Area 55 Finalists Rock The Fieldhouse
By Wheat Hotchkiss
August 14, 2013
The Pacers’ regular season opener is still 76 days away, but you wouldn’t have known it if you passed by Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Wednesday night.
Decked head-to-toe in blue-and-gold, 118 of the loudest and craziest Pacers fans were invited to The Fieldhouse for final auditions for Area 55, Roy Hibbert’s fan section. Hibbert, the Pacers’ star center, bought 55 season tickets to give away to the fans for the fourth straight season.
Hundreds of hopefuls submitted videos or showed up at live auditions to say why they belonged in Area 55. Hibbert whittled the submissions down to the best and most creative entries, who were invited to 125 S Pennsylvania Street on Wednesday to make their final plea before the “Big Dog.”
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Hibbert had plenty of help at the auditions. The judges’ panel included Chris Copeland, who signed with the Pacers in July, and former IndyCar driver A.J. Foyt IV. Also helping Hibbert out in evaluating the talent were Hibbert’s fiancée and his father, Roy Hibbert, Sr.
For the younger Hibbert, “Father Knows Best” proved to be true to life.
“I want to see hype,” Hibbert told the crowd of hopefuls just before the start of auditions. “I want to see guys with a lot of energy. My dad’s out there, he’s the final say, so give him some love, too.”
One-by-one each contestant was summoned out to the practice court, where they had 30 seconds to impress the judges’ panel. Whether they’d been members of Area 55 for the past three seasons or it was their first year trying out, all of this year’s finalists showed plenty of creativity in attire, entrances, and presentation.
Some folks brought Hibbert gifts. Some utilized props, including a grocery cart, a dog cage, and a bag of marshmallows. Some reenacted some of Hibbert’s biggest highlights from last season, like his block on Carmelo Anthony in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
There was singing. There was dancing. There was enough rapping for at least three full albums.
A few fans impressed Hibbert so much that he gave them a “golden ticket,” signifying automatic entry into Area 55.
Thomas Andrews earned the first golden ticket with an extravagant performance that had all the judges laughing. Decked out in a military uniform, Andrews pretended to get a phone call from the President about “Area 55,” then ripped off his uniform to reveal a “Gold Swagger” t-shirt and screamed and shouted like a super fan.
“I had an idea of what I was going to do, somewhat, but for the most part I ad-libbed it,” Andrews, a first-time member of Area 55, said about his audition.
Jackson Copeland was selected to Area 55 last year with his brother, Holden. Copeland, known as the “Wildman,” tried out alone this year and created a set of handmade action figures featuring every member of the Pacers’ starting five. Hibbert was so impressed with Copeland’s handiwork that he rewarded him with the night’s second golden ticket.
Shawn Israel wasn’t even planning to audition for Area 55, but happened to be drive by live auditions at the Nora Kroger on Saturday afternoon.
“I was going to visit my sick friend in the hospital and saw (the live auditions) over on the side of the road at the Kroger, and decided to stop and give it a shot,” Israel said.
Israel impressed Roy with a short rap at live auditions, and came back Wednesday with a more elaborate verse, earning her membership into the fan section via a golden ticket.
In all, Hibbert gave out eight golden tickets on Wednesday night. Andrews, Copeland, Israel, Ed Cottner, Sheila McPherson, Chad Hedges, Michael Burgan and Mason Sedgwick are the first members of Area 55’s Season 4 cast. Hibbert and the judges will deliberate over the rest of the contestants to pick the final 47 winners. With such an impressive group of finalists, it surely won’t be an easy decision.
All finalists will be notified of the judges’ decision by the end of the day Thursday.
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