BY LAURA MORALES – Miami Herald
Get ready to spin until you’re sick, shoot at moving targets with water guns, and cram your face with roasted corn, funnel cakes and candy apples.
For the 58th year, the Miami-Dade County Fair & Exposition is springing up at the corner of Coral Way and Southwest 107th Avenue. Laborers already have been at work assembling food kiosks, game booths and 90 midway rides for opening day Thursday.
The fair is introducing some new attractions this year to lure customers.
Saturday, local youngsters between the ages of 9 and 18 who fancy themselves the next Kelly Clarkson or Clay Aiken can put themselves at the mercy of judges for the new Tween Idol singing competition.
Participants must prove their vocal chops before a panel that includes Miami’s Syesha Mercado, a finalist on the seventh season of American Idol and Grammy-winning singer Albita.
Those chosen as finalists will return March 29 to compete for a trip to Los Angeles to see American Idol live, an appearance on WSVN-Fox 7’s Deco Drive and have the chance to sing the fair’s jingle, Be There, in next year’s ad campaign. Contestants can register at WSVN.com or fairexpo.com.
In South Florida’s youth culture, DJs — as opposed to live bands — rule, as evidenced by the growth of the 24-year-old Winter Music Conference, held in late March.
On April 3, turntable devotees will face off in the Iron DJ competition. The objective: to create a winning ”mash-up” of music from four songs, said fair marketing director Nancy Shook.
Contestants get ”a certain amount of time and sound clips to put together,” Shook said. The winning mix of clips will receive airplay on La Kalle 98.3.
Ever since they jiggled their way onto the scene, the Marlins Manatees, a cheering squad made up of overweight men, have made hundreds of fans of their own. Now, one of them will be the standard-bearer at the fair’s latest eating contest.
Competitors will try to stuff down as much as they can as quickly as they can of the fair’s best-selling treat: butter-drenched roasted corn.
”You’d think people would be more into the elephant ears, which are the second-best seller, but lots of people go straight for the corn,” said fair president and CEO Phil Clark.
Whoever manages to out-eat the Manatee on Thursday will win Marlins season tickets.
On the fair’s Main Stage, a new show will have people kicking up their heels with a demonstration of the Latin American culture that gives South Florida much of its unique flavor.
Last month, the fair auditioned a group of dancers, selecting six males and six females to lead fair-goers through ¡Baile! A Tour of Latin America Through Dance. ”All of the talent is local,” Shook said.
These local dancers will mambo, salsa, samba and cha-cha through an energetic half-hour lesson in cultura latinoamericana, replete with shiny costumes and lightning-quick moves. ”We’re blending a lot of music together where one piece will go into the other,” said show producer Richard Porter.
Show host Dario Alberico also will wow the crowd with a demo of his skills with the Argentine bolos.
”People go berserk over him,” Porter said.
The show will run all 18 days.
Saturday in Arnold Hall, some of the region’s brightest middle and high school students will pit the robots they’ve built against each other in a BattleBots-style competition.
With kids at the controls, the automatons will spin, glide and swing all sorts of appendages. Robots face off in an arena until one disables the other.
”There’s even an event where the kids have to engineer a robot which can throw a ball through a basket,” said fair competitive exhibits director Carol Douglass. Winners will receive cash prizes, trophies and ribbons.
In the Adventure Zone next to main entrance gates, veterinarian and tiger expert Dr. Josip Marcan will lead his group of giant striped cats through a show, Marcan’s Tiger Preserve, which showcases the animals’ natural behavior and beauty. Adult tigers and cubs will be on display.
Out on the midway, three new rides await the chance to test your nerve: the Freak Out, a giant pendulum that spins as it swings riders up to 80 feet in the air; the 135-foot Mega Drop; and the Disk-O, a flat disk that spins as it whizzes over a track rising to 42 feet on the ends.
”It’s like a cross between a roller coaster and a Tilt-A-Whirl,” said Amber Swegdan of North American Midway Entertainment.
And, for the first time, there will be two beer gardens.