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posted: 7/5/2013 6:00 AM

Second group of Suburban Chicago's Got Talent finalists prepare to perform

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  • Alexis Nguyen of Pingree Grove sings her selection during day one of auditions for Suburban Chicago's Got Talent. Nguyen was recently named as a top-30 finalist in the summer-long competition.

      Alexis Nguyen of Pingree Grove sings her selection during day one of auditions for Suburban Chicago's Got Talent. Nguyen was recently named as a top-30 finalist in the summer-long competition.
    Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

  • Luke Young, Chinese Take Out

    Luke Young, Chinese Take Out
    Photos by Chelsey Boutan

  • Alex Guzman

    Alex Guzman

  • Johnny K & Tempest Rising

    Johnny K & Tempest Rising

  • Andrew Johnston

    Andrew Johnston

  • wEs Lee "K"

    wEs Lee "K"

  • Riley Mangan

    Riley Mangan

  • MELZ Band

    MELZ Band

  • Alexis Nguyen

    Alexis Nguyen

  • No Immunity

    No Immunity

  • Sarah Norman

    Sarah Norman

  • San Sandberg

    San Sandberg

  • Tiffany Streng

    Tiffany Streng

  • Gabriela Francesca

    Gabriela Francesca

  • Mary Hilbrink

    Mary Hilbrink

  • Viper Fever

    Viper Fever


Fifteen acts have already performed and 15 more are ready to go in Suburban Chicago's Got Talent, a summer-long competition presented by the Daily Herald, produced by the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre and sponsored by the Arlington Heights Chamber of Commerce.

The next 15 acts, the second half of the top 30 finalists, perform at 7 p.m. Sunday, July 7, at the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre.

They have to win over members of the audience, who have a vote, and the judges: Metropolis executive director Charlie Beck, Metropolis music director Micky York, College of DuPage director of theater Connie Canaday Howard and Daily Herald writer Barbara Vitello, who reviews theater.

The judges were impressed by the first half of the Top 30, who performed June 23.

"While it was fun hearing classic rock covers, R&B standards reinterpreted and mashups of more recent tunes, I was especially glad to hear original music," said Vitello, sharing her thoughts after the first 15 of the Top 30 finalists performed. "I hope we'll hear more during the next round."

After Sunday, the field will be cut in half. Then, those 15 acts will fight it out to make it to the top 10.

The ultimate goal is to win Suburban Chicago's Got Talent, which has a top prize of an expenses-paid trip to audition for producers of NBC's "America's Got Talent." There's also a Fan Favorite based on online voting starting in the next round. The Fan Favorite wins a Funjet Vacation for two.

Here are the 15 acts who will perform Sunday, July 7:

Chinese Take Out

Featuring: Luke Young and Ronnie Greco

Hometown: Lombard

Occupation: High school students

Talent: Beatboxing

Biggest source of inspiration: Our choir director Mr. Catt, from Glenbard East High School, who has been nominated for one of the best music educators in the United States.

Favorite performer: Masta Mic and Skiller

Life-changing performance: Our first time performing together at our high school's battle of the bands. I asked Ronnie to join me on stage, because I performed solo for both my freshman and sophomore year. After I opened up, Ronnie joined me and our freestyle beatbox collaboration made the crowd go insane!

Personal challenges: We believe that life is full of ups and downs and heartbreaking moments and struggles, and of course beatboxing and music gets us through these tough times, but that's not why we beatbox. We beatbox because it's the one thing that gives us complete joy and happiness. While others play music because they lost a loved one or they are diagnosed with a life-threatening disease, we beatbox for ourselves. It sounds selfish, we know, but if we ever beatboxed for anyone else, it wouldn't be the same. It would sound like some one else beatboxing. It wouldn't sound like the beats that come straight from our hearts, and those beats are the best beats anyone could hear because they're raw, heartfelt and the realest beats that could be made.

Gabriela Francesca

Hometown: Palatine

Occupation: Student at Berklee College of Music in Boston

Talent: Singing

Biggest source of inspiration: I have a favorite quote 'Yet what is any ocean, but a multitude of drops?' This inspires me by reminding me that everything I do -- my words, my music, my art -- all are a significant part of the universe. I may feel small, but the 'ocean' would not be the same without the 'drops' I contribute.

Favorite performer: I absolutely love Mika. He has an incredible energy in his voice and he makes performance a true art. His writing is unbelievable, and I dream of the day I collaborate with him!

Life-changing performance: When I was 8, I auditioned for my first show, a community theater production of 'Annie.' I had never done any kind of theater performance outside of school, so the audition seemed like a long shot. I waited in line, amongst dozens of tiny girls with red curly wigs on, far more experienced than I. My mom seemed to be the only parent there that wasn't helping their child warm up or powdering their little girl's nose. I went in with a smile on my face and a confident strut, and walked out as Annie. I firmly believe that with talent and a whole lot of belief in one's self, anything is possible.

