WOODSTOCK – The participants in the 48th annual McHenry County Fair Talent Contest put their skills on display Friday night, treating the crowd to the belting out of an opera and the blindfolded playing of a violin, among other talents.
Contestants from ages 9 to 21 took to the stage in the fair’s Hansen Pavilion to vie for the glory, bragging rights and prize money. The 14-and-under age group started the entertainment while the roar of the tractor pull could be heard from the grandstand.
MORE COVERAGE: 2012 McHenry County Fair page with schedule and more
First up was 11-year-old Crystal Lake resident Ross Relic, who brought laughs to the crowded bleachers of the pavilion with his comedic performance. Ross’s enthusiasm and energy set the tone for a fun-filled evening.
Fellow Crystal Lakers, sisters Cassidy and Lauren Thelander, brought a theatrical presence with their performance of “What is this Feeling” from the Broadway musical “Wicked,” and Lauren Geissler and Ellie Stroh pounded on the stage with their Irish dancing.
Although the junior division featured plenty of genuine talent, it was 13-year-old Althea Grace Roggenbuck of Algonquin who took home the top prize. She brought a vintage flair to the evening with her acoustic rendition of “Crazy on You” by Heart. A barefoot Roggenbuck plucked her guitar with ease and channeled a younger Ann Wilson, hitting all of the song’s ear-grabbing high notes.
“I picked this song because it really showed off the sound of my guitar, and it’s one of my favorite songs,” Roggenbuck said.
Roggenbuck earned third prize in last year’s contest with her rendition of Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep.”
She will go on to compete in the Illinois Association of Agricultural Fairs state competition on Jan. 18 in Springfield, and said she is excited and is already working on a strategy.
“I’m just going to go out there with a good attitude,” Roggenbuck said. “I’m just going to keep an eye out for what really gets the crowd going.”
Roggenbuck plays other instruments, including the bass, drums and ukulele, and said she will have plenty of time to practice before January.
The senior division competition, for those ages 15 to 21, offered such performances as Dylan McCarten and Stephen Schuch’s rendition of John Mayer’s “I Don’t Trust Myself.” Lena Burke and Ryan Lammers had younger fairgoers singing along as they jammed out with Florence and the Machine’s “No Light, No Light.”
Sound technician and 1964 third-place winner Ken Kunzer has been a volunteer for the contest for more than 30 years. Kunzer performed a medley with his wife, Kathi, and close friends on the stage some 40 years ago – the same stage that he now gazes at from the audience.
“It’s just a lot of fun, and it’s really great for the kids,” Kunzer said. “It’s all about them, after all, and I’m happy to keep coming back to be a part of it.”
2012 McHenry County Fair talent contest winners
Junior division – 14 and Under
First place: $200 prize, Althea Roggenbuck – performed “Crazy on You” by Heart
Second place: $150 prize, Emma Soden – played violin blindfolded
Third place: $100 prize, Lauren Geissler and Ellie Stroh – Irish dancing
Senior division – 15 to 21
First place: $200 prize, Eimile Malmgren – sang “Desperado”
Second place: $150 prize, Christine Cisko and Katie Carsello – played guitars and sang “Wildflower”
Third place: $100 prize, Kogan Murphy – performed a modern dance