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'The Biggest Loser' Casting Call Draws Hundreds

More than 500 vie for chance to be losers on the popular NBC weight-loss reality show

It's a chance of a lifetime that was worth the weight.

Hundreds of people lined up along Lyons Avenue in Newark's South Ward Saturday morning for the New Jersey casting call for "The Biggest Loser," NBC's competitive weight loss challenge show. Casting agents met more than 500 wannabe "losers" across the street from  in Brick City, one of 13 cities that will host casting calls for the show's Season 13 talent.

"We've seen all walks of life, all different types of stories, all sizes," said Barbara Mintz, assistance vice president of wellness at Beth Israel, which hosted the Newark casting call after the "Pound for Pound Challenge" segment was filmed for the TV show at the medical center in March.

Participants spanning the tri-state area lined up as early as 7 a.m. Saturday to get a head start on the audition line, which wrapped around Maple Avenue. Doors for the casting call opened at 10 a.m., and by noon, 310 people were lined up to audition, according to "The Biggest Loser" staff. Forty people will receive calls back following the New Jersey audition, which wrapped up at 6 p.m.

Auditioning for "The Biggest Loser" was a last-minute decision for Desaree Lowe, 47, who said her hair dresser in Irvington texted her Friday about the casting call.

"I'm not doing it for some man, I'm doing it for me," said Lowe, a Mapes Avenue resident who works as an enrollment advisor for the University of Phoenix. "The life expectancy for my family, they live close to 100. I'd like to see that."

But if her chance of becoming "The Biggest Loser" falls through, Lowe said she's prepared to consider other weight-loss options.

"The lap band - I've thought about it, but I've just been afraid," said Lowe. "I've talked to some friends, my sisters who are like 'No, don't do it,' but the bottom line is it's for me. And I have to see which option is best for me."

Also seeking a healthier lifestyle - and a chance at TV stardom - was 20-year-old Zania Bunson, who hoped she'd win over casting agents by being her genuine self.

"If I got casted, it'd be a whole new way of living for me," said Bunson. "I'm healthy, just overweight."

Following unsuccessful stints on Weight Watchers and NutriSystem, Bunson, who lives with her grandmother on Clinton Place, said "The Biggest Loser" would provide the right resources to shed pounds.

"I have the drive and the motivation (to lose weight)," she said, "but I just need help and the moral support."

In 2009, Beth Israel created its own "Beth Challenge," a weight loss program which has helped hospital employees lose more than 7,000 pounds to date. The award-winning program has since spread from Trenton to Newark City Hall, with municipal employees losing 890 total pounds during the challenge earlier this year.

Beth Israel has also partnered with Newark's Maple Avenue School to create the KidsFit Program, a three-month health and wellness initiative for children.

"It's usually one week at a time, getting on a scale, weighing in and making sure they are making at least one positive change in their life," said Mintz of "Beth Challenge" participants.

Offering easy tips on how to lead a healthier lifestyle, Mintz advised, "Stay away from fast food restaurants, watch your portion sizes, do not drink juice or soda. Don't skip meals. Really simple tips, it's not rocket science."

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