After months of preparation, long days, and short nights – on Sunday, the Colts Cheerleaders held their audition showcase at the Hilbert Circle Theatre.
In honor of the team's 35th season in Indianapolis, it was a celebration of the past and an introduction to the future.
"I want this season to be special because to me, it is historic – being the 35th season that the Indianapolis Colts have had cheerleaders, I want this team and this season to be something unique and special," said Colts Cheer Director Kelly Tilley.
From their talent and their work ethic to their caring hearts, Tilley said the women showed right from the start that they were truly special.
"Preparing for the showcase, the amount of energy and effort and discipline and determination that went into it was a lot – and these women worked so hard, they shined so bright, and I know going into this season it's going to be the best that we've had so far because of the qualities and the characteristics that these women showed me this week."
CHEER SHOWCASE 2018 - Highlights
And to make it extra special, this year's showcase was hosted by former Colts cheerleader Lauren M. and actor Drew Powell, a die-hard Colts fan who grew up in Lebanon, Indiana and plays Solomon Grundy in Fox's hit show "Gotham."
"I've been doing all this heavy Gotham angry, dark, monster stuff and it's been a long time since I've gotten a chance to be silly," he said. "So, that's really my favorite thing to do – is be silly."
Powell came out on stage ready to earn his boots – only to find out he was actually there to emcee.
It was a role he was more suited for. And he loved every minute of it.
"This is really where I got my start – was being live on stage and doing talent shows and doing plays and musicals. So, this is where I feel most at home."
For Powell, anything that brings him home to Indiana is a welcome break in his jet setting lifestyle.
"I spent my whole life up through college in Indiana and then I moved to California and then subsequently, all around the world. I met my wife in Australia. But all the places I've been have only reinforced how much I love where I'm from. And I think that's really important that you appreciate where you're from – and I definitely do."
He also has great appreciation for the team he loves and the women who represent it.
"I have a great appreciation, not only for the process, but the way the Colts handle the cheerleaders. I think there's a lot of respect given them and they are great ambassadors for the city, for the organization. My experience is that I think they handle it differently and I think that's really cool – including this show."
Colts wide receiver Chester Rogers, a childhood actor himself, judged the competition and joined Powell on stage to reenact famous movie scenes from films like Star Wars, Titanic, and Dirty Dancing.
Just like acting, Rogers said auditioning for the Colts Cheerleaders is about standing out and never giving up.
"You've got to find that niche that makes you different from everybody else," he said. "From my auditions back in the day, I just had to find a way to be different from everybody. You're going to get told no – you're going to get told yes, but you have to have thick skin and know that if you don't get picked today, it's alright. Don't ever quit."
After group dances, interview questions, and individual performances, it was time for the judges to make their decisions.
Before introducing the 2018 Colts Cheerleaders, they welcomed back the 1984 cheerleaders – the first squad of Indianapolis Colts Cheerleaders and the women who set the bar for all the rest.
Then came the big moment.
Tilley took the stage to read the names and numbers of the women as they ran out in their white boots to perform as a team for the first time.
"To the 2018 squad, you surely did earn those boots," she said. "And I would like to say, vets, welcome home. Rookies, welcome to the NFL."
Natsuki's family traveled all the way from Japan to watch her dream of becoming a Colts cheerleader come true.
When it did, they were drowning in tears of joy and gratitude.
Best friends and roommates, Caroline and Sarah S. danced together at Butler and auditioned for the Colts together.
"I just remember being in the circle and Kelly was calling the numbers and I wasn't even thinking of my own number, I was thinking of Sarah's number – 24," said Caroline. "We're actually reversed, I was 42 and she was 24. I don't know how that happened, but hearing her number – I don't know if I've ever felt more joy. I'm so excited to share the stage with her."
Their journey has taken them from Hinkle Fieldhouse to Lucas Oil Stadium.
"I'm so excited to be able to continue dancing together and to just keep moving on in our journey," said Sarah.
There to cheer them on and welcome them to the Colts Cheer sisterhood was their Butler coach, former cheerleader Cassia, who also coached one-year veteran Alliyah.
"I wouldn't stop bothering them about auditioning for the team. I'm not ashamed to admit that, either," she said. "I just knew that they'd be so perfect for it and I just remember how incredible the experience I had was and I would like to share that too."
In the end, that's what it's all about – the sisterhood of the Horseshoe.
"Over the 35 seasons, when we met that first team and we sat down with the 1984 squad, the one thing that really stood out to me was how proud they are, their pride," said Tilley. "I think the women on our team are really proud to be a part of this team and I know that it's hard to get on it and I know that it's elite and it's the best of the best. And I feel like that's something that's probably been around for the last 35 seasons – the pride to represent the Horseshoe."
It's the foundation the program was built on.
And it will continue to be - season after season - for years to come.