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Article updated: 1/24/2013 5:07 PM

Suburban talent finalists prep for 'AGT' auditions

By Scott C. Morgan

Shawn Kurian and Sanu John were all set to audition as the beat-boxing duo iLLest Vocals for NBC's "America's Got Talent" in San Antonio, Texas.

iLLest Vocals earned the mid-January audition trip as winners of last summer's Suburban Chicago's Got Talent.

Then the producers of "America's Got Talent" added a Chicago audition stop at McCormick Place on Jan. 26 and 27. Kurian and John's Texas flight, hotel and rental car were already booked, but they questioned whether they should save their audition for the Windy City.

"We originally picked San Antonio first of all for the weather," said John, adding that they thought their act might stand out more in a smaller city.

In the end, though, Kurian, 25, of Wheeling and John, 26, of Skokie used their San Antonio trip as a getaway. The two decided it would be best to represent their hometowns by auditioning in Chicago.

"It's great that we get to do it here in Chicago," Kurian said. "It's nice that we have a guaranteed time slot and we don't have to worry about freezing outside."

John and Kurian might also see some of their former Suburban Chicago's Got Talent competitors at the Chicago auditions. Screeners with "America's Got Talent" got wind of last summer's competition and contacted the Arlington Heights Chamber of Commerce and the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre to offer up 19 other audition opportunities for finalists of Suburban Chicago's Got Talent, co-sponsored by those organizations, local businesses and the Daily Herald.

"It will give a definite advantage to those who participated in last summer's event," said Metropolis Executive Director Charlie Beck.

Beck said some of the competition's top 20 finalists are not able to audition this weekend, so the Metropolis has contacted acts from the judges' top 30 list to take those open spots.

"I wasn't expecting it," said James Lowell Woodraska (aka Woody James), a 20-year-old country and folk singer/songwriter from Millington, Ill. James made it to the final five round of Suburban Chicago's Got Talent and was voted Fan Favorite in early rounds of the competition before losing that title -- and a Funjet vacation -- to iLLest Vocals after more than 234,000 votes were cast online at dailyherald.com.

"I hopped right on board," James said about the "America's Got Talent" audition.

So did 19-year-old comedian AJ Lubecker of Algonquin, who made it to the Top 10 of Suburban Chicago's Got Talent. Lubecker wasn't planning on trying out for "America's Got Talent" in Chicago but changed his mind when the special audition offer was made.

"I'm happy to not wait in line all day to audition," he said.

"When I had auditioned (for 'America's Got Talent') when I was 15, it was a madhouse. It took forever."

John and Kurian are also veterans at auditioning for "America's Got Talent." Last year they drove to St. Louis and braved the whole cattle call audition process. The duo say they landed a place on a standby list but didn't go any further in the competition.

Now as winners of Suburban Chicago's Got Talent, Kurian and John are hoping they'll do better.

The Metropolis has been doing its part to help iLLest Vocals come up with a killer audition by offering free vocal coaching sessions with former Suburban Chicago's Got Talent judge and Metropolis Music Director Micky York.

"What I'm there for is mostly an outside ear," said York, who is amazed at how John and Kurian are able to vocally switch things up by riffing and improvising. "We talk about what we think the judges might be interested in and what the different screeners might react the most strongly to and just try to come up with something more awesome than what they started with."

In the months since their suburban talent win, iLLest Vocals has made appearances on WGN radio and performed for a few private parties. In fact, Kurian said an impromptu a cappella performance at the San Antonio rental car agency got them upgraded to a Dodge Challenger.

Still, the two have kept up their day jobs with Kurian working at the Niles X-Sport and John doing security for Allstate on top of finishing a radiology degree at Triton College and doing DJ gigs on the weekends.

"We're just hoping for the best," Kurian said about this weekend's audition. "We're going to give it our all and try to get on the show and make people proud."

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