video, a hit with 8.2 million votes and the most-viewed video. “The drama is in the classroom.’’

Kelle Sutliff of Andover proposed a show about her work as a psychic medium. Her show would help everyday people tap into their intuition and understand links and messages from deceased loved ones. But wait, don’t we already have psychic-inspired CBS shows such as “Medium’’ and “Ghost Whisperer’’?

“It takes too much of a media spin. It’s very hocus pocus,’’ said Sutliff, a mother of three who has been working as a medium for 15 years out of her home. She does consultations and assists families and law enforcement with missing persons cases. Sutliff garnered 177 votes.

“My show would be real, of what a real psychic medium does. It would be about teaching people to connect with their psychic selves,’’ she said.

Johnny Diaz can be reached at jodiaz@globe.com.