Mary Ruiz couldn't contain herself.
"Oh my god, she looked so gorgeous," the Elgin resident squealed. "I tried to tell her she was an inspiration to me. I can't believe I just saw her!"
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Ruiz was talking about fashion icon Heidi Klum, one of four celebrity judges on this year's season of the hit competition show "America's Got Talent." Klum and her fellow judges -- actor/comedian Howie Mandel, ex-Spice Girls member Mel B. and radio personality Howard Stern -- appeared in Rosemont on Wednesday for the first of three days of taping at the Rosemont Theatre.
The judges' arrivals late Wednesday morning thrilled the crowd of thousands waiting for a chance to be in the audience for the shows.
After greeting and high-fiving numerous screaming fans, Mandel said he's ready to be "dazzled" by the contestants on tap to perform at the Rosemont tapings. Klum, host of the popular fashion-design show "Project Runway" and a new "Talent" judge this year, said she might critique contestants' fashion choices if she thinks they need serious help. Mel B., whose real name is Melanie Brown, is also a new judge. The British pop star said she's had a blast traveling around America as part of the show. And Stern, who received the most thunderous applause, said he believes "we'll find a superstar here in Chicago."
The line for Wednesday's noon taping was long enough to wrap around the building by 10 a.m. At one point, it snaked from the front of the theater down Balmoral Avenue nearly all the way to the Tri-State tollway.
"We can't wait to see the judges," said Buffalo Grove resident Valerie Thomas, who was in line with her 12-year-old daughter, Kaylee. "We like watching the show, but it will be so fun to see it in person."
Karen Dubinski and Susan Chiappetta, both of Arlington Heights, also said seeing the judges would be a highlight, though they disagreed on which one they liked the most, Mandel or Stern.
Jeff Skellenger of Romeoville said he's a big fan of Stern and the show in general.
"I was in the audience for a Jerry Springer show once, and that was nice, but I think this is really going to be fun," he said.
"America's Got Talent" will tape at the Rosemont Theatre through Friday, with two tapings each day. The Chicago area is one of several regions the show is visiting in an effort to find the most gifted contestants for the show's June 4 premiere on NBC.
The program showcases a number of traditional talents -- singers, comedians -- as well as more off-the-wall stuff, like ventriloquists and circus-style acrobatics.
Tickets to attend a taping on Thursday or Friday may still be available. Check the website on-camera-audiences.com and search for "America's Got Talent."