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Triplets from Hopewell to tour with Oak Ridge Boys

Wednesday, November 22, 2000

By Jerry Sharpe

Hey, look, it's Kristen. No, it's Stephanie. Wrong again, it's Melissa. Oh, heck. There's no way to tell these 23-year-old identical triplets apart. So just call them by their stage name, Chandler.

Country music singing group Chandler is composed of 23-year-old triplets, from left, Stephanie, Melissa and Kristen Semenko. (Bill Wade, Post-Gazette)

The triplets have been making waves on the Western Pennsylvania entertainment scene with "the kind of close harmony that only siblings can sing," said their manager/producer Bob Corbin.

Their vocals so impressed the Oak Ridge Boys that Chandler will leave with the famous quartet on a Christmas tour from tomorrow through Dec. 23, opening at the Grand Palace in Branson, Mo.

Corbin, who is half of the Corbin Hanner act, wrote songs for the Oak Ridge Boys. So he sent the Chandler's demo tape to them and asked for "feedback advice" on how to nurture the act along.

Instead, the Oak Ridge Boys asked Chandler to join them for the Christmas tour.

Are they excited? "I don't think we'll be able to sleep the night before leaving," Melissa said.

The three women hail from Hopewell, Beaver County, and are daughters of the late Rev. Michael Semenko.

"We were afraid that Semenko was a little too ethnic," Kristen said. "So we took the name of Chandler -- a 7-year-old cousin we all love."

The triplets credit their father with starting their singing careers at age 7 in church. From church singing, they went on to colleges and clubs as they grew up. But they always sang a cappella until they met Corbin about three years ago.

That came about through a mutual friend, their cousin Chandler's father, Ray Cheran.

Corbin invited the triplets to join him and partner Dave Hanner at a gig. Corbin was so impressed that he became their manager and producer.

"I realized they had natural talent and were good looking and personable. But they needed advice on how to develop as an act," Corbin said. "Dave and me ran into a lot of hard knocks and learning experiences when we got together as an act out of high school. I wanted to take the time needed with Chandler -- the time to polish the act into what they're looking for in Nashville."

One of the first things Chandler learned was how to sing with a band. Since then, they've performed in a variety of venues and on the Maury Povich and Rikki Lake TV shows. And in July 1999, they were the opening act for country music legend Loretta Lynn at Mountaineer Park in West Virginia.

Meanwhile, Corbin is working with them on their first CD. He said, "It's about three-quarters finished. Some record companies are already interested."

"It'll be eclectic. We like so many forms of music," Kristen said. Stephanie added, "Our idols of today are the Dixie Chicks and Faith Hill."

Melissa chimed in, "When we were kids and the other kids our age were listening to Madonna, we grew up listening to Kenny Rogers, the Eagles and the Bee Gees. We just loved good harmony. And the Mandrell sisters, wow. We loved them so much that each of us would pretend we were our favorite one of the Mandrell sisters."

Are they happy with the progress in their career?

They smiled their best smile and in deliberate harmony said, "Oh, yes."

Jerry Sharpe covers country music for the Post-Gazette.

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