Dan Geraghty first picked up an electric guitar when he was 10 and now, at 17, he nearly always has his hands on one.
Though just last spring he was a junior at River Hill High School, right now he and the other four band members of Hollywood Ending are contestants in "Next Big Thing," a Radio Disney talent competition that began its fourth season this month.
"I've wanted to play music forever," said the Clarksville resident last week from aboard a tour bus traveling from New Jersey to Pennsylvania.
Geraghty's no stranger to touring; he zigzagged across the U.S. at age 16 with an all-male Lady Gaga tribute band called Rad Bromance, a play on the title of the pop queen's hit song, "Bad Romance." The band, which also included Hollywood Ending's drummer, Mike Montalbano, performed in Baltimore in July.
But this feels different, Geraghty said.
"This is just crazy … it doesn't feel real," he said. "The crowds are huge, and they're going nuts and jumping around. So many kids see us and spread the word. It's just awesome."
And what a heady, pinch-me-I'm-dreaming existence it can be.
When Hollywood Ending paid a visit to the New York offices of two popular preteen magazines, the interview questions posed to Geraghty and the others were the standard fare.
"Who's the biggest flirt?" and "Who's the messiest?" are samples of the line of inquiry they faced.
"We love when new bands come to BOP and Tiger Beat headquarters to meet us," raved a writer on the sister publications' website. "We especially love it when they're a group of hot guys!"
Geraghty takes the screaming adoration all in stride — as much as that's possible when he's flirting with major celebrity.
"Next Big Thing," or "NBT," is an elimination-style talent contest among five acts in the mold of "American Idol." But this being Disney, with all the wholesomeness attached to the brand, there's nothing that even comes close to the harsh critiques and infighting among judges made famous by the Fox blockbuster.
The program is recorded at Radio Disney in Burbank, Calif., and fans vote for their favorites online and via text-messaging. Rounds last two weeks, and results are aired on the Disney Channel every other Friday.
After 10 weeks of performances and fan voting, the winner will be announced live Dec. 7 and will air on the Disney Channel on Dec. 9. The winning act will then perform at a concert and have a single released.
"You Got Me" is Hollywood Ending's signature song and video, and it has "a really cool message," Geraghty said.
"The lyrics say, 'Don't you put your makeup on, you don't need it tonight,' and the song talks about a girl's personality being the important thing," he said — what every mother of a teen-age boy would probably love to hear.
"I like getting out there in front of people and seeing the fans singing along," Geraghty said. "This band has bonded so much over the last two months that it's weird when we're not together."
The other members are Cameron Byrd, Tyler Wilson and Chris Bourne.
Showmanship and musicality go hand-in-hand in Geraghty's case, said Steve Kilgallon, a show director and producer who worked with him for several years at the School of Rock in Silver Spring.
"When he walked into my rehearsal room at age 11, it took me about five minutes to know he's a gifted guy," said Kilgallon, adding that he's taught a couple of thousand kids over his 25-year career. "He just needed someone to crack the egg, get inside and pull it all out.
"He definitely deserves all this; he's worked really hard for it and he's got the musical chops," he said.
Leigh Geraghty, the guitarist's mother, seconds that.
"Dan's being rewarded for working hard," she said. "I've watched him grow in the business and see the passion he has for it, and I can't imagine him doing anything else."
While acknowledging that her daughter, Morgan, a 13-year-old student at Clarksville Middle School, may be an even bigger fan than she is, the proud mom said it's "really hard" on the family for him to be away from home.
"I just pretend that he's in college, and we keep in touch through Twitter and phone calls," she said. "But [my husband] Kevin and I couldn't deny him this opportunity." (Geraghty is currently taking 12th-grade-level courses online.)
Hollywood Ending is appearing on "NBT" at an interesting time, since this season is the first in the show's four years where acts are being eliminated every two weeks, said Kelly Edwards, Radio Disney's executive director of music and programming.
"But it's really, truly not just about the winner," Edwards said of the program. "We continue working with the kids well after the contest ends; we've proven that time and time again. They've all got great careers ahead of them."
Geraghty has allowed himself to envision Hollywood Ending still being together five years from now. But unlike most artists, he isn't dreaming about performing at such arenas as Wembley Stadium in London or Madison Square Garden in New York, he said.
"I love to play at huge arenas, but the one venue I'd really like to play is the Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia," he said.
"My mom took me there to see Green Day when I was 10, and I also saw the White Stripes there," he said. "Jack White jumped off the stage and gave me a guitar pick, and he's a huge idol of mine."
Kilgallon said his protege's music will evolve over time. "There's so much of his talent that people haven't even seen yet, and he'll just get better and better."
But for now, Geraghty is just living in the moment.
"I wouldn't trade this experience for anything," he said.
To check on Hollywood Ending's status in the competition, visit radiodisney.com.