After wowing the crowd with his rendition of Bill Wither's "Ain't No Sunshine" and wowing the judges with his musical evolution over the past several weeks, Dennis Caravello of Mount Prospect took the stage in downtown Arlington Heights Saturday night for the first time as the winner of Suburban Chicago's Got Talent for 2014.
"This is just surreal," said Caravello who started playing guitar at age 5 and dropped out of college a bit over a year ago to pursue music.
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"I go where my heart tells me to go," Caravello said as family and friends in the audience hugged and high-fived each other. "This is the ultimate high right here."
The winner was announced at the final round of competition held Saturday at the Taste of Arlington Heights. The afternoon show featured performances from each of the top 10 finalists.
Caravello receives the new SCGT grand prize package known as a "STARter Kit." It includes a performance at the Arcada Theatre in St. Charles as an opening act for a major headliner, a professional-style concert photo shoot, a promotional video drawn from live competition footage and professional talent mentoring.
He will appear on ABC Channel 7 news Sunday morning and perform along with other Top 10 finalists at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 13, before 7th Heaven takes the stage in Center Court at Randhurst Village in Mount Prospect.
After watching the final performances the judges deliberated on a park bench backstage while the anxious artists stood side-by-side onstage.
"This really was the toughest decision we've had to make in three years; all the performances were (scored) so close," said Daily Herald theater critic and judge Barbara Vitello.
"It's an impressive group," Vitello said.
"It really could have been any of them," added judge Beth Waller, cultural arts supervisor for the Schaumburg Park District. "Each week they've evolved and tonight they brought it."
Saturday's musicians were an eclectic group of individuals who clapped, cheered and danced on the sidewalk throughout the talent show. Some of the finalists have already recorded together.
Jaooo (Jordan Madonia) of Hoffman Estates started Saturday's show with an original hip-hop song he called "Chosen," and encouraged the crowd to look inside themselves for the difference they can make in the world. Farah Morales, a mom from Mount Prospect, thanked her twin daughters for support and inspiration after she belted out a sultry tune.
Ryan Cooper, of Schaumburg, showed off an original song and his finger work on the guitar and afterward said "all these conscious beings watching you, there's nothing like it."
Mike L (Michael Lueck) of Des Plaines did a heartfelt version of 3 Door Down ballad "Here Without You," while DeMuziq Artis (Demarcus Artis) of Oak Park was all smiles as he channeled Stevie Wonder for "Superstitions."
DeKalb English teacher Rachel (Rachel McPheeters) shook her tambourine and her knees energetically dancing and singing "Footloose." Three high school freshman from Hanover Park and Streamwood known as Mysterious Krew (Sean Adams, Vernon Davis and Armond Mayberry) brought some choreography and fun to their sometimes robotic, sometimes superfluid dance routine.
Bryana Martinez, a teen from Chicago Ridge, brought a mariachi band to back her up as she fiddled feverishly on her violin. Carly Meyer, a 12-year-old from Northbrook, proved she's not too young to be a diva as she sang a piece in English from Johann Strauss II's operetta "Die Fledermaus."
Meyer earned Fan Favorite honors and a Funjet Vacation. The Fan Favorite portion of SCGT was decided by three rounds of online voting at dailyherald.com and some 9,000 votes were cast during the course of the competition.
This is the third year of SCGT, a summer-long talent competition co-sponsored by the Daily Herald, the Arlington Heights Chamber of Commerce and the Prairie Center for the Arts in Schaumburg, a new partner for 2014. Nearly 100 acts from all over the suburbs auditioned in early June before the pool of contestants was winnowed down to a Top 20, a Top 15 and Top 10 during performance competition rounds at the Prairie Center.
Check dailyherald.com to view video of each of the performers.