With comments like "nailed it," "you're a natural," and "wow," the Suburban Chicago's Got Talent judges set themselves up for a tough decision this week picking a winner in this year's competition.
Sunday's performance -- the last before a Saturday showdown -- featured the Top 10 rivals taking some risks and loosening up at Schaumburg's Prairie Center for the Performing Arts.
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During the event, Carly Meyer, 12, poked fun at divas with the aria "Art is Calling Me" by Victor Herbert. She prompted judge Beth Waller to say, "Your voice is incredible. You reached everyone two villages over."
And when Waller, cultural arts supervisor for the Schaumburg Park District, praised the Northbrook tween's diction, Carly broke in with, "Really? Everyone says it's my biggest problem -- score!" adding a un-diva-like fist pump.
After previous pleas from the judges to ditch his guitar, Mike L (Michael Lueck) of Des Plaines took their advice and charmed the audience with the reggae hit "Rude" by Magic!
"Your smile could light up all of Schaumburg," said judge Neil Scheufler, acting executive director at Metropolis Performing Arts Centre in Arlington Heights. "Your personality is huge ... I mean that in a good way."
"OK," Lueck quipped, "because Subway has deals."
Meanwhile, dueling singer/songwriters Ryan Cooper of Schaumburg and Dennis Caravello of Mount Prospect went head to head with original compositions.
Cooper's "The Absence," which stretched from ballad to anthem, intrigued judge Barbara Vitello, staff writer for the Daily Herald, who loved the "message to live life without regrets." And she praised the "wonderfully dynamic tenor" of Cooper's voice.
But Caravello's wistful "California Lady," which he described as a song about "that one girl ... you always look back on," also resonated with the four judges.
"Wow," said John Flamini, chairman of the village of Schaumburg's cultural commission. "I truly enjoy your originality."
A summer's worth of rhythm, drama, nerves and breakout moments comes to an end Saturday at the Taste of Arlington Heights, where the Top 10 will perform again and winners will be announced.
The talent show is co-sponsored by the Daily Herald, the Arlington Heights Chamber of Commerce and the Prairie Center for the Performing Arts. The grand prize is a "STARter Kit," which includes appearing as an opening act for a major star at the Arcada Theatre in St. Charles, a professional photo shoot, a promotional video and mentoring.
The public can vote on the Fan Favorite by visiting www.dailyherald.com/entertainment/talent. The Fan Favorite will win a Funjet Vacation for two.