WOODSTOCK — Lauren Geissler and Ellie Stroh stood backstage, the long blond curls in their poofy wigs swinging as they talked.
Geissler, 13, and Stroh, 14, both of Woodstock, were among the small group of junior division performers chatting excitedly in the Hansen Pavilion a little after 7 p.m. Friday. The McHenry County Fair Talent Show was about to be off to a slightly late start.
“We’re going to Irish dance,” Geissler said.
“We go to class twice a week, but we’ve been practicing for the last week every day,” Stroh said.
Wearing checkered flannel shirts over white tank tops and denim shorts, the duo deviated from traditional Irish dancing attire. But, in honor of the fair, the two would dance to “Cotton-Eyed Joe,” and the outfits seemed especially fitting.
Parents, grandparents, friends and spectators sat in the bleachers and in chairs in the pavilion. Soon they were clapping along as the opening act, 11-year-old Lars Burke of Crystal Lake, who performed but was not a part of this year’s competition, dazzled with yo-yo tricks and dance moves set to "Gangnam Style."
Other performances included a classical Indian dance by Esha Gourikrishna, 12, of Crystal Lake; singing by 14-year-old Katie Burris of Crystal Lake; singing by Lauren Thelander with guitar accompaniment by Michael Locascio, both 12, of Crystal Lake; singing by Emma Balduf, 11, of Algonquin; and singing by Olivia Mellinger, 11, of Woodstock.
Taking top honors and garnering a $200 prize along with a chance to compete in Springfield was 10-year-old Mary Hilbrink of Fox River Grove, whose rousing rendition of “Shackles” by Mandisa wowed the crowd.
In second place was Burris, who won $150, and in third were Geissler and Stroh, whose prize was $100. All of the contestants received participation awards, and those who placed received medals.
Though she wasn’t among the award winners, Mellinger was among the many with a strong fan base in the stands. Mom and dad, Cindy and Keith Mellinger, and grandparents Jim and Audrey Haager all were there to cheer her on.
“We’re very proud of her,” Mellinger’s grandfather said. “We got to see her in ‘The Little Mermaid’ at the Opera House last week, and then she tries out for this. It’s just great.”
At least one couple in the audience didn’t have a specific participant in mind when they headed to the show.
Bruce Weiss and his wife, Marian, of Woodstock, said Friday was their 32nd consecutive year in attendance.
“We never miss it,” he said. “We’ve seen so many great, great kids throughout the years.”
Kathy Thomas, who has been coordinating the show for about 35 of its 49 years, said this year’s number of participants in the preliminary stages, which were judged late last month, was slightly disappointing, but the quality of those who auditioned was terrific. Seven acts tried out for the junior division and 14 for the senior division this year.
“I’m wondering if it has anything to do with school starting next week,” she said.
A senior division final, including performers ranging in age from 15 through 21, took to the stage after the juniors. They still were performing as of press time.
McHenry County Fair Talent Show winners
Senior Division winners
First place: Brooke Harthan, McHenry (singer)
Second place: Lena Burke, Ryan Lammers, Dean Sinclair, of Crystal Lake, Cary and McHenry (band, vocals)
Third place: Kogan Murphy, Crystal Lake (dance)
Junior Division winners
First place: Mary Hilbrink, Fox River Grove (singer)
Second place: Katie Burris, Crystal Lake (singer)
Third place: Lauren Geissler and Ellie Stroh, Woodstock (dance)