Philly hopefuls look to follow in Eagles magician's footsteps

Jaylene McFadden (center), 7, and others from the Royal Excellence Step Team in Yeadon rehearse for their "America's Got Talent" audition. Philadelphia is one of 10 talent search cities.

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 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 hadn't seemed to have dwindled Saturday. The open-call auditions, meaning all ages and all talents, were expected to attract upward of 3,000 auditioners before the doors closed 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, Philadelphia's AGT auditions could lead to a trip to Los Angeles in March to audition for AGT's judges. It was not clear Saturday how many contestants the show expected to push through to the next round.

Some auditioning Saturday, such as David Tyler Harmon, 40, of Houston, had tried out for the show several times, with Philadelphia another crack at stardom.

Harmon, a retired Air Force airman and self-described "linguistic prodigy" and singer-songwriter who performs original songs and plays guitar, counted the Philadelphia auditions as his fourth for AGT. He said he plans to perform at every audition through the final Los Angeles round.

"I'm doing each audition in a different language," Harmon said Saturday. He claimed proficiency in at least French, Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese.

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, Ungar said friends had encouraged him to audition for the show, given his talent - using hoops and silks to dance in midair - is a unique one.

Still others were longtime performers looking to step things up with a little star power from AGT, as well as cross an item off to-do lists. Mentalist and magician Brent Lill, also known as Tiggar, 55, of Reading, 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, Northumberland County, Lill said he couldn't allow himself to miss Saturday's auditions with them so close to home.

"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?"

For those who couldn't make it to the auditions, executive producer Raff advises sending in an audition tape. The same people who watch the first-round auditions also watch the tapes, so it "shouldn't hurt your chances any," Raff said. Although, he admitted that the "star quality" some folks emit in the audition rooms can "push them over the edge" with judges and 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," he said. "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."

In Philadelphians' eyes, Dorenbos is our AGT champion. With any luck, another talent from the city who made it to the Convention Center on Saturday will be our next Dorenbos - only this time take it all. @njvadala