Meet the top 20 finalists of Suburban Chicago's Got Talent
A diverse pool of musicians and a hip-hop dance troupe are all vying to win the sixth year of Suburban Chicago's Got Talent. The top 20 finalists were selected from a pool of more than 50 acts that auditioned recently at the Prairie Center for the Arts in Schaumburg. Now you can cheer on the contestants when they compete in the Top 20 round at the same venue at 6 p.m. Sunday, June 25. Tickets are available at (847) 895-3600 or prairiecenter.org.
As in past years, the grand prize is a “STARter Kit.” Valued at $5,000, it includes an opportunity to open for a national headlining act at the Arcada Theatre in St. Charles, career mentoring by Onesti Entertainment, and professional video and still photo shoots of a live performance.
Also up for grabs is the Fan Favorite prize. After the first three public performances of the top 20, top 15 and top 10 finalists, videos of the competitors' acts from the competition will be posted online at dailyherald.com for the general public to cast votes. The act with the most votes is guaranteed to advance in the competition, while the contestant with the most cumulative online votes will win an entertainment package with gift cards from local restaurants, theaters and attractions valued at more than $500.
For 2017, Suburban Chicago's Got Talent is co-sponsored by the Daily Herald, Onesti Entertainment, the Prairie Center for the Arts, the Arlington Heights Chamber of Commerce, Salon Lorrene, Zeigler Automotive Group and Amita Health.
Meet the Top 20
Hometown: Lake in the Hills/Chicago
Inspirational performance by another artist: I always knew I wanted to be a performer, but the one that really fueled that dream was when I saw “Wicked” when I was 12. It was the first professional performance I saw, and I just loved everything about it.
Annie Young Band
Hometown: Annie Young is from Elgin, Bill Crampton is from Streamwood, Joe Misek is from Algonquin
Inspirational performance by another artist: Shirley Caesar is a legend and one of my greatest inspirations. Many years ago, I saw her in person, live at my church in Detroit.
Hometown: Elmwood Park
Inspirational performance by another artist: When I was younger, I saw Kurt Elling and the Chicago Jazz Orchestra. It was such a spectacular show. It was the first time I had ever heard jazz music live and it lit a spark in me. I had not felt that rush of enthusiasm. That show inspired me to become a performer.
Inspirational performance by another artist: The performance that inspired me would have to be a Taylor Swift show I attended as a kid. I idolized her. Seeing her front row and watching her really appreciate her audience and connecting with us was really moving. I knew every word to every one of her songs, and when she touched my hand, I freaked. It was the moment I realized I wanted to perform, too.
Inspirational performance by another artist: We went to see Buddy Guy with my family at Chicago's Blues Festival in 2014. His performance inspired me to do blues music as well, since my main focus was being a singer/songwriter.
Talent: Hip-hop dance troupe
Inspirational performance by another artist: Michael Jackson has always been our biggest inspiration. Every time he hit the stage, he captivated audiences with his voice and his out-of-this-world dancing. He opened the door for so many dancers in the entertainment industry and paved the way for us dancers to pursue our dreams as artists.
Inspirational performance by another artist: A couple of years ago, my father took me to see Tommy Emmanuel at Dominican University. His talent and dedication to the craft really pushed me and continues to push me to work harder.
Hometown: Crystal Lake
Inspirational performance by another artist: When I was a kid, I decided I wanted to play guitar and be in a band because it just seemed cool. I bought my first guitar with my 8th grade graduation money. Unfortunately, I didn't save enough to pay for lessons, so I was forced to teach myself. It was such a slow and arduous process. I came close to quitting more than a few times. After trying to play guitar for more than a year, I stumbled across Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' record “Long After Dark” in the cutout bin at the local record shop. On that record was the single “You Got Lucky.” A couple of listens in, I found myself playing along with the guitar solo. Albeit not an overly complicated guitar part, it was enough inspiration for me to finally knuckle down and really learn. “You Got Lucky” is still one of my favorite songs. I certainly got lucky finding that record.
Inspirational performance by another artist: Guns N' Roses and Metallica were the two best concerts of my life - true rock stars. Otherwise, I'm always up to see Travis Barker perform. He's the reason I'm drumming.
Artistic influences: I'm in love with the band Walk the Moon. Their music is so upbeat and fun. And they worked so hard to get where they are today as a team. They write their own music, which is rare these days, so I respect them even more for that.
