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Sunday, August 9, 1998 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Stardom Begins With A `Click' -- For Issaquah's `Vanna,' Life As A TV Host Is All Fun And Games

Seattle Times Staff Writer

It takes a certain mysterious . . . something to be a game show hostess.

When you're talking about the lightning-fast kid's TV game show "Click," that something would be stamina, as Issaquah resident Amber Willenborg, the show's new 19-year-old co-host, quickly found out.

The Vanna Whites and Chantel DuBays of the world keep things rolling with flicks of the wrist and graceful presentations. Willenborg, on the other hand, has to chase contestants as they madly dash around "Click's" computer-age set, rev up the studio audience and keep the folks at home excited about the action - all without breaking a sweat.

"Everything is just really, really surreal to me," she said breathlessly between show tapings.

She's not kidding. For one week, "Click" turned part of Jonas Jensen Studios in Auburn into a gigantic, eye-popping circuit board. Gleaming with flashing lights and lasers, it's at once kid-friendly and crisply futuristic.

"Click," created by game-show maestro Merv Griffin, moved production from Los Angeles to Auburn to cut costs. Along the way the producers also replaced first-season hostess Amber Bonasso with Willenborg. (The fact that they share the same name is coincidental, show publicists say.)

"Click" is about about speed, smarts and sprinting. Six contestants pair off into three teams, competing for the chance to take the center podium and test their wits on questions about pop culture, history, geography, vocabulary and spelling.

Video screens correspond to "Web Site," "Hard Drive" and "Chat Room" categories, and that's where the running comes in. As one team member buzzes in on a category, the other has to quickly run to the screen, correctly answer the question, and be ready to sprint to the next screen.

The questions are easy enough for kids to answer, but also give the adults something to laugh at occasionally. When presented with the multiple choice question, "A drug that has no medicinal value is called . . . ," the youthful contestant incorrectly chose "Viagra" instead of "placebo." Another quick-witted question challenged the contestant to define what a titmouse was, inspiring a few giggles from the audience.

Though Willenborg has always aspired to a professional acting career, she spent most of her time plugging away for the Liberty High School drill team.

Just a few weeks ago, she took a chance by responding to Griffin's open casting call for a new hostess for "Click," following a tip from her agent. Though she was nervous, her mother knew she had it in the bag.

"She was just made for this," Debbie Willenborg said as she watched from the sidelines as her daughter grinned and gamboled for the camera. "I just knew she'd be perfect."

That means she's a match for the show's preternaturally tan and frenetic host, Ryan Seacrest, who presents a physical challenge for Willenborg to keep up with. One minute he's leaping through the audience and high-fiving the cheering spectators, and the next he's jumping on top of the podium in a fit of enthusiasm.

"I was more nervous about Ryan than I was about meeting Merv," Willenborg admits.

Even the production kept in line with "Click's" speedy style: They taped all of the second season's 22 half-hour episodes in just five days, completing four or five shows per day. At night they partied on Griffin's yacht, temporarily moored in Elliott Bay.

Now that the taping's ended, Willenborg says she's interested in expanding her career by moving to Los Angeles. In the meantime, she's optioned to play the hostess role on "Click" for two more seasons. And, she says, she's still getting used to the idea of being known as a game show hostess.

"I was washing the dishes one day, then suddenly I stopped and I just started laughing," Willenborg said. "My mom said, `What is it?' And I just said, `I'm going to be on TV!' "

One can only imagine her giddiness when she sees the show's premiere on Sept. 5. Episodes will air at 11 a.m. Saturdays on KCPQ-TV.

Copyright (c) 1998 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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