Philly hopefuls look to follow in Jon Dorenbos’ footsteps at ‘America’s Got Talent’ auditions

mentalist Brent Lill performs a card trick while waiting for America's Got Talent auditions at the Pennsylvania Convention Center Saturday January 14, 2017.

Early Saturday morning, hundreds of Philadelphia hopefuls auditioned for a shot at following in Eagles long snapper Jon Dorenbos’ magical footsteps on America’s Got Talent.

The NBC talent competition show returned to the city to audition folks at the Pennsylvania Convention Center for season 12 of the program, which in 2016 saw its most-watched season in five years. Philadelphia is the fifth location on a 10-city tour that will also make stops in Las Vegas, New York, Charleston, S.C., Memphis, and Los Angeles. 

And while Dorenbos ultimately lost last year to 12-year-old singer Grace Vanderwaal, the Philadelphia area’s enthusiasm for the show didn’t seem to have dwindled on Saturday. The open call auditions, meaning all ages and all talents, were expected to attract upwards of 3,000 auditionees before closing the doors for the day at 7 p.m., according to the show’s production staff. 

“We’re here as long as it takes,” said executive producer Jason Raff, 50. “We don’t turn anyone away.” 

Serving as a first-round audition for the show, Philly’s AGT auditions could lead to a trip to Los Angeles for contestants to audition for AGT’s judges in March. It was not clear Saturday how many contestants AGT expected to push through to the next round. 

Some AGT hopefuls auditioning Saturday, like David Tyler Harmon, 40, of Houston, Texas, had auditioned for the show several times, with Philadelphia being another notch on their belts. Harmon, a retired Air Force airman and self-described “linguistic prodigy” and singer-songwriter, counted the Philly auditions as his fourth set for the show. Harmon, who performs original songs and plays guitar, said he plans to perform at every audition through the Los Angeles round. 

“I’m doing each audition in a different language,” Harmon said Saturday. So far, he knows languages including French, Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese, but says he stopped counting after five languages. 

Others, like 15-year-old aerialist Brian Ungar of Merion, hope that AGT can serve as a kind of kick-start for their careers. An aerialist for six years now, Ungar said Saturday friends had encouraged him to audition for the show, seeing as his talent, using hoops and silks to dance in mid-air, is a unique one. 

“Let’s see where it goes,” Ungar said. “The dream is to get into Cirque du Soleil.” 

And others still are longtime performers looking to step things up with a little star power from AGT, as well as cross an item off their “to do” lists. Reading mentalist and magician Brent Lill, also known as Tiggar, 55, for example, had intended to audition in New York for the last two years, but the 35-year magic veteran kept getting sidetracked with prior professional obligations. A former magician at Dorney Park outside Allentown and Knoebels Amusement Resort in Elysburg, Lill said he couldn’t miss Saturday’s auditions with them being so close to his home base. 

“I’m a persuasive, interactive mentalist, mind-stunt, quick-change, escape artistry act,” said Lill, who performs with his wife, Crystal, 52, under the moniker “Mindjacked.”  “This is close to me, so why not?”

Some folks, however, undoubtedly couldn’t make it out to the auditions. In that case, executive producer Raff advises they not be shy about sending in an audition tape.  The same people who watch the first-round auditions also watch the tapes, so, in Raff’s words, it “shouldn’t hurt your chances any.” Though, he admits that the “star quality” some folks put off in the audition rooms can “push them over the edge” with judges, and put them through to the next round.

Either way people audition, though, Raff says everyone has an equal playing field. 

“What’s exciting for me is it’s the same process for everyone,” Raff said Saturday. “Grace Vanderwaal did this all last year. Within months, she was seen by judges. Then, a few months after that, she was on TV in front of millions. And months after that, she was in front of fans at the Dolby Theatre.” 

This being Philadelphia, though, Dorenbos is our champion — even if he did technically come in third to Vanderwaal on AGT last year. But with any luck, one talented Philadelphian who got out to the Convention Center on Saturday will be our next Dorenbos — only better.