Infomercial guy looks for next big inventor

LOS ANGELES — 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 last week 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, 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.

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.

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.

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 LaLanne 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.)