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Sharing the Spotlight

by Peter Proko; Photo by Jeff Anderson
This year’s Top Talent winners prove that quality music is alive and well in South Jersey.

Every year, South Jersey Magazine sets out to find locals who are poised to sing and strum their way to the top. And every year we are blown away by the level of talent in our surrounding area. It seems many of you feel the same way, as evidenced by the overwhelming response to this latest installment of our Top Talent contest. Nearly 13,500 votes were cast for contestants with a wide array of styles and influences, ranging from Justin Bieber to Metallica. Ultimately, our readers selected their favorite artists in four categories: band under the age of 18, band with members age 18 or older, solo artist under 18, and solo artist age 18 or older.

One of the winners, 22-year-old Voorhees resident Liat Arochas, impressed the producers of myPHL17’s Better Philly so much, they’ve invited her to perform on the show early this month. Arochas will also join all of the winners to perform a showcase as part of Colingswood’s Second Saturday event on Sept. 10 from 5 to 6 p.m.

We got to know each of the winners during a recent photo shoot at the Music Training Center in Marlton, and found them all to be worthy of the recognition. Read more about these up-and-coming acts here, and be sure to head out to Collingswood on Sept. 10 to see them live on Haddon Avenue.

Band (Under 18)
Plus Shipping and Handling
It’s not surprising that the members of Plus Shipping and Handling—two Cherry Hill teens and two more from Cinnaminson—first met via Facebook. More unusual is the fact that they were introduced by their parents, who had struck up a friendship on the social networking site. Unconventional or not, guitarist R.C. Rossell, bassist Jack Meidel, singer Evan Fleming and his brother, drummer Stephen Fleming, couldn’t be happier with the outcome.

The group, which has been together just shy of a year, cites influences ranging from Van Halen and Stone Temple Pilots to Metallica and Led Zeppelin. And, while the group is beginning to pen some original tunes, they have relied heavily on a stellar collection of popular cover songs. Having already graced several area stages, the group has been encouraged by the positive feedback they’ve received. “You don’t know how other people are going to feel about your music,” Meidel says. When they get a good crowd reaction “it shows that strangers notice that we have talent.”

Evan Fleming says it’s the crowd’s response that keeps him performing. “People say they can close their eyes and hear the real songs,” he says. “That’s the ultimate compliment.” Of course, given that the oldest member of the band is only 17, the group still has some stereotypes to break through. Often they hear, “You guys are awesome.… We never saw kids play as well for your age,” says Steve Fleming. While they appreciate people taking notice, Rossell keeps a level head and takes a simple approach to the music. “I just like playing live. It’s my favorite thing to do,” he says.

Solo Artist (Under 18) Vayia Karavangelas
When this Washington Township youngster was just a toddler, she was picking up on ‘N Sync songs and reciting the lyrics. Recognizing her potential, it wasn’t long before her mom enrolled her in a singing class to work on things like tone and pitch. While ‘N Sync may no longer be topping the charts, Karavangelas’ love affair with singing has only strengthened.

“I like all kinds of music,” she says, citing Taylor Swift, Maroon 5 and, of course, Justin Bieber as some of her favorites.

Despite being only 13, Karavangelas was confident enough in her still developing voice to enter the Top Talent contest.

Her rendition of Coldplay’s “Fix You” was a favorite amongst voters, and as a result took home top honors in the solo artist under 18 category in this year’s competition.

When it comes to performing, Karavangelas thrives when singing in front of a crowd, preferring larger groups for the adrenaline rush.

Her ultimate goal? To perform in a front of sold-out audiences like some of her idols. “I went to the Taylor Swift concert and when I saw her face when she came out and saw the crowd…. I want that feeling someday.”

Solo Artist (Over 18) Liat Arochas
By her late teens, Liat Arochas was taking the stage at area bars and clubs, belting out her soulful mix of folksy blues. Today, you’ll find the 22-year-old Voorhees resident, known simply as Liat, entertaining audiences in Philadelphia and New York City. It’s been an ongoing journey, but one Liat has embraced with open arms.

“My passion is music, that’s what I want to do in my life,” the Temple University student says.

Her ability and determination was quickly noticed by one of her professors, who has worked with everyone from Patti LaBelle to Tori Amos. Together the duo have begun working on crafting Liat’s sound and recording in the studio. It’s the next step for the singer who once was a fixture during open mic nights at local coffeehouses.

While her future is looking brighter than ever, Liat continues to promote her name by keeping a tireless schedule of gigs booked. A veteran of the live music scene, she gets more anxious than nervous before hitting the stage. “I want to get up there and share my music,” she says. “I love performing, and I give it my all.”

Band (Over 18) The Defused (pictured: from left, are John Hager, Kelly LaFrancis and Christophe LaFrancis)

Formed in May 2010, The Defused were formerly known as Trick Nickels. When creative differences began to pull the group in different directions, singer/guitarist Christophe LaFrancis and bassist John Hager parted ways with their drummer. The good news was that the group didn’t have to look far for a replacement.

Recently, LaFrancis’ wife Kelly joined the group behind the drum kit, and the trio hasn’t missed a beat. Mixing alternative and indie sounds, the group likes to blend a classic rock sensibility with modern, radio-friendly pop sounds.

Since The Defused are still fairly new, the Burlington County-based band has taken on its share of interesting gigs—performing on a hill outside a restaurant or, on another occasion, in 101-degree heat at a barbecue.

No matter how unfavorable the conditions, the group is just happy to share their sound. “We just set up and say, ‘Let’s go,’” laughs Hager.

LaFrancis is responsible for coming up with the bones of the group’s original material, but all members have input into the creative process. It’s a writing style that has allowed their music to flourish.

“When I see people react [to the music], it’s a good feeling,” says LaFrancis. “It’s really cool and shows all that hard work paid off.”

Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Magazine, Volume 8, Issue 6 (September, 2011).
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