Wearing matching bowler hats and pink ties, the four McKenney brothers huddled nervously in the lobby of the Baltimore Convention Center, waiting for their turn to audition for "America's Got Talent."
Their parents, Kevin and Pamela McKenney of Northeast Baltimore, said the four boys who perform as Mac Four -- Kevin "K.J.," 13; K'von, 11; Kaliv, "Dancer," 9; and Keith, "Duck," 6 -- practice every day, drawing inspiration from the Jackson Five and the Temptations.
Around the boys milled hundreds of other singers, dancers, magicians and other performers who were aiming for a chance at fame. Organizers weren't able to say just how many had signed up to audition Thursday, the only day the producers for the NBC reality TV show were to be in Baltimore.
Inside a practice room, Lisa Polinori stretched before her audition, the tip of her pink beehive hairdo touching her polka-dotted leggings. The East Baltimore resident, who performs as "The Unicycle Lady," said appearing on the show was on her "bucket list" as she celebrates her 50th birthday.
"I've auditioned twice before, but I've never gotten dressed up before," said Polinori, who wore full Baltimore Hon regalia, including oversized cat's eye glasses. Even her unicycle was in costume -- as a pink flamingo.
Others in the practice room touched up their makeup, tuned guitars and warmed up by dancing the Electric Slide. One performer entertained a crowd of singers with card tricks. Clive Housley of Red Hill, Penn., known to his fans as "Mad Jack" slipped his wrists from a rope tied behind his back in preparation for one of his best tricks.
Kiaa Fofanah, 18, of Riverdale, applied bright pink lipstick before her performance and taped her audition number across her sparkly gold sweater. The Montgomery County freshman, who planned to sing "Shark in the Water" by VV Brown, said that Thursday marked her first audition.
"I'm a little bit nervous, but I'll get over it," said Fafanah as she signed a release form.
Nearby, 18-year-old Mike Zook strummed his guitar and sang in a clear voice as his parents watched, smiling.
"I want to show people that coming from nothing you can still make something of your life," said Zook, who said he had grown up in foster homes and was briefly homeless before being reunited with his parents.
"When I finally got a guitar, I couldn't put it down," said the Highlandtown resident, who planned to play "Wagon Wheel" by Darius Rucker.
"I couldn't be more proud of him," said his father, Michael Zook Sr. "I'm a musician too, but they didn't have things like this when I was growing up."
The four Loyola Blakefield students who comprise the group "All Rights Reserved" streamed into the convention lugging drums and guitars, an entourage of parents following behind them.
Drew Bostwick, Andrew Vendellis, and Quinn Hopkins, all 15, and Danny Vinton, 16, wore pastel khakis and ties emblazoned with their high school's logo. The boys have been playing since their sixth-grader mixer, which, Bostwick said, "was interesting."
Since then, the alternative pop group has improved tremendously, performing at the 8X10, the Ottobar and Ramshead Live, among other venues.
"You see them rocking up on stage and then you remember, none of them can even drive yet," said Sue Hopkins, Quinn's mother.
Only performers and their supporters were allowed into the audition rooms, but those who took part said that about 10 to 15 acts at a time performed for a producer who gave little indication of her opinon of the performance.
A spokeswoman for the show said that performers would be notified in the coming weeks if they would move on to the next round of auditions, which are to be held in Los Angeles, New York and New Jersey.
As he headed out of his audition, Jeff Lello of Glen Burnie, who uses the stage name of "Bigg Daddy WooWoo" cheered for Polinori, the beehive-wearing unicycle performer. "You go hon," he said.
Lello, who had tucked a black feather into his hat, said he thought his audition had gone well.
"I looked at [the producer] out of the corner of my eye and I think she liked it," he said.