Melissa Hallman knows she can sing and Saturday she set out to prove it to talent scouts for "The Voice," NBC's popular star-making show.
The self-taught singer from Barrington was among some 4,000 people who auditioned Saturday at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont. The talent search continues there today.
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"I'm just kind of competing against myself," said Hallman, 25, a Barrington High School graduate, who has auditions for "American Idol" and "X Factor" under her belt. "I really just want to make it past the first round ... that would mean I must be getting better."
The day started early for Hallman and the estimated 2,000 hopefuls who came from as close as around the corner to as far away as New Mexico for the morning session. People started lining up inside the barren convention hall around 5:30 a.m. in what would be the first of four holding pens, so to speak. Once the doors opened shortly after 7 a.m. they were corralled into registration several lines, and every so often someone would break into song to warm up their pipes and keep the mood light.
The nervous chatter hushed when Derek Drake opened his mouth. The 34-year-old from Downers Grove, who also tried out in 2011, quieted the crowd by singing "Come Home," a song he wrote and recorded with his band, Audio Content.
"I'm at the point where I feel like I'm ready," said the vocal performance graduate who manages Lemon Tree Grocer in Downers Grove when he's not performing or practicing.
Drake said he wasn't daunted by all the competition in the room.
"It's encouraging," he said. "Everyone here is following their dream. No one is against you; they're all supportive."
In groups of 10, the hopefuls made their way into banquet rooms were they each perform in front of the judges and each other. None of the celebrity judges from the series attended the Chicago casting call.
Katy Richard had her own support group with her. The 19-year-old North Aurora woman and her longtime neighbor Rachel Lofthouse, 21, waited together outside a room for their turns.
"This is my first time, and I'm so nervous to be here," Richard said. "I've been kicking myself for two years watching 'The Voice' and thinking 'I can do that.'"
Richard and Lofthouse didn't make it into the second round of auditions, "but we're more pumped to try out next time," Richard said.
Neither did Hallman.
"I did well, and I was comfortable," Hallman said, adding that judges asked one girl from her group to stay. "It's exhausting, emotionally and timewise."
An official with the show said about 500 people made it in to the second round during 2011's Chicago auditions. Roughly 64 vocalists, culled from auditions held across the country, make it on the show.
Auditions continue today at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center, 5555 N. River Road, and there's still time to enter. Applicants must be at least 15 years old, a legal resident of the U.S., and meet other eligibility requirements. All performers must register in advance at nbc.com/the-voice/about.casting and will be given a time slot.
"The Voice" holds auditions next weekend in Atlanta. Singers should be ready to share personal stories about themselves and their talent. The auditions are for season five, whose airdates have yet to be determined; season four starts in March.