Dozens of teenage girls sporting big curls, bright lipstick, fake eyelashes and sparkly dresses milled the hallways of John Hersey High School on Saturday in Arlington Heights.
Each would get a chance to sing and dance under the lights of a stage set up in the school's gym for the 21st annual Chicagoland Showcase show choir competition.
Buffalo Grove High School won the top title as grand champion after a two-day contest featuring more than 30 middle school and high school show choirs from throughout the Midwest -- and even as far away as California. Organizers estimated there were about 3,000 singers, crew members and spectators present.
Turquoise trophies also went to two other big winners Saturday: Prospect High School, in the unisex division, and Batavia High School, in the festival division.
Joann Langley, the school's fine arts assistant and chairwoman for the event, said the students put in a tremendous amount of work before stepping onstage. Practices usually begin in the summer or at the beginning of the school year and continue at least twice a week until competitions in the late winter and early spring.
"It's quite an endeavor," Langley said. "People think it's kind of fluffy, but it's not so fluffy. It's hard work, it really is."
The performances are much more than just belting out some catchy tunes and arm waving. They include detailed choreography, costume changes, props and a live band that usually consists of student musicians from the same school.
From a cappella singing to tap dancing, each group made an effort to show off a variety of skills in less than 25 minutes. Five judges watched from the back of the room, whispering comments into voice recorders.
"It's like putting on a musical in a very condensed period of time," Langley said.
Hannah Piemonte, a sophomore at Prospect High School, said she was pleased with her choir's performance, which included a rendition of Journey's "Lovin' Touchin' Squeezin'" and Kelly Clarkson's "Stronger." She has performed at Chicagoland Showcase since middle school and said it's one of her favorite competitions.
"I like the atmosphere, how it's so welcoming," she said. "We get to mingle with other groups and meet people from all different places."
Brian McCallister, a Buffalo Grove senior, won a solo division and with his school's show choir, Expressions. He said he enjoys the competition because it's close by.
"It's our hometown," he said. "It wouldn't feel right if we didn't go. The environment feels like home to me."
Katherine Jensen, a senior from Waconia High School in Minnesota, said this was her second time attending Chicagoland Showcase.
"I love this competition because I feel like people are really friendly here and I feel like it's really well put together. It's so organized," she said.
"Coming to Chicago, in general, is really cool because we normally go to competitions just in Minnesota and Wisconsin, so it's fun for us," she added.