Final five gear up for last round of Suburban Chicago's Got Talent

By Scott Morgan
Posted8/3/2012 6:00 AM
  • Country singer/songwriter Woody James received the most votes after the initial top 20 round of online voting for the "Fan Favorite."

      Country singer/songwriter Woody James received the most votes after the initial top 20 round of online voting for the "Fan Favorite." Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

  • Faith and Whisky

      Faith and Whisky Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

  • iLLest Vocals

      iLLest Vocals Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

  • Shane Lubecker

      Shane Lubecker Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

  • Robert Osiol

      Robert Osiol Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

Which of the final five remaining acts in Suburban Chicago's Got Talent will win a trip to audition for NBC-TV's "America's Got Talent"? And how many online votes were cast during the competition to deem one finalist a "Fan Favorite" worthy of winning a Funjet vacation for two?

These are the two big questions swirling around Suburban Chicago's Got Talent, a summer-long contest co-sponsored by the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre in Arlington Heights, Wintrust Community Banks, Schaumburg-based law firm Gardi & Haught LTD, the Arlington Heights Chamber of Commerce, College Textbooks and the Daily Herald. All will be revealed at the Taste of Arlington Heights on Saturday, Aug. 11, when the finalists perform for the last time.

But first, the final five have to perform during the competition round at 7 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 5, at the Metropolis. It's then and there that they'll have one last opportunity to prove why they are the best of the best to a panel of judges featuring Metropolis' executive director Charlie Beck, education director Michelle Shaver and music director Micky York. Barbara Vitello, who reviews theater for the Daily Herald, returns as a judge for the final five round.

"In all cases, we hope the finalists bring their very best game to the table," Beck said. He also revealed that in the penultimate round of performances, each of the final five will appear twice over the course of two acts.

Here's a refresher on the final five, who represent the tiptop of nearly 200 acts that auditioned for the competition's preliminary rounds this past June. Also, go online to get a look at the top contestants by visiting

Faith and Whisky

Band members: Singer Camille Eiseman, 41, and guitarist/singer Terry Tank, 50

Hometown: Both of Crystal Lake

Occupations: Stay-at-home mom and designer

Talents: Country singing and guitar

There was always country music playing in the home of Camille Eiseman when she was growing up. In fact, Eiseman has distinct memories of her father taking her at age 7 to meet country star Tanya Tucker when she made an appearance at a Crystal Lake Kmart.

As for Terry Tank, he always loved the attention people gave him when he performed any kind of music.

So it was no surprise that Eiseman and Tank would team up to perform country music. They already knew each other from singing on and off together over the past eight years as congregants in the Crystal Lake campus of Willow Creek Community Church. Both are also members of the fairly new local country band Western Sky, which made its Lake County Fair debut last month.

But for Tank and Eiseman to go out on their own as a country duo called Faith and Whisky was only a recent decision. "We had talked about the idea, going back and forth," Eiseman said. "And then my husband said, 'Hey, there's this competition. Maybe you guys should do that and get some feedback.'"

She and Tank never suspected they would make it through to the final five of Suburban Chicago's Got Talent.

"We're amazed. And grateful," Eiseman said. "It's been a very exciting summer for us."

For the final round of competition, Faith and Whisky received permission from the judges to add backup musicians to their act since Tank admits that he's not as comfortable supplying the only instrumentals for the duo.

"But we feel vocally strong," Tank said. "We love every bit of it, including the struggle. It makes you better."

And as for the name of their duo, Tank and Eiseman liked the name Faith and Whisky, but they changed the spelling of the last word when they discovered (to their dismay) that a Chicago restaurant also carries the same moniker.

"This is a slice of life because you could meet a person and not really know who they are," Tank said of the band's name. "People are both things sometimes and we're OK with that."

iLLest Vocals

Duo featuring: Shawn Kurian, 25, of Wheeling and Sanu John, 25, of Skokie

Occupations: John is a security supervisor and DJ; Kurian is an inside sales rep and event emcee

Talent: Singing/beatboxing/dancing

About two years ago, Sanu John was impressing friends at a party with his vocal beatboxing skills. Not wanting John to steal all the attention, his friend Shawn Kurian jumped in to add his own sung vocals.

At that moment, the two guys discovered that they made great music together. So John and Kurian started incorporating their a cappella music-making into parties and gigs where John went by his disc jockey alias of "DJ iLLest," but the two didn't think of naming their group until they were auditioning for the first American season of "The X Factor" last year.

"We were just going to audition as a duo under our names, but they asked, 'What is your group name?'" Kurian said. "So on the spot we were just going back and forth and finally came to iLLest Vocals."

