Image: Amy Martin

One spring Saturday in room C123 of the Oregon Convention Center, about 100 wannabe stars are preparing for their big break. Singers warm up their voices, dancers stretch, actors rehearse scripts, and one hopeful switches on the LED headphones on his T-shirt. Then, together, they bow their heads.

“I bet you didn’t think you were going to church today,” talent scout Scott Hamilton tells the group.

Actors, Models & Talent for Christ came to Portland looking for performers aged 4 and up to bring God to the godless entertainment industry and harness the global reach of American media to spread the gospel. The nonprofit holds about 100 such field events nationwide every year, bringing together some 10,000 performers. 

The Georgia-based “talent development ministry” wasn’t always Christian. Founded in 1982 as the secular Actors, Models & Talent Competition, the agency helped launch the careers of Mena Suvari (American Beauty) and Megan Fox (Transformers). In 2007, AMTC founder Carey Lewis found Christ. Her family—AMTC’s leadership—followed, and they were baptized together in 2008.   

AMTC travels the country holding auditions for its biannual Shine conference in Orlando, where pious performers mingle with 50–100 working agents and attend seminars on runway walking and “creating your brand.” At the most recent conference,
leaders also baptized 40 attendees in a hotel swimming pool.

“It’s where New York polish meets the hand of God,” says AMTC executive director Adam She. 

John Owens, a 23-year-old groundskeeper who lives in Southeast Portland, came to the audition after seeing one of AMTC’s four Portland billboards. (“We like to do billboards because it’s kind of a spiritual thing,” says She. “We like to see AMTC placed on high.”) Now, watching a video presentation (a past American Idol contestant talks about learning how to market himself; one woman says, “I’ve found my people!”), Owens holds back tears.

“It’s everything I’ve dreamed of,” says Owens, whose rendition of “Let Them See You,” by Christian rock group JJ Weeks Band, impressed the scouts and scored him an invite to Shine. 

With a suggested entrance fee of $4,995 plus travel expenses, attending Shine is not cheap. But Owens is determined to be among the dozen Portlanders in Orlando later this year by raising funds from friends, family, and his church. He dreams of performing in a rock and worship road show at the Moda Center.

Will six days in Orlando shoot Owens to stardom? 

Says Owens of his chances: “I have hopes and prayers that something will work out.” 

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