Behind the bright smiles and cheery faces you see every week on the Eagles cheerleaders is a brutal audition process that begins Saturday.
Jillian Darrah thought she might have a leg up on the competition, considering that the Temple University senior made the Eagles cheerleading squad last year and appeared in all 10 of the team's preseason and regular-season home games.
But like every other cheerleading candidate, Darrah will have to show up for open auditions Saturday, starting inside the Panasonic Club and Touchdown Club at Lincoln Financial Field. Registration will begin at 10 a.m., followed by two rounds of judging that will start at 12:30 p.m.
"It used to be that all of the returning cheerleaders could skip the first round of tryouts," Darrah said. "So it's a little added stress, but I'm really excited to be re-auditioning this year."
Darrah is used to the constant juggling that comes with being a cheerleader. She has grown accustomed to a packed routine that includes classes, student teaching at John Hancock Middle School in Northeast Philadelphia, and a part-time job as a server at Davio's in Rittenhouse Square.
"At this point, I'm used to managing cheerleading into my schedule," Darrah said, pointing out that before making the Eagles cheerleading squad last season, her schedule was equally as demanding as a cheerleader for Temple.
Competition is something Darrah is used to as well. She has been cheerleading and taking dance classes since she was 4, encouraged by her mother, who was a cheerleader through high school.
"I grew up in a neighborhood with a lot of boys," Darrah said of her childhood in Warrington Township, where she rooted for the Eagles and Flyers. "I was always going to their football games and rooting for my neighbors and my brother, so I just fell into cheerleading."
Darrah survived the open call audition during her first attempt to become an Eagles cheerleader when she was a sophomore, only to be cut during the final audition show. That setback, she said, taught her a lot about her character when she successfully auditioned the second time around, earning a spot on the squad in front of friends and family, who wore "Team Jillian" apparel to the final auditions.
On Saturday, she'll be up against hundreds of competitors again, all vying for just 39 cheerleading spots on the team.
"You can't let yourself get comfortable, because now you know some of the girls going in that you're competing against," Darrah said. "I just keep reminding myself that even though I made it on the team least season, anything can happen, so I need to be ready."
Open Call Audition Details
Where: Lincoln Financial Field, inside the Panasonic Club and Touchdown Club
Parking: Parking in the "J" lot on South 11th Street will be free
Time: Registration begins at 10 a.m. All contestants are asked to arrive by 10:30 a.m.
Fee: Registration is $15 if you pre-register, or $25 at the door.