Saturday's cold weather didn't keep thousands of Minnesotans away from a chance to win $1 million.

More than 8,000 people began lining up before dawn at Denny Hecker's Inver Grove Heights Toyota dealership to audition for NBC's "Deal or No Deal" game show.

Bundled in hunting clothes, Santa Claus costumes, snowmobile jackets and fleece blankets, they practiced their pitches for the judges and imagined what they would do with the money. The goal was to do something -- anything -- to help them stand out from the crowd.

"It's been insane," said Carrie Haugerud, general sales manager for the dealership. "I even saw a woman dressed up as a bear."

Casting director Luke Conklin wouldn't say how many contestants the show was looking for, but he said the Twin Cities and Philadelphia are the team's only stops. Those selected might be on the show this season or in the future.

Mario Hesse of Sartell, who teaches criminal justice at St. Cloud State University, told his interviewer that he doesn't necessarily believe in conspiracy theories, but he appreciates them.

"I've never been abducted by aliens," he said, "but it's interesting that the people who say they have always have the same kind of stories."

Mike and Lynda Dupre of Clearwater arrived at the auto dealership at 7:15 a.m. and finished their interview at 2 p.m.

They came to audition in matching yellow T-shirts. He wore an angel's halo on his head and she sported devil's horns. They tried to convince the interviewer that they should be on a special couple's version of the show.

"It would be a ratings bonanza," said Mike Dupre.

If they won the money, he said, they would pay off their children's college loans, bring their nieces and nephews to Disneyland, visit family in Brazil and "go to Vegas to see if our luck continued."

Deal or No Deal isn't exactly a show like American Idol or Project Runway where excelling at a certain skill is required. Contestants try to pick the briefcase worth $1 million in cash, while host Howie Mandel asks them if they would rather settle for a lesser but guaranteed prize.

So, what was Conklin looking for in the hardy Minnesotans he described as "passionate people"?

"I'm looking for energy, fun, and someone I want to root for," Conklin said. "I could make their dreams come true right now."

Emily Johns • 952-882-9056