Two Boca Raton teenagers induced Howard Stern to jump from his seat, and enticed more than 900,000 YouTube viewers to click play — by rocking out on their cellos.
After finding instant fame with an animated, electric cover of Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze" on "America's Got Talent," Emil and Dariel Liakhovetski are waiting to learn their fate on the NBC reality competition. Their performance can be seen again Tuesday night in an episode featuring the show's best auditions.
During their audition, which first aired June 22, the schoolboyish teens ambled onstage in collared shirts and straddled their instruments. The brothers, who have been playing classical cello since they were preschoolers, played the opening burst of "Purple Haze," and the audience in the New Jersey studio roared with approval.
"Once Howard Stern jumped up, my nerves went away," says Emil, 16.
Stern, one of the show's four celebrity judges, told the brothers, "I loved the element of surprise, and you guys just shocked us. You just went to being the coolest guys on the block."
During the audition, their mother, Alla Liakhovetski, had dashed away from the stage and hid her eyes.
"Two boys playing cellos — I was worried [the judges would] make fun of them," she says.
The resulting Internet fandom has included comments such as "It's stuff like this that keeps Jimi up, even in the great beyond."
Because not everyone who gets a "yes" from the judges advances to the next round, in which viewersvote on the contestants, they now wait to hear whether they'll be invited to go for the $1 million first prize.
The boys learned cello from their grandfather, Leonid Rubanchik, who emigrated from Belarus, Russia, and was a touring principal cellist in the United States. He lives with the family, and has been the only teacher the boys have ever known.
"He's our coach, and we want to never stop learning," Emil says. "There's always something more we can achieve."
Adds Alla: "When they play the cello, I see my dad."
Rubanchik, standing in the wings, teared up as his grandsons played during the "America's Got Talent" taping.
About a year ago, the boys expanded their repertoire to include rock and pop.
"Playing these songs is like classical, except with a beat and distortion," says Dariel, 14. "When you think about it, the guitar was first a classical instrument, too. Except a cello can act as a guitar, a bass or a violin."
The boys haven't performed much, other than an occasional show at their local library. Because of homeschooling, they don't have a large circle of friends in west Boca Raton. Emil is attending Florida Atlantic University on a Bright Futures scholarship. Alla homeschools Dariel, while their father, Anatoli, operates a dental practice in North Miami Beach.
The brothers spend five hours a day practicing in their living room, with their amplifiers cranked up. Sometimes, neighbors walking by outside will stop in front of the Liakhovetski house and listen.
"We should charge admission," Emil jokes.
The boys say they get along, and have written original arrangements for songs such as AC/DC's "TNT." They model themselves after 2CELLOS, a Croatian duo that toured with Elton John and appeared on "Glee."
"We lock ourselves in the back room, and don't come out until we both agree on how it should sound," Emil says.
They swap playing the lead melody and the rhythm within a song, aiming for such precise intonation that they expect listeners to not realize who is playing which part.
Long term, they're not sure if they'll pursue careers in music. For now, they're more consumed with creating the best music possible than they are with the idea of winning $1 million.
"We're just excited to share this music with everyone," Dariel says.
What: "America's Got Talent" on NBC
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday