Many newcomers and a few previous contestants turned out Thursday to the first day of closed auditions for Suburban Chicago's Got Talent.
Among the hopefuls returning to the Prairie Center for the Arts in Schaumburg was Darien resident Ken Markovic. The 35-year-old singer-songwriter was a Top 20 finalist for 2015, and he was quick to snag one of the 70 available audition spots when they became available for the summer competition.
Location: Prairie Center for the Arts, 201 Schaumburg Court, Schaumburg, (847) 895-3600 or prairiecenter.org
Showtimes: 6 p.m. Sunday, June 26
"To be honest, I want to go further than the Top 20 this year," said Markovic, who auditioned with one of his own compositions. "I take criticism well, and I wanted to take what the judges shared with me last year. which was to engage the audience more."
For her first time auditioning for the competition, 12-year-old Ali Morgan of North Aurora performed a cover of "Ho Hey" by The Lumineers rather than a song she had written herself.
"If it's a good original, I think the judges will like it more because it's creative," Morgan said. "But if you perfect a cover, and it sounds good on your voice, that's equally good."
In the past, musicians have dominated the competition, which is now in its fifth year. That's why 20-year-old comedian Stephen Kipp of Wheaton hopes he might stand out from the crowd.
"I think it works to my advantage," said Kipp, though he acknowledged auditioning a two-minute standup set before a judging panel of two versus a comedy club crowd has its challenges.
"It was a lot of me in my head saying, 'This is funny, just keep saying the jokes' and making my own energy," Kipp said.
The judges have been impressed by the talent pool over previous summers.
"Clearly the last few years have shown a great deal of talent in the suburbs. These contestants display commitment, determination and perseverance insofar as we've seen contestants repeating from year to year and doing consistently well," said Daily Herald theater critic Barbara Vitello, a returning judge for Suburban Chicago's Got Talent. "The love of the arts is alive and well in the suburbs, and the talent level is equal to that passion."
Auditions will continue Friday. Contestants will find out in the next few days whether they've made the cut for the Top 20 round of competition. Those who do will perform on June 26.
Subsequent Top 15 and Top 10 performance rounds are on July 17 and 31, while the ultimate winners will be announced after a free concert at the Taste of Arlington Heights on Saturday, Aug. 6.
The contestants are vying for the "STARter Kit" top prize.
Valued at about $5,000, it includes the chance to open for a national headline act at the Arcada Theatre in St. Charles, career mentoring by Onesti Entertainment and professional video and still photo shoots of a live performance and production.
Online voters also select a Fan Favorite. After each of the first three live competition rounds, videos of the finalists will be posted at dailyherald.com for the public to view and then vote.
The contestant with the most online votes after each round is guaranteed to move on, and the act with the most cumulative votes wins a Fan Favorite prize to be determined.
For 2016, Suburban Chicago's Got Talent is co-sponsored by the Daily Herald, Onesti Entertainment, Schaumburg's Prairie Center for the Arts, the Arlington Heights Chamber of Commerce and Valli Produce.