Dawn Stephens
Damian Dovarganes  /  AP
Inventor Dawn Stephens from Gilbert Ariz. presents her all-in-one toilet-bowl-cleaning brush, as she joins inventors from across the country attending TeleBrands Inventor's Day, an open casting call for those with the dream of creating the next great "must have" product.
updated 3/7/2010 1:45:14 PM ET 2010-03-07T18:45:14

There wasn't a bottle of Oxiclean or a ShamWow anywhere. But there was Dawn Stephens' nifty new, all-in-one toilet-bowl-cleaning brush.

"We don't have to look for the cleaning liquid and the brush. The cleaning liquid is right inside the brush!" the chirpy, singsongy Stephens shouted in delight as she pitched her invention Wednesday to a panel of judges that included infomercial king AJ Khubani.

Khubani, founder of the Telebrands "As Seen on TV" products company, has made a fortune hawking products like the Ped Egg (to trim calluses off your feet) and has spent the better part of three decades looking for the next hot thing to sell to insomniacs hooked on late-night TV.

But in this era of endless reality TV and get-rich-and-famous-quick schemes, Khubani is changing his entrepreneurial approach. Instead of trotting the globe looking for the next Thighmaster or inviting inventors to his New Jersey headquarters to show him a next-generation Clapper that he can sell for a cut of the profits, he's assembled an "American Idol"-like panel of judges and taken them on the road.

The group plans stops at several other, still-to-be-determined cities, and it is unclear how many inventors they will pick to promote. There is no reality show yet, but television cameras are filming — in case Khubani strikes a television deal.

First stop: L.A.
Khubani's first stop was Los Angeles, where Stephens found herself with nearly three dozen other inventors from around the country, each waiting for five minutes to make their pitch to Khubani and his fellow judges, who included his wife, Poonam.

As they passed the time waiting to be called, many kept busy pitching their products to one another.

"Where do you put your arms on an airplane?" Chad Hassell of Salt Lake City would ask people before pulling out the Cozy Traveler, a combination blanket-sling that keeps a passenger's arms securely tucked to the chest so the person doesn't bump their neighbors on a long flight.

"Look, it's even got a pocket for your iPod," Hassell said proudly.

Joseph Berto brought what looked like a big, vibrating rake. Called the Shake N Fork, and powered by a rechargeable lithium ion battery, it can be used to clean horse stalls by separating the straw from the horse patties. The helicopter pilot from White City, Ore., added that a smaller version, powered by a replaceable battery, works equally well on cat boxes. His inventions were apparently a hit with the judges, who invited him to meet with them again after his pitch.

Meanwhile, a pair of women hawked a "cordless, heated turban" that looked more like an amusement park souvenir hat. They said it would condition your scalp in 90 seconds. A couple showed off a gearshift lever attached to a piece of metal they said would be the next Ab Blaster exerciser.

Like watching a sex act
Seeing it demonstrated was a lot like watching a sex act, Khubani noted, and he was unsure how that would play on TV.

Khubani has a proven track record in picking the next big product. The little map that holds the quarters from each state? That was his. So was the Smart-Mop Shammy, the Jack LaLane Mini Stepper and the Windshield Wonder. (He uses that latter product himself, he says, to reach those hard-to-get-to places on his car's windshield.)

He was also skeptical of the all-in-one toilet bowl brush that Stephens had waved like a wand.

"Why can't you just take the bottle and squirt some stuff in?" Khubani, dressed in a dark suit, blue shirt and red tie, asked, mimicking a toilet-cleaning maneuver.

"People want convenience!" Stephens shouted, explaining that once you fill the handle of the toilet bowl cleaner you don't have to refill it for several uses.

Everyone on the panel, however, was impressed by Stephens' flair. The Gilbert, Ariz., woman's delivery was part infomercial, part snake-oil sales spiel.

"Mark her down as a potential pitch person," Khubani said after Stephens left the room.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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