San Sandberg wins library’s Teen Talent Show

Once, I worked in the computer lab at Waubonsie Valley High School with an exceptionally creative, witty and downright hilarious woman named Julia Fenner.

On one especially trying day, Julia opened up her desk drawer and told me she was going to show me something.

She pulled out a bulging file folder and said, “These are all my little paychecks.”

Confused, thinking that she had her pay stubs in the folder, I waited while she pulled a few out. They were actually thank-you notes from students, teachers, parents, friends and coworkers.

“This is what keeps me going,” she said. “These are the best paychecks of all.”

That was at least 10 years ago. Now, I have my own folder of “little paychecks.”

They don’t come very often, but that’s the beauty of them. They are always surprising and always either smile- or tear-inducing.

This week my little paycheck came in the form of Paramount Theatre Artistic Director Jim Corti’s “Tuesdays with Corti” column.

In part, it read:

“Over the weekend, I sat in on the Aurora Public Library Talent Show, and what a great group again this year! These teenagers have it so much more together than I ever could back in high school.

“At rehearsal, we talked about being yourself, personalizing your work to make it your own. We spoke about reaching the audience, the purposefulness of why you choose a song and what it is you want to say. How to focus and consider stillness and directness. The importance of your eyes meeting the eyes of those you are singing to and singing for. How to use the words to say something about yourself that has to be heard.

“They all showed wonderful, raw talent, very sweet young people, young artists, and most of them soft spoken and shy. Being confident in who you are and why you are here took emphasis. I found myself saying that to be confident you don’t have to feel you are a show off or self important … but that it is what you have to say and express that is important! Believe in that! Reach us with that!”

This year’s Teen Talent Show at the Copley Theatre was the fifth that I have been lucky enough to be a part of. I take great pride in this show. I believe I have helped it grow from a small library program to a yearly phenomenon the community has embraced.

Last year, Corti was a judge for the show. This year, he sat in on both the dress rehearsal (Aug. 7) and the show (Aug. 9).

I am so glad that Corti had such inspiring words for the teens. It is so important for them to know that people are listening, and that they deserve a show that is well-planned and executed.

That leads me into a profile of our winner: San Sandberg, 17, who will be a senior this year at Geneva High School.

What a talent! When she auditioned, I knew that her Janis Joplin-meets-Katy Perry style would be pretty hard to beat.

But although she belted out Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind” like a pro, her behind-the-scenes persona is much more sedate. This girl who rules the stage describes herself as “not really talkative.”

San (she shortened her name from Sandy in the fifth grade), performed in her first talent show (St. Charles Idol) the summer before fifth grade. She thinks she was 10. She did not win.

In fact, San did not win a talent show before she was in high school, but she kept entering.

In all, she has entered 23 contests and won seven.

In the beginning, she said she became discouraged when she did not win.

“But I believed in myself,” she said.

“My grandma started me singing when I was like 2 or 3,” she said. “She liked to sing and was a decent singer so she taught me lots of little kids’ songs and stuff.”

The first song San learned from her grandma was “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.”

“Whenever anyone would call me on the phone, I would sing them that song,” San laughed.

Although some might think San is a native of New York City from the way she belted Billy Joel’s hit, she was born in Plainfield and moved to Geneva when she was 7. She has never been to New York.

Her stage persona is basically an act, she says. She also has performed in a couple of musicals and plays, and is in the varsity choir in school.

San said she does not see college in her future. She sees a life of performing.

That road already has been a bumpy one for her.

“I’ve tried out for Idol and stuff,” she said. “I tried out for “(American) Idol” three times and “X Factor” twice, “The Voice” twice, “America’s Got Talent” once and “Rising Star” once.

“When you go to open call auditions for these shows, you go to different producers of the show, and you have to get the producer who is looking for what you are,” she said. “You just have to get the right producer. It should happen eventually.”

Sandberg said she has met a lot of nice people and had fun experiences in all her tryouts and at all the talent shows she has been in, which keeps her determination strong.

San’s grandma passed away before San won her first talent show, but the teen said she knows her grandma was proud and happy that she had passed her love of singing on to her granddaughter.

Now, San is the only one in her family who sings. She writes some of her own music but performed her own piece just one time.

She is happy that her mom, Jane, is “really supportive” but not a stage mom.

San said she will be happy to return to the Aurora Public Library Teen Talent Show next year to perform while the judges are choosing the next winner.

And me? Already, I am looking forward to the seventh annual Aurora Public Library Teen Talent Show and Competition. And to the little paychecks that might follow.

Amy Roth is the public information manager for the Aurora Public Library.

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