The hopeful, the star struck and just maybe the Next Big Thing turned out Monday in Tacoma in hopes of landing a spot on “America’s Got Talent.”
Producers from the NBC talent show were set up at the Greater Tacoma Convention & Trade Center to audition acts for this season’s show.
On a balcony overlooking the lobby, the nine members of Mariachi Lucero were waiting for their audition with a mixture of nerves and bravado.
“We ain’t nervous, we ain’t scared,” recited violin player Francisco Garibay, 17. “We came up with that on the way here.”
“We’ve done bigger things than this,” said Simon Capilla, 17, while cradling his silver trumpet and dressed in the burgundy costume all the members were wearing.
“But those crowds weren’t judges,” added guitar player Juan Lua, 16.
Violin player Elizabeth Carmona, 15, registered the group to audition. Comprised of Tacoma area high school students, Mariachi Lucero performs at local events. This was their first try at the national spotlight.
“Let’s go for it and see how far we can get,” Carmona said.
Odds are: Not far, said Jason Raff, the show’s executive producer.
That’s not based on the mariachis’ talent — he hadn’t heard them yet. But of the 1,000 people who signed up to audition Monday, only 15 to 20 were likely to advance to the next stage of auditions in New York City or Los Angeles, he said.
“We see a lot of people who will never make it on the show,” Raff said.
This is the third visit to Tacoma for “AGT.” The Northwest has a higher percentage of variety acts compared with other parts of the country, Raff said.
“That’s kind of what our show is about,” he said. “It’s the only show open to any age and any talent. We like eccentric people who are talented, and we’ve seen a lot of that in the Pacific Northwest. Particularly Portland.”
Though it was early in the day, one person, an acrobat, had already caught Raff’s attention.
“He did some moves that I’ve never seen before,” Raff said. “When you’re an executive producer on ‘America’s Got Talent’ for 10 years — and I’ve done maybe 100,000 auditions — it’s very rare when someone comes into the room and you say, ‘I’ve never seen that.’ ”
Outside one of the audition rooms, the five members of Gig Harbor-based Cannibal Hamster were waiting to go on. Made up of high school and middle school students, the mostly guitar-equipped group was ready to perform three songs for the producers.
“We’ve been working hard, so hopefully it’ll pay off,” said Jessa Moomaw, 15.
Her 14-year-old sister Jayden is also in the group. And how did they come up with the band’s name?
“The short story is that we had two hamsters,” Jessa said. “And then we had one hamster. Mine was the last one standing.”
The producers had time to listen to only one song, “Say it Ain’t So” by Weezer, but the group emerged from the audition feeling upbeat.
Nearby, and in a constant state of motion, was Lorenzo Bordeo of Vancouver, Washington. He was practicing his hip-hop dance moves.
It was not Bordeo’s first brush with potential fame. In 2012, he made it to the celebrity judge portion of “AGT.”
“I only got a 10-second spot with that show, but I thought maybe I could get a minute or two this time,” Bordeo said. “And I could get a free vacation out of it.”
Groups and lines of people moved through the convention center in an orderly fashion Monday. “AGT” has made the process into a well-oiled machine.
Timed to arrive throughout the day, hopeful entertainers waited in the center’s ballroom until they were called to one of six audition rooms, some with keyboards, some with dance floors, each staffed by an “AGT” producer.
There, they had a precious few minutes to impress.
“At the end of the day we’ll have a meeting and talk about what excited us,” Raff said. “When we get back to LA, we’ll start making selections.”
There’s still time to audition, via video, for the new season, which will premiere in late May, Raff said.
One of the more visually arresting acts Monday was House of Air, three 24-year-old friends who grew up together in Fairbanks, Alaska.
Now scattered between Bellingham and Los Angeles, Matt Birklid, David Zuckerman and Ian Kjera reformed their air band act at the behest of “AGT’s” producers after they saw the group on YouTube.
The men wore sunglasses and flamed embroidered leather jackets –— with plenty of skin showing.
“Do I pull it off? That’s all that matters,” Zuckerman said of his look. “We’re glorified dancers.”
They also carried brooms modified to look like guitars. At one point during their rehearsal, Birklid and Kjera used the brooms to form a hurdle, which Zuckerman then leapt over.
Though the audition process churns through a lot of acts, he is still surprised by the occasional discovery of new talent.
“You start getting goose bumps,” executive producer Raff said. “You just know that in a couple of weeks we’re going to fly them to LA and they’re going to be performing in front of Howard Stern and the other judges, and by this summer they’re going to be at Radio City Music Hall performing.
“You can be a professional and for your whole career and never perform there.”