"This is a competition!"
That was the constant reminder that the four-judge panel hammered home repeatedly for the Top 20 finalists of Suburban Chicago's Got Talent, who all performed Sunday evening in a show hosted by Rob Pileckis at the Prairie Center for the Arts in Schaumburg.
Like so many reality TV talent competitions, the judges for Suburban Chicago's Got Talent offered up plenty of compliments and technical criticisms ranging from basic stage presence to costume choices for the acts to improve on for the next time -- that is, if they can make the cut and advance in the summer-long competition co-sponsored by the Daily Herald, the Arlington Heights Chamber of Commerce and the Prairie Center for the Performing Arts.
The group of contestants featuring 18 singers, a violinist and a dance crew are all competing for a new grand prize for 2014 known as a "STARter Kit." The package includes a concert 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 live competition footage and professional talent mentoring.
The judging panel who will ultimately decide who wins includes Beth Waller, John Flamini and Barbara Vitello, plus a guest judge at each performance. Joining the panel for the Sunday evening was Diana Martinez, the director of College of DuPage's McAninch Arts Center in Glen Ellyn and host of "Short & Sweet" on dailyherald.com.
But the general public will also have a vote in who gets to advance to each new round of competition. Starting Tuesday evening, viewers can visit dailyherald.com to view online videos of each of the top 20 Suburban Chicago's Got Talent contestants and vote on their "Fan Favorite." The winner of the online Fan Favorite after each live performance gets an automatic spot in the next round of competition.
The top vote-getter from three rounds of online voting will also win the ultimate Fan Favorite prize of a Funjet Vacation for two. The winners of the competition will be announced at the top 10 finalist performance at the Taste of Arlington Heights on Saturday, Aug. 9.
Some of the highlights from the Sunday performances included:
• Country music was well-represented with contestants like San Sandberg of Geneva performing Martina McBride's "Independence Day," Rachel McPheeters of DeKalb performing Imelda May's "Big Bad Handsome Man" and Hope Rose (Hope Jirsa) of Forest Park performing Miranda Lambert's "The House that Built Me."
• Both Agne G (Agne Giedraityte) of Downers Grove and Samantha Erne of Elk Grove Village by coincidence chose to perform the exact same the Puccini soprano aria "O mio babbino caro" from the 1918 opera "Gianni Schicchi." Agne G performed the number with live piano accompaniment, while Erne used an orchestral backing track. Sixth-grade violinist Bryana Martinez of Chicago Ridge also added to the classical mix by performing some Vivaldi.
• The red-masked dance crew Mysterious Krew, featuring flashy robotics moves by Sean Adams of Hanover Park, Vernon Davis of Streamwood and Armond Mayberry of Hanover Park.
The next performance for Suburban Chicago's Got Talent, featuring the top 15 finalists, is scheduled for 7 p.m. Sunday, July 13 at the Prairie Center. For tickets, call (847) 895-3600 or visit dailyherald.com/events or prairiecenter.org for more information.