Augusta Millionaire?

Jesse James never robbed a bank or held up a stagecoach, but he might end up with a million dollars.

Spc. Jesse James, an Army mental health specialist stationed at Fort Gordon, is a contestant on the television game show Who Wants To Be a Millionaire , airing at 11:30 a.m. today. He said fate, his wife's least-favorite shirt and his famous name won him the opportunity.

Spc. James was looking for a home and garden show to remodel a kitchen for his wife, Tricia, when he typed "game show auditions" into an Internet search engine. He discovered Millionaire was looking for contestants for a Famous Names theme week.

"I thought, 'This is perfect,' " he said. "It's exactly what I am. It felt like fate."

Spc. James auditioned in Atlanta last June, taking trivia tests with other hopefuls. He was in character: He wore a Western-style shirt he picked up for $2 when he was 16.

He passed the general knowledge test, then traveled to New York to tape his appearance in October. The shirt, which he said his wife hates, also made the trip.

"The producer asked me to wear it," he said. "What could I do? I said 'Of course I will.' "

The Famous Names theme week also features a James Bond, Bill Murray, Barbara Eden, Janet Jackson, Seth Green and Bill Gates.

Spc. James said there was no guarantee he would be chosen to compete and the show did not pay for travel. He said there was a Martha Stewart who was visibly shaken when she was not chosen and that Seth Green, a nonprofit consultant from New Haven, Conn., asked him who Jesse James was.

"I asked him who Seth Green was," he said.

Spc. James said the experience was an education.

"It was crazy," he said. "I was expecting a lavish spread. It wasn't. It's basically just an office building and the studio is really small. There are maybe 100 people in the audience."

It was interesting, Spc. James said, to discover the similar situations and solutions people with famous names shared. He said all have run into situations where people are skeptical as to the veracity of a famous name and most have developed techniques to avoid confusion.

"When I order something, for instance, I have to give a fake name," Spc. James said. "It was cool to see other people have had to do the same thing."

The producers of Who Wants To Be a Millionaire contractually forbid contestants to discuss their winnings before the air date, a policy enforced by withholding winnings until after the show has broadcast. Spc. James admitted that his wife, who was in the audience, and mother know how much he won.

"It hasn't been tough at all," he said. "I like that people will find out the day of. I think it will be more exciting for me and them."

Spc. James plans to watch the broadcast with members of his church, Stevens Creek Community Church. He said that given the correct crowd, he likes the idea of turning his televised moment into a celebration.

"I want to share it with people I care about and care about me," he said. "So we're having a big party. I think it's going to be cool having people around."

Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or steven.uhles@augustachronicle.com.

SEE HOW HE DID

Read Steven Uhles' blog covering Spc. James' appearance on the show.

WATCH IT

WHAT: Spc. Jesse James' appearance on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire

WHEN: 11:30 a.m. today on WAGT-TV (Channel 26)