Suburban Chicago's Got Talent is back and bigger than ever.
There is a talented roster of 30 finalists versus 20 from last year for the summer-long talent competition presented by the Daily Herald, produced by the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre and sponsored by the Arlington Heights Chamber of Commerce.
That means that two sets of 15 acts will each compete over two different nights (7 p.m. on Sundays, June 23 and July 7) at the Metropolis. The field will then be cut in half, with 15 acts moving on.
The ultimate winner and a Fan Favorite determined by online voters in later rounds will be named at the Taste of Arlington Heights on Saturday, Aug. 10.
The top prize is an expenses-paid trip to audition for NBC's "America's Got Talent." The Fan Favorite wins a Funjet Vacation for two.
"We did a lot more in this year's general auditions to coach performers to think of this as a show for the later rounds of competition," said Charlie Beck, executive director of the Metropolis and a returning Suburban Chicago's Got Talent judge. "The ones who follow our direction well, whether they perform in show number one or number two, I'm sure those will be the ones to rise to the top."
Beck will be joined at the judging table by Micky York, Metropolis' music director; Barbara Vitello, who reviews theater for the Daily Herald; and Connie Canaday Howard, director of theater at the College of DuPage.
This time around, the audience at each live show will have a say in which performers make it to the next round. Beck explained that each audience member will be allowed to cast two votes for performers, and the results will be factored into the judges' tallies.
"Many of them are probably going to cast a vote for the performer they came to support, of course," Beck said. "But we want the second vote for somebody other than their friend or family member in the show so it will hopefully cancel out any favoritism and get them to really think about the talent."
Here are the 15 acts who will perform Sunday, June 23:
Biggest source of inspiration: My mother
Favorite performer: Andrea Bocelli
Life-changing performance I saw: A live concert of Andrea Bocelli at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont.
Personal challenges: I have dyslexia.
Talent: All-around entertainer
Biggest source of inspiration: Michael Jackson
Favorite performer: Ciara. She is also my celebrity crush!
Life-changing performance I saw: Michael Jackson at the Super Bowl in 1993.
Personal challenges: Throughout my entire adolescent and teen years, I was bullied by my peers. Seeking refuge in the arts was a great escape for me.
Occupation: Student (pursuing a B.F.A. in Musical Theater at Millikin University)
Biggest source of inspiration: My entire family (especially my grandpas), are my inspiration. That sounds sappy, but it's true. They are so supportive of me and I couldn't be the performer and person I am without them.
Favorite performer: I love Colbie Caillat, Ingrid Michaelson and Sara Bareilles.
Life-changing performance I saw: When I was 6 years old, I saw "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" in Chicago and that's where I caught the performance bug. I wanted to be up there so badly that I was crying after the show because I didn't want to leave the theater! I've been singing and performing ever since!
Personal challenges: I was bullied a lot from grade school to the end of middle school and even today I still struggle with that because it really did a number on my self esteem. For the longest time, I couldn't be who I really wanted to be because I didn't want to be made fun of again. But, I learned that in the end, it's not events or people that hold you back, it's yourself. And, as much as I wish I stood up for myself, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. Now, I can look in the mirror and be proud of who I am and not care what others think of me. I am a stronger and much happier version of myself!
Occupation: Vocal/guitar/piano teacher
Biggest source of inspiration: Etta James. I named my guitar after her alias "Miss Peaches." Her voice was huge and even the flaws of it made it even more beautiful and powerful.
Favorite performers: I'll always be a fan of the divas: Whitney (Houston), Mariah (Carey), Diana (Ross) and Aretha (Franklin). They move me!
Life-changing performance: I've known I was supposed to be a singer since I was 7 and my mom heard me sing "I Will Always Love You." She and my awesome family have motivated me to keep pressing on for that big break.
Personal challenges: I recently lost more than 100 pounds and it was the hardest thing I've ever had to do. But God and my family were on my side and I'm never looking back!
Occupation: Kohl's Department Store Freight Team Member
Talent: Vocal presence
Biggest source of inspiration: My collaborative band and our fundamental efforts to pursue a creative progress, and to in turn inspire anyone to achieve their individual goals and make their dreams a reality.
Favorite performer: Brainchild
Life-changing performance I saw: Gathering of the Tribes in South Charleston, April 2012. Various groups and solo performers, including Brainchild, were part of a three-day-long intimate microfestival. They came together to form an isolated moment shared by all who were looking to embrace the music in it purest form.
Personal challenges: Losing the self-perpetuating ego and learning to love what you play. Also discovering all the connections made by people that are able to take something more from it than just your personal perspective.
Duo Featuring: Joseph Calderone of South Elgin and Mike Kelly of Hoffman Estates
Talents: Writing and performing for Joe and writing for Mike
Calderone's favorite performers: The three Bs: The Beatles, The Beach Boys and The Band
Kelly's favorite performers: The Rolling Stones, Foo Fighters
Life-changing performance for Calderone: When I was a kid, I saw a video of the Beatles on "The Ed Sullivan Show" (or some other concert) and that got me started.
Personal challenges: We've been with other bands before and a big challenge is when we all don't agree with each other and/or the direction of the band.
Occupation: Garden coach and home cheese maker
Talent: Combining a cornucopia of songs and stories with an offbeat sense of comedy. Call me the Humorous Human Jukebox!
Biggest source of inspiration: My audience. Seeing people laugh at my jokes, groan at my puns and smile in recognition when I play a song they haven't heard for a while is what fires up my creativity.
Favorite performers: The Maddox Brothers and Rose. They knew how to combine great musicianship, colorful costumes and a spirit of fun that made their performances crackle with energy!
