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Only the beginning

After taking second, James says there is more to come

James Woodraska, whose stage name is Woody James, plays a 1970 Gibson J45 acoustic guitar outside his home in Millington. James was given the guitar by his grandfather who passed away recently.
James Woodraska, whose stage name is Woody James, plays a 1970 Gibson J45 acoustic guitar outside his home in Millington. James was given the guitar by his grandfather who passed away recently.

Twenty-year-old James Woodraska, also known as “Woody James,” of Millington, Ill., took second place in the Suburban Chicago’s Got Talent competition earlier this month.

“I competed against 200 acts in the Chicagoland area, I made 2nd place ... This is the beginning ... I PROMISE!!!!!” Woodraska posted on his “Woody James” Facebook page, Saturday, Aug. 11.

The contest that began in early June — co-sponsored by the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre in Arlington Heights, the Arlington Heights Chamber of Commerce, Schaumburg-based law firm Gardi & Haught LTD, Wintrust Community Banks, College Textbooks and the Daily Herald newspaper in Arlington Heights — wrapped up Aug. 11 at the Taste of Arlington Heights when the winner was announced following a Top 5 performance a week prior.

“I liked playing in the theater,” Woodraska said about singing and playing guitar in front of an audience at Metropolis. “But I prefer playing outside in the party atmosphere.”

He explained he felt more at home playing at the Taste of Arlington Heights because the atmosphere was similar to that of the local bars and restaurants he has been playing at for about a year.

The only act that placed above Woodraksa was a beat-box duo from Skokie and Wheeling, Ill., known as iLLest Vocals.

Along with the first-place title, the two men won an audition for America’s Got Talent and a trip from FunJet Vacations for being the Fan Favorite.

“I got the loudest applause, though,” Woodraska said.

Throughout the contest, the Millington native learned that “stage presence is everything.” A lot of people can sing and play, he said, but if the audience can’t “feel” the performance, it’s not a good show.

“You want them to watch you through the whole song,” Woodraska explained. “It’s important to make them not want to look away.”

The contest solidified that fact in his mind.

Charlie Beck, executive director for Metropolis, said the top 40 contestants from Suburban Chicago’s Got Talents will be invited to a showcase Sept. 4-5 when talent agents will be in the audience, the Daily Herald reported Monday, Aug. 13.

“I’ve been saying since the beginning, ‘Let’s see what professionals think of me,’” Woodraska said.

Under the stage name of Woody James, Woodraska sang Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” for both his audition and the Top 20 performance. For the Top 5, he played an original piece, “Leaving This Town.” He described it as a Johnny Cash- and Hank Williams-inspired song written in about an hour.

“I love the Beatles and Paramore, but I can’t sing like them,” Woodraska said in July. “God gave me a country voice.”

He sang “Folsom Prison Blues” once more at the Taste of Arlington Heights.

Woodraska is working on more current country covers from Jamie Johnson, Alan Jackson and Jake Owen.

“I can’t wait till I have them down so I can perform them with confidence,” he posted on Facebook.

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