DETROIT — Hopes and dreams and plenty of Detroit pride came to Ford Field Saturday.
The women trying out for the inaugural Detroit Lions cheerleaders squad brought all three.
They lined up outside Gate G before 8 a.m. full of nervous energy and prayers as they readied for what many see as a chance at a lifetime dream.
“I’ve been waiting on this forever,” said Cierra Smith, 24, of Detroit, who has been cheering since she was 6 years old.
Ashley Wheatley, 26, also of Detroit and a loan underwriter for Quicken Loans, said she came to represent the city.
“I was a part of the Detroit Pride cheerleaders and I am so happy and I feel blessed that Detroit has an actual NFL Lions cheerleading team now,” Wheatley said. “So I’m here to give my best, be a grand ambassador and I hope I make it.”
Once inside, the women waited to register and each received a number. From the approximately 300 who came to try out, a squad of about 25 will be announced in August in time for their debut Sept. 18. Final uniform design has not been chosen yet, but director of cheerleaders Rebecca Smoker said the outfits will be “tastefully done.”
She described the process of selecting a squad, which involves auditions over several days before judges such as Kelly Stafford, wife of Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, as “history in the making.” The cheerleaders, who will be part-time employees of the Lions, will be ambassadors first and need to be well-spoken, she said.
As the women stretched and warmed up for their formal auditions, Lions jerseys and flashes of Honolulu Blue were on ample display. Jen St. Amant, 24, of Brownstown Township sported long colorful hair in shades that ranged from indigo to bright green.
“I wanted to go rainbow right now. I’m in law school so I’ve got to get it out of my system before I have to get a big girl job,” said the second-year student at University of Detroit Mercy Law School, who has been dancing since she was 3 years old.
Nearby, Molly Watson, 23, of Taylor practiced her routine — spinning, whipping her hair around and doing a partial split.
“I have the utmost confidence that I will make it, that I will succeed as far as I can,” Watson said as she took a breather. Watson, who has previously tried out for the Detroit Pistons dancers and works as a waitress, dance teacher and physical therapy technician, hopes to get her dance career started and move to Orlando, Fla.
“So let’s hope I do well today,” she said, giving a thumbs-up and smiling.
A short time later, the women walked into the Ford Field atrium and listened as Smoker told them what to expect.
“Just do what you’re comfortable with,” Smoker said, cautioning the women the audition is not the time for aspiring tumblers and gymnasts to try out their moves.
Smoker said the judges were looking for confidence and enthusiasm, and she told them to try a variety of moves.
“You will not get a second chance,” Smoker said. “Don’t panic. Just have fun.”
During the minute-long auditions, the women performed their chosen freestyle moves in groups of six.
Afterward, a few of the hopefuls stood before a crowd of news media cameras.
Tiara Felder, 26, of Clinton Township explained she was initially thrown off by the selected music but “as soon as I heard the beat, I got right into it and I gave it my all.
“So this is my dream so I just did whatever I could and made sure I kept a smile on my face and high energy and just made sure I had fun,” said Felder, who recently returned to the area after attending Hampton University in Virginia, where she received degrees in biology and medical science in preparation for a career in dentistry.
Watson, the dancer who hopes to go to Orlando, said she “worked her hair so hopefully that helped out a little bit.”
Personality, Watson told the assembled media members, is a key piece of what it will take to make the squad.
“You have to have the big personality … that high energy, the confidence that you need to like represent what Detroit is about,” she said.
©2016 Detroit Free Press
Visit the Detroit Free Press at www.freep.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.