As reporter who has covered Chicago area arts and entertainment, I was not surprised by the breadth of talent revealed during this summer's Suburban Chicago's Got Talent competition.
And as the Daily Herald's theater critic and former critic at large, I know from experience the caliber of musicians, actors, dancers, comedians and performing artists suburban theaters, music venues and clubs attract.
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But what impressed me over the weeks I served as a guest judge for the competition, co-sponsored by the Daily Herald, the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre in Arlington Heights and several other suburban businesses, was the profound impact the performing arts have beyond the obvious entertainment value, which -- as this competition demonstrated -- was considerable.
Consider the dedication evidenced by Robert Osiol, an accomplished young jazz pianist from Mount Prospect. A full-time engineering student at the University of Illinois-Champaign, Osiol -- a top 5 finalist -- spends hours each day perfecting his playing.
In the a cappella hip-hop duo iLLest Vocals, Shawn Kurian, 25, of Wheeling handles lead vocals, while Sanu John, 25, of Skokie, supplies the beat-box accompaniment. But their performances made it clear theirs is an equal partnership, one that earned them a trip to audition for NBC's "America's Got Talent" after they were named Suburban Chicago's Got Talent winners and Fan Favorites Saturday.
Top 10 teenage duo Jake Basala and Calvin Hughes, of Lindenhurst, demonstrated their ingenuity making club-ready techno music using Ninento Game Boys and a Commodore 62. Twenty-year-old singer/songwriter Woody James (James Lowell Woodraska of Millington) first channeled Johnny Cash, then impressed the judges with an original composition. Then there's 10-year-old Agne Giedrityte from Downers Grove. After a technical glitch forced her to stop and restart her number during the semifinals, the pint-size singer continued without missing a note. Grace under pressure, as well as her voice, earned her a spot in the top 10.
And Agne wasn't the only contestant to remain cool as a cucumber when confronted by a missing microphone, an unplugged amplifier or an errant yo-yo slipping off its string. Every one handled the minor mishaps like the pros some of them are. Take Algonquin yo-yo artist and top 5 finalist Shane Lubecker. Already a champion, the 16-year-old competes around the country. Top five finalists Camille Eiseman, 41, and Terry Tank, 50 -- known as Faith and Whisky -- are members of the country band Western Sky. Top 10 finalist and standup comedian AJ Lubecker (Shane's brother) has performed at Schaumburg's Laugh Out Loud theater.
Self-discipline. Collaboration. Creativity. Poise. Those qualities, as well as talent, were reflected in the contestants' performances. When people consider the value of the arts and arts education, that's it. Perhaps not every Suburban Chicago's Got Talent finalist will pursue music or comedy or yo-yoing full time. But self-control, confidence, imagination, perseverance and everything else they've learned through years of practice and performance, success and failure, will pay off in any profession and last a lifetime.