Beatbox duo looking for a win
Shawn Kurian (left) and Sanu John are iLLest Vocals.
‘Suburban Chicago’s Got Talent’
Taste of Arlington Heights, Downtown Arlington Heights, Campbell Street and Vail Avenue, Arlington Heights
Taste runs 3-11 p.m., Aug. 11; iLLest Vocals performs at 3 p.m.
Information at www.discoverarlington.com or (847) 368-5000
Updated: August 13, 2012 12:37PM
Sounds like a singer with a hot drummer. But when you’re listening to iLLest Vocals, you’re hearing the only the voices of Sanu John of Skokie and Shawn Kurian of Wheeling.
The two are a beat boxing duo and now one of the five finalist acts in the “Suburban Chicago’s Got Talent” at the Taste of Arlington Heights on Aug. 11.
iLLest Vocals was one of the top five acts selected from among 150 acts who auditioned, and are vying to win an audition on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent.”
They’ll compete against Faith & Whisky, Shane Lubecker, Robert Osiol and Woody James during a final performance of “Suburban Chicago’s Got Talent,” a show that’s a highlight of the Taste of Arlington Heights.
Three years ago, Kurian and John, who had known each other for more than 10 years through mutual friends in the Indian community, were at a party together when John was asked to beat box, using only his voice to simulate the sounds of percussion and drums. Kurian jumped in and sang a track and the crowd was so taken aback, they urged the two to form a duo.
“We started jamming together and now we’re on our way to America’s Got Talent,” said Kurian, 25, a Columbia College Chicago graduate whose day job is inside sales and also works as an MC at an entertainment company. John, 25, is a security supervisor by day and a DJ by night whose DJ moniker is iLLest, which is the slang term for “best.”
“We don’t have paychecks yet from jamming together,” admits Kurian, “but we’re doing it because it’s something we love to do, it’s our passion and it’s been working out for us.”
The duo performs often at local community events and had auditioned this season for “America’s Got Talent,” judged by Howard Stern, Sharon Osbourne, Howie Mandel and Nick Cannon, and reportedly made the standby list, Kurian said, but not the final cut. Winning the “Suburban Chicago’s Got Talent” would guarantee them an audition spot for next season.
Their a cappella approach to music is unique, Kurian said, and is what sets them apart from other contestants. John will lay down the beat and Kurian will sing the melody.
“We match up two to three songs together then add our own flavor or flair,” explained Kurian, who describes his voice as a tenor but said he can hit the high notes of a baritone. One recent mesh of the duo was “If I ever fall in love” by Shai and Justin Bieber’s “Boyfriend,” making for an interesting mix. “Our style is always different.”
Although he’s had no professional vocal training, Kurian did perform in show choir at Wheeling High School and has been performing at Indian community events since he was age 6.
“I was born to entertain,” Kurian said. “Put a microphone in my hand and I’ll rock the crowd.”
Both Kurian and John are first generation Indian Americans, with families from Kerala in southern India. They often integrate their cultural history in their music.
“We’ve definitely done Hindu music and incorporated popular Indian tracks with popular R&B tracks,” Kurian said.
His partner, John, often adds his own Indian flair to the music.
“I can speak the language and I like to incorporate the Indian flavor in it,” said John of his beat boxing.
He has been playing the drums since the age of 3 and began imitating those sounds at the age of 8.
“I use my mouth to make percussion like bass, snare, hammer and baseline,” said John, 25, who “back in the day,” used to get in trouble at school for playing his pens and pencils on paper. A graduate of Niles North and now a junior at Triton College studying radiology, John liked to listen to the popular beat boxers like Kenny Muhammad and began to imitate them.
“I’m more commercial and I imitate radio music,” John said, while other beat boxers are heavy on the bass and Hip Hop.
Kurian is often in awe of his partner.
“It’s uncanny how he sounds like an actual percussion drum set and it almost sounds like it’s coming from two people,” Kurian said of John, who often beats five or six different sounds at the same time. He can even do the scratching noise reminiscent of vinyl records.
“If you close your eyes,” John said, “it sounds like a track.”