Tension hung in the air as contestants in the Howard County Library Teen Idol Competition waited for the results.
Daniel Goldstein, a rising eighth-grader at Elkridge Landing Middle School who had donned a sparkly top hat and belted out "There's No Business Like Show Business," passed the time by playing a piano in the hallway. Others contestants nibbled on cookies and pretzels.
Jamie Goldstein, Daniel's father, said the event for his son was "a little bit serious and a little bit fun," adding that the young singer had rehearsed quite a bit during the days leading to the competition.
"He's loved theater since second grade," he said. "It's his thing."
Several contestants harbored dreams of competing in the real American Idol, the hit TV show, when they are old enough.
Now in its fifth year, the popular event was moved from the Miller branch library to the Banneker Room at the George Howard Building, a larger and more comfortable venue. As in past years, middle and high school students belted out numbers for judges, who scored on criteria such as charisma, range, song selection and hitting the right notes. The 10 finalists had survived auditions that saw 40 crooners eliminated.
After about 15 minutes of deliberation, the judges announced the winner: Alyssa Shouse, 13, a rising eighth-grader at Elkridge Landing Middle who sang "Broken Wing" by Martina McBride. Before she knew she had won, Alyssa, who sings in plays and talent shows, said she took her preparation for the event seriously but also thought it was a lot of fun. She won an invitation to sing the national anthem at a Bowie Baysox game.
Second place went to Katie Rasmussen, who sang "By My Side" from Godspell, and the third-place winner was Marissa Zechinato, who sang "Beautiful" by Christina Aguilera.
In addition to Daniel Goldstein, the other contestants were Charles Freeman, Maggie Dransfield, Laura Harrison, Anna Mateo, Sarah Stephen and Caitlin Colvin.
Katie George, a Howard County librarian who runs the event, said auditions in the past were divided by age, with one night for middle-schoolers and the next night for high-schoolers. Usually, about 25 middle-schoolers came out while no more than 15 older students would show up, she said.
This year, when any age could audition either night, attendance went up, with 25 singers trying out each night, she said.
The young performers who made the cut took their act to the Banneker Room on Thursday night, singing in front of judges Justin Custer, an Ellicott City native now with the Baltimore independent rock band Squaaks; Amy Fadool from Fox 45-TV; and Carmen Albuerne, a library employee.
Most contestants, like Laura Harrison, didn't take the event lightly. After all, the audience included "basically half of my friends, plus my voice teacher," she said. Laura, 12, wore a sparkly blue dress as she sang "Part of Your World" from The Little Mermaid.
After she had finished, she sat in the lobby with some friends, waiting for the performances to end.
"I've been singing for a while," she said, adding that most of her day had been spent performing in High School Musical, a production of the Howard County Summer Theater. In that production, she plays the "brainiac," she said, "which is opposite of my normal personality."
Anna Mateo, 14, who sang "Can't Bring Me Down" by Karina Pasian, said she'd "possibly" try out for the TV show version when she is old enough. She learned about the county competition on the library Web site, she said, and thought it would be fun to compete.
"I wasn't as nervous as I thought I'd be," she said. "It was more like a fun experience."
Throughout the competition, master of ceremonies Jojo Girard of WMIX-FM said jokingly that competitors would be judged on a 60-question math test in addition to their musical abilities.
"A little bit of algebra, not much," he said. "And four story problems."
Though everyone laughed, the judges were quite serious about their own math. For each category, they rated the singers on a point scale from 1 to 5, then tallied the results to choose the winner. All seemed to fall in the Paula Abdul category of erring on the side of generosity.
"I've never judged a competition like this before," Custer said. "It was hard to pick a winner."
Fadool, who also served as a judge last year, said it was fun.
"I'm always awed that the kids can sing as well as they can," she said.