Prepare to be blown away at Special Talents America

Special-needs performers ready to take stage in Naperville

Ability is the most important part of the word "disability" at the Special Talents America show.

Ability. It's the part that reduced Grammy-winning performer and judge Jim Peterik to tears at the previous talent show in 2010.

It's the part that causes co-founder Jorie Meyer to say she'd put any of her special needs performers up against any typical adult.

And it's the part that makes parent JP Honeywell proud to see his talented daughter take the stage and shine.

"It gives them a chance to have a venue to showcase their talent and their abilities - and not their disabilities," said Honeywell of Vernon Hills, whose daughter, Christine, brought the house down in 2010 with her rendition of "You Raise Me Up."

"Some of the folks who are in this competition, you put them up against anybody in their age group - whether they're special needs or not - these kids are going to kick butt," he said.

Special Talents America begins at 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 5, in the Wentz Concert Hall at North Central College, 171 E. Chicago Ave., Naperville.

Fourteen special needs performers were chosen from special recreation associations in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin. They'll take the stage in nine acts to sing, dance and play instruments.

They're judged by a celebrity panel of three - Peterik, co-founder of Survivor and The Ides of March; singer Lisa McClowry, an international vocalist of the year nominee; and Fergie Frederiksen of Toto and Trillion fame.

The judges take the stage following the competition for an hourlong concert.

Peterik vividly remembers Christine's performance from two years ago.

"I was in tears, she was so good," Peterik said. "She was overcoming her handicaps, and it moved me because it was so darn good."

Monday's performers were chosen based on video clips.

"A lot of them have a lot more talent than the typical adult," said Meyer, who is program manager at the Western DuPage Special Recreation Association. "We were blown away."

"It's really just a time for these special needs performers to feel like they're on top of the world," Meyer said. "I just think they're really going to feel like stars on that night."

And they really do feel like stars, Honeywell said. This year, Christine will sing "I Dreamed a Dream" from Les Miserables.

A recent graduate of Libertyville High School, the autistic teen has excelled musically since she was a small child. She's performed numerous roles in Winnetka at Special Gifts Theater - and taken home best of show awards at Libertyville High School's solo and ensemble competitions - competitions that included students of all abilities.

After awards are given out, the professional performers will take the stage. Peterik will conclude the show with a first: his hit "Eye of the Tiger" arranged for a symphony.

Tickets are $25 to $45. For information, call (630) 637-7469 or visit

<h3 class="briefHead">Meet the performers</h3>

<b>Michelle Anderson of Naperville, Rachel Giagnorio of Rolling Meadows, Kelly Neville of Naperville, Allison Ravin-Hansen of Bartlett and Julia Smarto of Bartlett:</b> Dancing to "Wannabe," the five young women will perform as the Spice Girls. Ranging in age from 17 to 21, they have been dancing together at Center Stage Dance Studio in Bloomingdale for several years. Some of their mothers met through the National Association for Down Syndrome when their children were infants and additional friendships were formed through the West Suburban Parent Support Group for Down syndrome, school and other activities. Read their bios.

<b>Cory Bollettino of Mount Prospect:</b> Visually impaired since birth and totally blind since he was 9, Cory Bollettino has loved music since he was a toddler, tapping on the patio door and kitchen cabinets, keeping the beat as he sang his favorite songs. By the time he was 7, teachers had noted his beautiful voice and asked him to sing Andrea Bocelli's "Time to Say Goodbye" during a Mother's Day performance at the Northwest Special Recreation Association. He received a standing ovation. Read his bio.

<b>Breanna Bogucki of Cary:</b> Music has always touched Breanna, now a freshman at Cary Grove High School. "Ever since she was an infant, music is the one thing she has connected with," her mother, Mary Ellen Bogucki, said. "It made a difference for her. It made her happy and was very calming for her." Read her bio.

<b>Christine Honeywell of Vernon Hills:</b> A recent graduate of Libertyville High School, Christine Honeywell has been singing since she was a young child. As a toddler, she watched Disney movies and quickly memorized every song. "She really has a talent in music," said her father, JP Honeywell. "It comes naturally for her." Her mom, Kathy, added, "It might sound like a joke, but it's not: Christine could sing before she could talk." Read her bio.

<b>Mia Strayer, Cherry Valley:</b> When Patricia Strayer gave her teenage daughter, Mia, a Christmas harp music CD seven years ago, she didn't know the gift would change her daughter's life. But it has. Mia learned to play the harp despite having cerebral palsy and being visually impaired, and now performs. Read her bio.

<b>Kari Kinnett of Villa Grove:</b> "I don't know what I would do if it was not for music!" 22-year-old Kari Kinnett says. "I don't know how else to express my feelings, my emotions, what I am going through." Kinnett was born prematurely at 25 weeks in Guam, where her parents were both serving in the military. As a result, she was born with retinopathy of prematurity and is totally blind. She also has autism and is a savant. Read her bio.

<b>Emily and Erika Cretens of Gladstone, Mich.:</b> Twins Emily and Erika Cretens of Michigan have been singing in choruses and together nearly all their lives, using their voices to help nonprofit groups. A charity performance turned into the opportunity to sing at the Green Bay Packers game. Read their bio.

<b>Michael Betka, Mount Pleasant, Mich.:</b> Michael Betka will perform a high-energy dancing and precision light-saber routine. He has always enjoyed music and plays the drums and keyboard and once took Suzuki piano lessons. "I like dancing mostly," he said. "I like it because I can be creative, not just with my feet but with the light stick, too. I can get my whole body moving." Read his bio.

<b>Alec Hurtubise of Zionsville, Ind.:</b> The 17-year-old Zionsville Community High School student from central Indiana has been singing since he was a toddler. By the time Alec was 8, his uncle invited him to sing with the Cowboy Church Band. Alec really liked the sound of the banjo so his uncle began to teach him to play. Now he brings his own style of music to Special Talents America. Read his bio.

Special Talents America talent show

When: 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 5

Where: Wentz Concert Hall, North Central College, 171 E. College Ave., Naperville

Cost: $25 to $45

Info: (630) 637-7469 or

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