Last One Standing
Talent: Rock band
Inspirational performance by another artist: It was the KISS Alive II tour at the legendary Chicago Stadium on Jan. 15, 1978. My parents took the whole family to see KISS, and from the moment the lights hit the stage and Gene Simmons breathed fire, I knew that was what I wanted to do.
Inspirational performance by another artist: The Kenny Loggins concert at Poplar Creek in Hoffman Estates. It was a cold night and we thought the concert would get canceled. Kenny came out and killed it. He said “It's a cold night and we are going to heat it up for you.” He could of bagged it. He didn't because the show must go on.
Hometown: Arlington Heights
Inspirational performance by another artist: John Legend
Inspirational performance by another artist: When I moved to Nashville, my first month there I saw the Lumineers play at the Ascend Amphitheatre. The entire night was electric, from the opening bands to the city skyline. It was the best live concert experience of my life.
Meg and Mike
Hometown: Arlington Heights
Talent: Singing/piano duo
Inspirational performance by another artist: Alex and Sierra from “The X Factor” is the duo that inspired us to start singing together. Their performance of “Say Something” unplugged on the show specifically shook us, so that inspired us to work on that song and other ballads. Their wide range of styles and harmonies are what we aspire to do with our duo.
Hometown: Oak Lawn
Inspirational performance by another artist: Paul McCartney! The man is a machine - so professional - to see him at age 75 still performing and at the top of his game. He played for almost three hours and never took a sip of water.
Inspirational performance by another artist: A life-changing performance would have to be Frank Sinatra's performance in the 1960s of “I've Got You Under My Skin” for his “A Man & His Music” series. Sinatra's stellar pose and command over both the lyrics and the melody really defined what a great singer and performer is for me. It was also the balance between power and subtle control that hit me.
Hometown: West Dundee
Inspirational performance by another artist: I went to a Fray concert and they totally blew me away. They sounded even better live than they did on their studio album. And their show was very minimal - just them and their instruments. They didn't need any special effects in order to put on an amazing show, which inspired me to try to get better.
Hometown: Poplar Grove
Inspirational performance by another artist: When I was 13, my mom took me to my very first live concert. It was just Shawn Mendes and his guitar - no band, no back up dancers, no frills. He captivated the audience all on his own with the songs he wrote.
Tom and Olivia
Talent: Pianist and singer/guitarist
Inspirational performance by another artist (Olivia): Our music taste is very eclectic, ranging from harmonic group The Lone Bellow to '90s bands such as the Gin Blossoms.
Inspirational performance by another artist (Tom): The Lone Bellow was a life-changing performance. The way the singer put so much effort into every single note showed me a new perspective of performance.
Top 20 Judges
Paige Ehlman: An active member of the entertainment industry both onstage and behind the scenes for more than 30 years.
Ehlman began her career as a child model, later training as an actor and singer. She earned a bachelor's degree in communications and theater from Loyola University of Chicago. Ehlman began her career in talent management in the mid-'90s and started her own agency, Paige Model & Talent Agency, in 2013. She represents talent for all types of media, including national commercials, film, voice-over, print work and more.
Joe Keefe: The artistic director of the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre in Arlington Heights since 2014. Between 1983 and 2001, Keefe was founder and executive producer of Second City Communications, the production arm of The Second City Theaters. Keefe also has served as an adjunct professor at Columbia College and Northeastern Illinois University. He was a Glencoe village trustee between 2005 and 2010.
Ron Onesti: President and CEO of Onesti Entertainment Corporation, which runs the Arcada Theatre in St. Charles and outdoor concerts throughout the area.
Barbara Vitello: A Lisagor Award-winning reporter, the Daily Herald's principal theater critic and legal affairs writer.
Rob Pileckis: The Chicago resident has hosted events like Screen Test Student Fest film festival, Summer Breeze concert series and the Schaumburg Youth Orchestra's “Presto!” holiday concerts. He's also conducted interviews onstage with celebrities like opera star Danielle de Niese and Robert Osborne from Turner Classic Movies. For his day job, Pileckis works as production supervisor at the Schaumburg Prairie Center for the Arts.
Location: Prairie Center for the Arts, 201 Schaumburg Court, Schaumburg, (847) 895-3600 or
Show dates: Top 20 show at 6 p.m. Sunday, June 25; Top 15 show at 7 p.m. Sunday, July 16; Top 10 show at 7 p.m. Sunday, July 30
Free finale: 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 5, at the Taste of Arlington Heights