SPRINGFEILD, Ill. (AP) — There's a chance you could walk away from the Illinois State Fair this year with more than just saltwater taffy, political ephemera and a tummy ache. You could snare a recording contract.
The popular television talent-search program "American Idol" will conduct open auditions for its annual season-long contest in the fair's opening days, Aug. 8 and 9.
"The big guys (celebrity hosts) aren't going to be here to do the tryouts, but if you get through this tryout, you don't have to go to the big auditoriums and wait with 50,000 people," state fair manager Amy Bliefnick said Thursday at the fairgrounds. "They will automatically advance you to the next level."
The talent search, conducted from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days near the entrance to the carnival midway, is just one reason organizers believe they can draw more people to the 162nd edition of the agricultural extravaganza.
Other firsts this year will be a "Golden Abe" awards program for food vendors, to encourage new and creative delights from the fried-on-a-stick crowd.
"Lately, meat parfaits, gator on a stick, fried candy bars and other fried creations have appeared on the scene," said Bryan Groves, vice president of consumer sales and marketing for The (Springfield) State Journal-Register, the awards' sponsor. "What culinary delicacies will they come up with next?"
The theme for this year's fair, which runs Aug. 7-17, is "Making Memories." Old favorites such as Conservation World will be back, and Happy Hollow will feature popular tropical bird shows and the "Swampmaster Gator Show." The popular CrossFit "Battle for the Hill" returns for a second year.
Agriculture — and particularly livestock — remains the fair's cornerstone, and a "celebrity showmanship" event will be offered Aug. 7 to highlight the top-tier animals visiting the capital city.
"The state fair is a mecca of fairs. It's one of the largest state fairs, and it's one of the most competitive state fairs that I ever go to ... ," said Larry Moffett, whose cattle-breeding operation southwest of Decatur is singled out this year because his family has shown cattle at the fair for 60 consecutive years. "If you stand in the top of your class at the Illinois State Fair, you're going to be very competitive nationally."
Agriculture Director Bob Flider made a point of highlighting investments Gov. Pat Quinn's administration has made in the fairgrounds on the day that the State Journal-Register reported (http://bit.ly/1nWhbR4 ) that repairs to the Grandstand's roof won't be completed by the fair's ribbon-cutting. But fair spokesman Jeff Squibb said the Grandstand "will be watertight and usable."
Grandstand acts include Robin Thicke, Jake Owen, Pitbull, Steely Dan, Boston and Hunter Hays.
"This year is all about making memories ... ," said Illinois County Fair Queen Summer Robbins of Coffeen. "I'm so excited to share those memories and make new memories. ... It never gets old being called 'princess.'"
Contact John O'Connor at https://twitter.com/apoconnor