In last year's run of Suburban Chicago's Got Talent, contestant San Sandberg of Geneva progressed through the summerlong competition to become a top 10 finalist.
But now the 17-year-old vocalist and Geneva High School student is back to square one as general auditions are underway again for the contest co-sponsored for its third year by the Daily Herald, Schaumburg's Prairie Center for the Arts and the Arlington Heights Chamber of Commerce.
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"I just really want to be a singer," Sandberg said at the Prairie Center Thursday evening right before she auditioned with the song "Independence Day" by Martina McBride. "But I can't hope that they'll remember me from last year."
Sandberg knows she can't rest on her past competition laurels because the change to a new venue for the contest has also brought about a change of judges overseeing the rounds of general auditions that go through Saturday.
"You know pretty much right away whether somebody's performance is going to be pretty good," said new judge John Flamini, who is also chairman of the cultural commission for the village of Schaumburg. "Confidence is big, because you can spot that right away."
"They need to come in and show they're excited about performing for us and that they're well-prepared," said Schaumburg Park District cultural arts supervisor Beth Waller, another new judge for 2014. "Things that will help us remember them."
Of the 95 officially registered Suburban Chicago's Got Talent acts -- which include comedians, magicians, vocalists and instrumentalists -- a top 20 will be chosen by Waller and Flamini to compete and perform before audiences and an expanded judging panel in subsequent top 15 and top 10 rounds at the Prairie Center for the Arts in Schaumburg. The top 10 finalists will also perform at the Taste of Arlington Heights on Saturday, Aug. 9, when the ultimate winner and Fan Favorite will be announced.
The new top prize package is called the "STARter Kit," which features a performance as an opening act for a major headliner at the Arcada Theatre in St. Charles, a professional concert-style photo shoot, a promotional video drawn from competition footage and professional talent mentoring. The Fan Favorite prize, ultimately decided by voting online at dailyherald.com, is a Funjet Vacation for two.
"I've done other talent competitions and I perform on a regular basis, so I thought (the contest) would be a great opportunity," said Jordan Madonia, a 20-year-old Hoffman Estates resident and a member of the Real Life Church in West Chicago who auditioned with "positive hip hop music" he writes and performs under the stage name JAOOO. "I was a little nervous, but I feel that the audition went fine. I let them know who I was and what I was about and did what I was supposed to do."
Some of the other contestants who appeared in the first few hours of auditions included the 79-year-old vocalist Bill Moretti of Streamwood who sang the classic standard "My Way" and 25-year-old Woodstock resident Marissa Johnson who sang her own English-translated lyrics to the Japanese pop song "Bye Bye Baby Sayonara."
"It's obviously a wonderful opportunity to see a lot of the community's talent," Waller said about Suburban Chicago's Got Talent.
"I'm really hoping that we can get 20 really strong contestants who will make (the contest) a really, really fun activity for everyone involved."