"It was one of those feel-right, use-it, spur-of-the-moment incidents," said Kurian, who notes that his extended and very musical family is longtime friends with John's musically inclined relatives in the Chicago-area's Indian community.

"This is the furthest we've ever come in any kind of talent competition," John said about Suburban Chicago's Got Talent. "To be in the top five, we're really excited and now we're just trying to think of how we can outdo our previous performances. We'll see if we can go all the way."

Woody James (James Lowell Woodraska)

Age: 20

Hometown: Millington

Occupation: Musician

Talent: Singing/guitar

Country singer/songwriter James Lowell Woodraska -- who prefers to go by his stage name of Woody James -- tells a story of how he ran out of gas while driving through Sandwich, Ill., on the way home after an out-of-town gig several months ago. So he just took out his guitar and started busking at street corners for gas money (which he eventually did earn) before the police showed up and told him to move along.

Now James is relishing the encouragement he's been receiving from all sorts of people from his hometown as a final five finalist for Suburban Chicago's Got Talent -- including Millington Village President Scott Smith, who offered his support at a recent block party gig that James and his friend, Ethan Bell, played at the Last Chance Saloon.

"To have all my neighbors be now like, 'Yeah, we got your back,' it's really cool," James said.

James started honing his old-time country guitar playing and songwriting in the style of Johnny Cash and Hank Williams in high school after growing up in a home where country music was king. He said he entered the contest because he wanted to get some professional feedback from the audition.

"For just a $5 fee to audition one song to let them tell you what they really think -- an unbiased, honest opinion -- I learned that if I just do my thing people will love it," James said.

James received the most votes after the initial top 20 round of online voting for the "Fan Favorite," which has also boosted his confidence. When asked what he would do if he won the competition, James said, "I'm probably going to be Woody James as I have been -- just do my thing. It's worked so far."

Shane Lubecker

Age: 16

Hometown: Algonquin

Occupation: Student/part-time Berry Yo cashier

Talent: Yo-yo artistry

Shane Lubecker is one of those people who can say "I knew him before he became famous" when it comes to his teenage friend, Ian Johnson, the yo-yo artist prominently featured on the 2011 season of "America's Got Talent."

Johnson was the guy who got Lubecker interested in learning complicated yo-yo tricks starting when he was 10 years old, later inspiring him to compete in yo-yo contests. Now Lubecker goes head-to-head against Johnson at many a competition.

But with Suburban Chicago's Got Talent, Lubecker is taking an enjoyable detour by spinning his own path to glory with show-biz-style yo-yo routines catered more for general audiences than yo-yo aficionados.

But coming up with two new routines in a week's time is a challenge.

"I'm thinking of ways I can break it up into two different types of shows that show different types of yo-yoing," Lubecker said. "I might even go more into choreographing with the music."

To do so, Lubecker will draw from more than 25 competitive yo-yos he currently owns; the most expensive one retails for around $165.

Lubecker is happy to have not only the support of his family going into the final round (including his 18-year-old comedian brother, Suburban Chicago's Got Talent top 10 finalist AJ Lubecker), but also encouragement from friend and competitor Johnson.

"(Johnson) is happy for me, just because any yo-yoer likes to hear things when other yo-yoers are doing well."

Robert Osiol

Age: 19

Hometown: Mount Prospect

Occupation: Engineering and physics student at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Talent: Jazz pianist

Robert Osiol only entered Suburban Chicago's Got Talent at his dad's suggestion, since he doesn't necessarily care for reality TV talent competitions.

"My dad read about it in the paper, and he thought it would be a good idea for me to play," the jazz pianist said. "I'm really happy to have gone this far in the competition and to have the opportunity to play for people and spread the word about the music."

Soon to enter his sophomore year at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to continue degrees in engineering and physics, Osiol doesn't see a conflict with his schooling and his passion for jazz music.

"A lot of the guys I look up to right now are folks with a technical background and a rigorous academic history," Osiol said, specifically citing award-winning pianist Vijay Iyer who has undergraduate degrees in math and physics from Yale University.

"The music is really important to me," Osiol said. "I could definitely see myself working a day job a couple of years from now at an engineering firm or consulting position using my academic degree, but I would still be playing gigs at night."

Osiol is grateful to the teachers and professional players who worked with him as a teenager, including Greg Fudala, Rob Block and the late Afro-Cuban Chicago jazz specialist Richie Pillot.

"Jazz as an art form is one that I feel gets overlooked nowadays for whatever reason and there are really a lot of great players out there making great music," Osiol said. "If me going further in this competition inspires a handful of people to pick up a record or listen to some of this music that's out there, then it's great."

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