In theory, the Akerses didn’t know we were coming. They were told only that they were one of five families from the Cincinnati area who had been chosen as finalists. This, in itself, was a coup. Endemol USA, the production company that makes the show, receives as many as 1,000 applications a week either from or about families who have suffered a tragedy or hardship and are seeking a new home.
...The only spectators allowed on this day were neighbors, a handful of local volunteers and the Akerses’ extended family. I chatted with Judy ‘‘Bobby’’ Fletcher, the 65-year-old grandmother of the Akers children. She told me she had been here since before dawn, on her knees in a neighbor’s driveway, repeating a simple prayer: ‘‘Please allow ABC to be led to this family.’’ For more than two years, the congregants at Fletcher’s church had maintained a ‘‘prayer chain’’ in which they took turns praying — 24 hours a day, 365 days a year — for the executives at ABC to select the Akerses. Several local churches had similar prayer appeals.
Eventually the bus carrying Pennington rounded the corner. The crowd let out a collective gasp, several volunteers began to sob and virtually everyone took out a camera-equipped cellphone to document the moment. I glanced over at Fletcher, who was standing next to me, looking faint. ‘‘I saw the bus, heard the screams, and I went into an out-of-body experience,’’ she later told me. ‘‘I was watching it, but I wasn’t a part of it.’’