Last year, Oprah Winfrey announced an open casting call for a reality-competition show to run on the Oprah Winfrey Network. So at 5 a.m. one morning in June, Alicia Taylor drove from Vegas to Hollywood to audition.
Taylor, a self-made millionaire who owns Mortgage Solutions, stepped into the outdoor line wearing her typical business suit: a skirt, button-down blouse, four-and-a-half-inch stilettos, and braided hair in a bun.
Thousands of competitors jostled for position. Taylor, a marathoner, was "sweating to death." And there was a beehive on the line. She had to dive out of the way of bees.
Hours melted until she got in front of judges and was allowed just 30 seconds to pitch herself.
They loved her. An insider tells me Taylor was so charismatic that after she left one audition room with "Survivor" producer Mark Burnett, "everybody just looked at each other like, 'Wow, what just happened?' "
Taylor beat out 19,000 people who auditioned. This Friday, that Oprah Winfrey Network show begins. It's called "Your Own Show: Oprah's Search for the Next TV Star."
The winner earns his or her own TV show. The episodes have been filmed, pitting Taylor against nine rivals, who range from a TV reporter to a minister.
If Taylor wins, she may host a TV show to help everyday people keep their budgets on track while putting "bang" back in their budgets.
On last Friday's "Oprah" show, Winfrey singled Taylor out by saying she was "one tough competitor."
"I make people bring their A-game every day," Taylor tells me. "I say all the time: If you're gonna beat me, you better bring your best you, because I swear I'm gonna bring my best me."
Who is this Alicia Taylor?
When she was in the fifth grade, she punched holes into biscuits and sold them as doughnuts.
At Rancho High School, she studied jazz dance, played shooting guard on the basketball team, and was voted class president and homecoming queen.
She was always pretty. She could have posed in Playboy as a young woman. But she married her high school sweetheart and went into finance.
At first, she managed a division of Wells Fargo. Then she started her own mortgage company in Vegas.
Her parents are intense and supportive. Her college-educated father Alvin Taylor -- a self-employed insurance salesman, hotel staffer and once-licensed Baptist minister -- used to make young Alicia's friends get library cards and form study groups, if they were going to be allowed into his house.
"The first time I went to her house, it was like 'The Cosby Show,' " her husband, Darwin Evans, told me last year.
Fittingly, Taylor has read Dale Carnegie's "How to Win Friends and Influence People" more than a dozen times. She always seems to be smiling, or laughing, and looking into your eyes. Her handshake is for real.
Last spring, at 38, she finally decided to pose her runner's body in Playboy, with the support of her husband and family.
Last April, I met her and found her so inspiring and charismatic, I wrote a column about her.
But Taylor didn't tell anyone at the beehive Oprah audition about Playboy or my previous column.
"I didn't mention ANY of that," she says. "I wanted to go strictly on: I'm a professional. I've been doing this 20 years. I own my own company. I've done tens of thousands of transactions."
After she wrapped up that first audition, she phoned her husband, her best friend, before she called anyone else.
"Babe, I nailed it!" she told him.
Taylor says working on "Your Own Show" was a "baptism by fire" conducted in front of judges Nancy O'Dell and Carson Kressley, plus guest judges Dr. Phil, Suze Orman and others.
"I feel like I've been to Columbia University for two years," Taylor says. "I am truly capable of editing, producing and doing my own television show."
She calls Winfrey "the ultimate, consummate professional."
"What you see with Oprah is what you get," Taylor says. "She did not at all change my opinion of her, once I met her. Everything you see on TV -- she's that person in real life."
"Your Own Show" is not mean-spirited, she and Oprah have both said. But it's still a competition.
"Sometimes, the 'nice-nasties' come out. And sometimes you'll be shocked at some of the things people will say about you," Taylor says.
"It's not all ice cream and roses, that's for damn sure."
Taylor is so goal-oriented ("the most goal-oriented person alive," she says) that shooting a TV pilot on "Your Own Show" fulfills one of her 2010 resolutions.
She reads her 2010 goals to me from a note in her BlackBerry:
1. " 'Complete some sort of a "thon" -- whether that's a marathon or a triathlon.' I did the Vegas marathon."
2. " 'Patent one of my products.' I'm always trying to invent something. I haven't finished my patent, but I've got it started."
3. " 'Finish my book' about self-confidence," she says. "Confidence is like gas in a car. If you don't have any, you're probably not going very far." (The book is almost finished.)
4. The last goal: " 'Shoot a pilot for my finance show.' "
What is her resolution this year?
"This year's goal is: 'Have my own television show!' " she says and laughs. "That's my first goal of 2011."
And that's Alicia Taylor. Television: here she comes.
Doug Elfman's column appears on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Contact him at 383-0391 or e-mail him at email@example.com. He also blogs at reviewjournal.com/elfman.