Personal challenges: Pursuing music as a career was a hard decision to make. My parents were firmly supportive, but when friends' parents or even friends in general found out I was only applying to music schools, I could see the worry in their eyes. Society feeds us that music is 'not a real career.' I had to listen to my heart and realize that I wouldn't be truly happy pursuing anything else. Also, I was in Boston this year during the marathon bombing. I was two blocks away from the explosions. My school went on lockdown and for the first time in my life, I understood how it felt to be afraid to go outside. I dealt with post-traumatic stress symptoms for several weeks. It was the scariest time of my life. I can't tell you how proud I was to stand with the city of Boston and be Boston strong after all that had occurred.

Alex Guzman

Hometown: West Chicago

Occupation: Assistant teacher at a day care

Talent: Singing

Biggest source of inspiration: My biggest inspirations would have to be my mom and grandpa. They have supported and been there for me since the beginning. They have helped me to be the person I am today. I love them with everything I have. They are my first and true fans!

Favorite performer: Vocally ... hands down Beyoncé! She is phenomenal and her voice is unlike any other! I also love Drake. I could listen to him all day long, his music speaks to me and I can feel what he says in every song.

Life-changing performance: I can't say that I've had a life changing experience, but I can say that the only reason I haven't given up is because of the love and support I have gotten from my true fans. From family, friends, to even strangers ... everyone who has ever heard me sing has asked me why I haven't made it BIG yet. I mean what can you say ... I just try my best in everything I do.

Personal challenges: Growing up. Learning how to juggle work and singing is hard. But I always make time for my singing. I have to. I've also had a challenge in learning to believe and have faith in myself. I really dislike when people are too cocky and I would never want to be labeled that way. I have learned to have self confidence. Being cocky and being confident are two completely different things.

Mary Hilbrink

Hometown: Fox River Grove

Occupation: Student

Talent: Singing

Biggest source of inspiration: My mom

Favorite performer: Royal Tailor

Life-changing performance: Winter Jam

Johnny K & Tempest Rising

Featuring: John Richard Koziol Jr. and his band

Hometown: Arlington Heights

Occupation: Singer, songwriter, dancer, guitar player and owner of Choice Dental Inc. in Arlington Heights

Talent: Singing, songwriting, guitar playing

Biggest source of inspirations: God and my family. My musical inspirations are Jimmy Page, Led Zeppelin, Joe Perry, Aerosmith.

Favorite performers: Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, Segovia, Gypsy Kings, Rodrigo Gabriella, Bryan Ferry and Roy Orbison.

Life-changing performance:When we got the chance to audition in front of an audience of 5,000 in Rosemont for the celebrity judges of 'America's Got Talent.'

Personal challenges: Trying to balance music, dentistry and my personal life.

Andrew Johnston

Hometown: Bourbonnais

Occupation: Student

Talent: Singing

Biggest source of inspiration: Jennifer Hudson

Favorite performer: Whitney Houston

Life-changing performance: When I was a freshman in high school, I got bullied a lot and halfway through the year auditions for the school talent show took place. I made it and sang 'Me and Mrs. Jones' and at the end of my performance received a standing ovation from the entire student body coupled with thunderous cheers and applause!

Personal challenges: I've had a lot of nos and closed doors in my life with regard to music. In fact, I went from being the star of my high school talent show to not even making the show my senior year. It's things like that that push me to be even better and hone my performing skills.

wEs LeE "K" (Wesley Kochan)

Hometown: Bartlett

Occupation: Recreation therapist (specializing in music and art)

Talent: Music, especially playing guitar

Biggest source of inspiration: The people who are positively affected by my musical performances, whether in concert, on recordings or during therapeutic music sessions!

Favorite performer: My favorite performer is Yngwie Malmsteen. And if there can be a tie, also, Jimi Hendrix.

Life-changing performance: A year and a half ago, when I was with the band, First Star Destiny, I realized I really wanted to branch out from mainstream rock performances. I wanted to explore how to perform the likes of Beethoven and Bach in a unique style on electric guitar -- fusion style, so it could also rock or even be performed with a Spanish/Flamenco influence. And whenever I want to get bluesy or Hendrixesque, I can do that too. Eclectic -- freestlyin' -- fusion!

Personal challenges: Many, including OCD and Tourette's syndrome and music has been a special blessing that has made a huge difference!

Riley Mangan

Hometown: Arlington Heights

Occupation: Undergraduate student majoring in biology at Davidson College. Summer research intern at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine.

Talent: Jazz piano

Biggest source of inspiration: My longtime music instructor Rich Pancratz fostered the development of my style and fueled my interest in jazz piano.

Favorite performers: Jazz artists including Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans and Miles Davis.

Life-changing performance: I had the opportunity to perform for and receive instruction from jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis after one of his performances at the Chicago Symphony Center. His advice greatly influenced my study of jazz.