Life-changing performance: In college, I went to an open mic being held in my dorm. I saw one performer forget the words to his song and another who needed a friend to hold the words up for her. I immediately thought, "I can do better than that." That was all the coaxing I needed to start performing in public.
Personal challenges: I started my freshman year in college by breaking my jaw and ended it with emergency surgery to remove my spleen -- during finals week! I spent my Christmas vacation studying for the finals I missed and managed to make them up the following semester while attending that second semester's classes. Several of my friends told me that they would have quit after what I went through, but I'm made of stronger stuff.
Band members: Patrick Ryan of Wheeling, Quinn Fitzsimons of Arlington Heights, Joel Smith of Arlington Heights and Sean Ryan of Arlington Heights
Talent: Beatles tribute band
Biggest source of inspiration: Our biggest source of inspiration as a group is the Beatles.
Favorite performer: The Beatles
Life-changing performance: The first time we saw a professional Beatles tribute band (American English). They try to emulate the Beatles live, and their show has really inspired us to pursue being a Beatles tribute band.
Personal challenges: The biggest challenge would be reproducing Beatles songs note for note and word for word to create accurate covers and competing against bands who are performing their own original material.
Occupation: Host at Chessies Restaurant in Barrington
Talent: Theater, acting onstage
Biggest source of inspiration: My family
Favorite performer: That's harder than choosing your favorite movie or book.
Life-changing performance: In 2004, I watched my sister Lucy in a high school musical production of "Crazy For You." She and the show persuaded me to live a life of theater and music.
Personal challenges: Right now it's finishing my education.
Hometown: Oak Brook
Talent: Singing, whether pop or opera
Biggest source of inspiration: My mom
Favorite performers: Celine Dion and Whitney Houston
Life-changing performance: I had my first major public performance when I was just shy of 12 years old. I won a talent competition at a medical convention my mom was attending, and I sang "My Heart Will Go On" to the whole audience of attendees -- hundreds of people! Somehow, all my stage fright disappeared, and it was then that I discovered how much I loved performing.
Talents: We can sing and play guitars, but songwriting is what we feel is our main talent.
Sean's biggest source of inspiration: The Beatles, but more specifically John Lennon.
Karen's biggest source of inspiration: Yoga. It clears the cobwebs in my mind and allows me to see and use what I already have inside of me.
Sean's favorite performer: Ray Lamontagne
Karen's favorite performer: Brandi Carlile
Sean's life-changing performance: Hearing The Beatles for the first time woke something in me that I did not know existed. It was like being hit with a Technicolor sound hammer.
Karen's life-changing performance: When I was around the age of 5, I was at a nursing home at Christmastime. We were singing to the people there, and my mom had wanted me to do a solo of "What Child Is This." Initially, I refused -- so she took me aside and explained to me that I had a gift that I should share with the world and not be selfish with it. I sang the song alone, had other nervous performances along the way, but always kept that in my mind as I gained confidence through the years.
Sean's personal challenges: Getting picked on and feeling like an outcast because I was "different" according to my peers.
Karen's personal challenges: We have three sons. And our second taught me so much about myself. As a child, teen and adult, I struggled with depression and anxiety, and social issues. When we had our second son, we knew he was on the autism spectrum when he was 3. It has been a long journey, but with the help of a doctor, we changed his diet, and he is like a different kid. I adopted his diet changes, and in doing so, cured my own issues, just by what I was eating. I now know there is nothing wrong with him, he is just different, and I myself may have been given the same diagnosis if I was born today. Diet plays a giant role.
Occupation: Aspiring musician
Talent: Composing music using loop pedals
Biggest source of inspiration: On a daily basis, I am inspired by my two daughters, Ella and Madison. Musically speaking, my Uncle Bob has always been someone I looked up to. He was in the '60s psychedelic band Rotary Connection.
Favorite performers: The Underdogs. They have been around since the mid-'60s and are rocking harder than ever. They are giving The Rolling Stones a run for their money.
Life-changing performance: Watching my brother's band, Flashlight, play at the Metro when I was 17. Actually, it was just going to their practices that really inspired me. Hearing music that powerful being played right in front of me was pretty amazing. That, and watching Marty McFly play at the Enchantment Under The Sea dance.
Personal challenges: Just recently I have been diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis in both of my index fingers. It has occasionally made it difficult to play music.
Band members: Stephen LaFleur and C.J. LaFleur
Talent: Creating and performing music
Biggest source of inspiration: Entertaining the audience
Favorite performers: Crystal Castles
Life-changing performance: Sounds of the Forest Music Festival at SIU
Personal challenges: Thankfully, no. We are very fortunate.
Occupation: College recruiter
Biggest source of inspiration: My mother -- to see all the sacrifices she has made simply because she believed in me is amazing, and I would want nothing less but to prove her right.
Favorite performer: Prince. He is just incredible!
Life-changing performance: I won a competition called "Out At the Ballpark," which allowed me to sing the national anthem for the Cubs. Although judging was based partially on audience approval, I was able to snag the part without a single person there supporting me. It just confirmed that I actually have the talent to push myself further than what I originally thought would be possible.
Personal challenges: Everyone has challenges. There are circumstances I would change and situations that have been difficult. But, hey, look at me, all living and stuff! Couldn't have been too bad!
Biggest source of inspiration: Franz Liszt
Favorite performer: Marc Andre Hamelin
Life-changing performance: Started playing at age 3, so no real inspiring event.
Personal challenges: Severe stuttering during childhood and the death of my older brother six years ago.Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.