SO MUCH FOR nervous energy and blushing school kids. At the preliminary tryout for The 25th Annual Minnesota State Fair Amateur Talent Competition, the air is thick with the jaded professionalism of, well, career amateurs.

Danie Patin is one of the lamé-decked figures sitting in front of the State Fair main band shell. All the way from Estherville, Iowa, Patin has come to take her shot at winning the $1,500 grand prize--along with about 500 other hopefuls. Seemingly unfettered by nerves, Danie spends her time quietly, stretching and detachedly examining her face in a makeup mirror.

Behind her, a group of nattily dressed toddlers make a grand entrance in a entourage of minivans. A splash of color in skimpy red, white, and blue cheerleading uniforms, they tap their way across the gray, empty parking lot. Amanda, Trumpie, Alexa, Matthew, and Tony are members of the group Space Jam from the Lark and Dance Studio. Like Danie, they too show no fear. Space Jam have been practicing their routine Welcome to the Space Jam three times a week for between half a year to a year, depending on which kid you ask. Are they nervous? "No," they say, in unison. And if they win? "Well," says Amanda, "Then they send you something? Then you win something? Then you go to the finals? You find out in the mail?" But such vacillation won't do for a contender. "Use your Amanda voice," her mother says, pushing Amanda toward my tape recorder. And, like that, Amanda speaks no more.

Next, the last Space Jam member arrives, jutting her hips and sporting a pouty smile. "Hello, hello," Brittany says to no one in particular, her ponytail bouncing in time to her tap shoes. "Do you have any lipstick?" the toddler asks, her lips already drooping under an inch of the stuff. Bring on the spotlights; these tarted-up tots are more than ready for their moment.

Backstage, 12-year-old Page Poyer waits patiently for her turn to sing "That's the Glory of Love." "I've been singing for seven years," says Page. "I'm not nervous at all." True to her word, Page goes on to use up her four-minute time limit with a bracing rendition of her song--leaving little doubt about the glory of anything. Seventeen-year-old Betsy, a four-time Amateur Talent Competition veteran who will be dancing her way through "Luck Be a Lady" this evening, is also not nervous. "I do my solo every year," she sighs. It's a summer ritual, this audition, devoid of the usual tears of preteen pageantry.

Performing somewhere in the middle of these pro attitudes and carefully stitched costumes is 18-year-old Tracy Larson, dressed in ratty tennis shoes, formless black pants, and a purple, sequined shirt. In a sweet, unaffected voice, she sings "Stay." "I don't understand why you don't really care," she croons softly, unaware, apparently, that the judges have momentarily turned their attentions to other distractions. Afterwards, she trades her stage blouse for a Marilyn Manson T-shirt, and climbs into a jeep filled with friends and cigarette smoke. "This is my third year doing the tryout. I've never made it and I'm probably just wasting my money," she says, laughing as they peel out.

The 25th Annual Minnesota State Fair Amateur Talent Competition plays on the main band shell stage on August 31; call 642-2218.

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