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updated: 8/31/2012 6:41 AM

iLLest Vocals humbled to win both legs of talent competition

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  • iLLest Vocals featuring Sanu John, 25, of Skokie and Shawn Kurian, 25, of Wheeling, performing as one of the five finalists of Suburban Chicago's Got Talent for the judges and fans at the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre in Arlington Heights.

      iLLest Vocals featuring Sanu John, 25, of Skokie and Shawn Kurian, 25, of Wheeling, performing as one of the five finalists of Suburban Chicago's Got Talent for the judges and fans at the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre in Arlington Heights.
    Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

By Scott Morgan

Shawn Kurian of Wheeling and Sanu John of Skokie make up the hip-hop and R&B vocal a cappella duo iLLest Vocals, which emerged doubly triumphant in the recent Suburban Chicago's Got Talent competition.

Not only did iLLest Vocals win a Funjet vacation for two by having the most Fan Favorite online votes, the vocal duo also took the top prize of an audition for NBC-TV's reality series "America's Got Talent." It's a feat that has humbled iLLest Vocals since they bested nearly 200 other acts that auditioned for the summer-long competition that was co-sponsored by the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, the Arlington Heights Chamber of Commerce, Wintrust Community Banks, Schaumburg-based law firm Gardi & Haught LTD, College Textbooks and the Daily Herald.

"The energy and enthusiasm that (Kurian and John) put into their performances was quite evident," said Metropolis executive director Charlie Beck, who was impressed that the duo took both of the contest's top prizes.

"It was a pleasant surprise because it meant that either the judges got it right or the fans got it right -- either way you look at it," Beck said, noting that the judges did not know the Fan Favorite winner when they were making their deliberations to choose the overall contest winner.

"I actually thought the Fan Favorite prize was going to be given to the runner up," said John, who appeared alone at the final Suburban Chicago's Got Talent showcase performance on Saturday, Aug. 5, since Kurian had to leave the country due to a family emergency. "When they called our name again, I was really shocked."

"We did (Suburban Chicago's Got Talent) more as a personal enjoyment thing," said Kurian during a recent telephone interview. "But now people are noticing."

As a result of the wins, iLLest Vocals made a recent appearance on WGN's Jonathon Brandmeier Show and they're set to appear again at the Metropolis as part of a "Suburban Showcase" concert. But more importantly for Kurian and John, they're already gearing up for the big "America's Got Talent" audition, even though the preliminary audition dates and cities for the show (not to mention the lineup of judges for 2013) hadn't been announced when they were interviewed.

"It's training mode," said Kurian, noting how he and Kurian have been running through their material and dance moves and closely watching the current season of "America's Got Talent," which has yet to name a winner for 2012. Kurian and John estimate their actual audition for the show might not be until late winter or early spring in 2013.

"We're also doing more things now to enhance our image as far as marketing goes," Kurian said, noting how they're speaking with music directors, photographers, graphic designers and web designers to make iLLest Vocals a more professional-looking and sounding group.

Kurian and John, two 25 year-old friends who come from Indian-American families with strong musical roots, trace the origins of their vocal duo group iLLest Vocals to a party about two years ago. John was showing off his percussive vocal beat-boxing skills and then Kurian jumped in with his a cappella vocals. The duo didn't even apply a name to their group until they auditioned for the first American season of "The X Factor" last year in Chicago. Since Kurian was providing the a cappella vocals to the percussive beatboxing skills of John (who also works as a disc jockey and MC under the name of "DJ iLLest"), the name iLLest Vocals was a spur-of-the-moment decision that felt like a natural choice.

Though iLLest Vocals didn't make it onto "The X Factor" (John and Kurian said they got as far as a standby list), they also hope to use their experience of going through those talent auditions to their advantage for "America's Got Talent."

"That helps a lot -- knowing what to expect," Kurian said, hoping that iLLest Vocals will have more luck with "America's Got Talent" since its emphasis is on variety rather than mostly vocals on "The X Factor." They also know that they can't rest on their recent award-winning laurels.

"We have multiple things that we'd like to do," Kurian said. "We never want to be the same over and over again. Once you have the momentum, you can't coast. You have to keep on building no matter what."

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