SALT LAKE CITY — Chloe Andes made a birthday wish, and it came true.
Dressed to match her younger siblings in a set of wizard robes straight from the pages of "Harry Potter," Chloe turned 14 years old at Salt Lake Comic Con's FanX event Saturday. It's the only place she wanted to be, and so she and her family drove up from St. George to spend the weekend together at the pop culture celebration that has become a staple for many Utahns.
"I like being able to see all of my different interests in one place, and being able to 'nerd' with everybody," Chloe said.
Her birthday gift was a photo with Matt Smith — the English actor who played the 11th Doctor in the BBC hit series "Doctor Who" — who she says is "one of my favorite actors."
Chloe first attended a Salt Lake Comic Con event in September with her mom and siblings, while a last-minute school obligation kept dad from joining them. Experiencing the convention for the first time, Rick Andes, dressed as his daughter's favorite Doctor, agreed it was a great place to spend time with his kids.
"We've had a great time. It's really fun interacting with everyone else that is dressed up, or not," Andes said. "We're loving it. This is something that we like as a family."
FanX wrapped up its third event Saturday, again taking a smaller, streamlined approach to the massive Salt Lake Comic Con, which takes place in the fall and attracts upward of 120,000 guests. Organizers estimated attendance at the Salt Palace Convention Center neared 50,000 on Saturday, while participation on Thursday and Friday wasn't far behind.
This year's FanX guest list stepped outside traditional lines for a pop culture event, bringing in astronaut Buzz Aldrin, members of beloved '90s boy bands The Backstreet Boys and NSYNC, authors, artists and merchants in order to appeal to all kinds of interests.
For Andes' two youngest daughters, there were plastics tiaras and plenty of people dressed as princesses. Twelve-year-old Hyrum was most interested in meeting his favorite authors, including Christopher Paolini of the "Eragon" series, "Fablehaven" author Brandon Mull, and Brandon Sanderson of the "Mistborn" chronicles.
Hyrum, who is autistic, finds comfort escaping for a while into his favorite books, his mother said.
"Reading really helps him calm down and relax," said Michelle Andes, who enjoyed seeing her son chat, get autographs and take photos with the authors.
Aldrin's attendance attracted interest from Utahns such as Gov. Gary Herbert and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. Meanwhile, other FanX celebrities sought out opportunities to meet Aldrin, Salt Lake Comic Con co-founder Bryan Brandenburg said.
"People like Jason Isaacs came up a said, 'This is the coolest comic con guest I've ever been around,'" Brandenburg said. "They spent about an hour together talking at the hotel."
Among the improvements the organization has sought to make since its first Salt Lake Comic Con three years ago, Brandenburg especially praised the gains that were made in ADA accessibility at the convention. Organizers also worked to improve wait times and congestion for those who had purchased photo ops with their favorite stars, and the organization on the convention floor.
Brandenburg and co-founder Dan Farr already have big plans in the works for September's event, including an appearance from William Shatner, the original Captain Kirk of "Star Trek" to honor the show's 50th anniversary, and exclusive figurines from new business partner Funko POP.
Some of the weekend's biggest celebrities appeared for panels Saturday, including "Avengers" star Jeremy Renner, who chided fans for occasionally asking for selfies with him when they run into him in the restroom; and Kate Beckinsale of "Underworld" and "Serendipity," who was presented with a portrait of herself made entirely of Lego pieces.
FanX ended on a party note, with Joey Fatone of NSYNC staying a few extra hours to call in a DJ and dance with fans. The crowd chanted his name and sang along with him to some of the boy band's hits. Fatone was at the convention promoting the SyFy flick he starred in, "Dead 7," which airs April 1.
Vendors, peddling everything from collectible figurines to apparel to art, also called the event a win. Jeff Bleich, who founded Galactic Toys three years ago, drove from Grand Rapids, Michigan, for a chance to sell at FanX. Among the most popular items for fans of all ages were "grabable" plush toys and figurines from all genres, he said.
Bleich sees no age limit for the fans coming to his booth.
"I think it comes from their childhood," Bleich said. "People are wanting to buy toys, and we see a lot of collectors coming through who want to complete their collection."
The booth was overrun Friday by a rush for their original product, a Slinky-like loop called a Galactic Globe, after "Doctor Who" actress Alex Kingston was seen playing with one, Bleich said.
"(FanX) is awesome. It's been amazing so far," said Fatone, adding that he hopes to return to future Salt Lake Comic Con events. "We took a chance and it worked."
At FanX 2016's final event, the customary cosplay contest allowed fans to show off intricate costumes from all genres, many of which were homemade.Comment on this story
The event even included a surprise, onstage proposal for one of the participants.
She said yes.