Band members: Gary Ehlebracht of Naperville, Julie Zuker of Schaumburg, Dan Lawler of Elk Grove Village (not pictured: Mike Medill of Elk Grove Village, and Mike and Julie Zuker of Schaumburg)

Occupation: Structural designer (Ehlebracht); Credit analyst (Julie Zuker); Former school social worker (Mike Zuker); Senior consultant (Lawler); Systems analyst (Medill)

Talent: Music

Biggest source of inspiration: As a band, our inspiration comes from collaborating creatively. When we write a song together, everyone has input. Collectively, we've written some pretty good music, but then I'm a little biased.

Favorite performers: Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Clapton,

Ehlebracht's life-changing performance: I've always been around music. Whether playing or listening to it. My dad plays guitar, mandolin, violin and piano. I come from a family of seven and my dad would have all the kids play something or sing, to accompany him on the guitar or mandolin. My older brother had already learned the guitar so I was stuck with the bongos. I really wanted to play guitar so I stared to teach myself when I was around 12.

Personal challenges: We've all had the usual challenges: balancing work, family and band. But our current drummer, Mike Zuker, has had the most challenges, beginning with Type 1 diabetes. That disease has led to some major health-related problems, but it won't keep him off the drum kit.

Alexis Mai Nguyen

Hometown: Pingree Grove

Occupation: Student

Talent: Singing and guitar

Biggest source of inspiration: My parents are my biggest inspirations! They always push me to do my very best! I am so thankful to have them!

Favorite performer: Taylor Swift. She is my inspiration because her music is fun and catchy and because she has stayed humble!

Life-changing performance: When I was 6, I sang at the U.S. Naval Academy for my uncle's wedding. After performing in front of all those people, I realized that music is what I want to do!

No Immunity

Band members: Siblings Matt Kania (age 22), Meggie Kania (age 18), Molly McDermott (age 11) and Andy Meyers (age 22)

Hometown: Arlington Heights

Occupations: Students. Matt attends Northwestern University; Meggie attends St. Louis University; Andy attends Loyola University; and Molly attends South Middle School

Talent: Band

Biggest source of inspiration: Matt: Dash Snow; Meggie: her deceased father; Molly: her family; Andy: Bret Kuhn and Dave Schmuck

Favorite performer: Matt: Radiohead; Meggie: Ella Fitzgerald; Molly: Pentatonix; Andy: Fall Out Boy

Life-changing performance: Matt: seeing Cold Play perform at Alpine Valley with cousins; Meggie: IMEA Vocal Jazz and singing with the jazz band; Molly: cast as Marta in "The Sound of Music;" Andy: when Prospect High School drum-line received a perfect score at a U of I competition.

Personal challenges: Matt, Meggie and Andy: death of a parent, serious illness; Molly: nothing, life is good!

Sarah Norman

Hometown: Carol Stream

Occupation: Student at Glenbard North

Talent: Singing

Biggest source of inspiration: My family and friends are my biggest inspiration. They help me believe that I can do anything I put my mind to.

Favorite performer: Adele

Life-changing performance: I've always loved to sing ever since I could remember, but there was one performance I did with a friend of mine at a school talent show that made me want to pursue my talent even more so. We won first place and had to sing in front of our school at the assembly. So many people were cheering and it made me so happy. Nothing makes me feel happier than performing on a big stage.

Personal challenges: I've lost a lot of people in my family. The only way I could cope with all of the loss was by putting my heart into my singing and making my own songs. All I really want to do is make them proud of what I've grown to be.

San Sandberg

Hometown: Geneva

Occupation: Student

Talent: Singing

Biggest source of inspiration: My mom. She has taken me everywhere I need to go to pursue singing.

Favorite performer: Brad Paisley

Tiffany Streng

Hometown: Arlington Heights

Occupation: Unemployed. Hire me? please.

Talent: Stand-up comedy

Biggest source of inspiration: Everything I encounter and everybody I meet.

Favorite performer: Meryl Streep. Though not a stand-up comic, a brilliant comedian and performer nonetheless.

Life-changing performance: In college, I took an Avant-garde and Solo Performance class. For the final, we were required to write and perform a standup act, which in itself was kind of avant-garde. Anyway, after weeks of freaking out and harassing my friends with 'was that funny? What I just said? ... was that funny? Was it funny? It was a little funny, right?' I got on stage and nervously performed my first bit, and to my surprise people laughed. and I remember thinking 'yea, this rocks. I could do this forever.'

Personal challenges: Wanting a career as an actor/comedian.

Viper Fever

Featuring: Tim Shemroske of Bartlett, Mark Glatt of Riverwoods and Dan Shemroske of Bartlett

Tim Shemroske's occupation: I started my own record label that books national tours and other things plus I work odd jobs.

Talent: Band

Biggest source of inspiration: Whatever movie-like script is in my head for my own band is what inspires me to the next step for the act.

Favorite performer: Anyone in the modern psych/garage genre is pretty fun to see.

Life-changing performance: The underground scene in Chicago set me free from the typical bar band in the suburbs.

Tim Shemroske's personal challenges: I take everything that happens in life for the best, and some things take longer than others to see it that way.

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