DANVILLE — Students throughout the Danville school district flocked to computers on Tuesday, but not to do their classroom assignments.
They were eager to go on to NBC's "Today" website and vote for the person they thought should win the show's national singing competition for kids — in this case, fellow Danville student Christian Cunningham.
"We are so proud of Christian," Danville High Assistant Principal Phil Cox said Wednesday, shortly after the 16-year-old sophomore was announced as the winner of "The Voice — Kids' Edition." "He is an amazing young man — talented yet humble. He exemplifies what is best about Danville High School."
"We are extremely proud of Christian — not just for his amazing talent, but for representing our entire community so strongly," added Danville Mayor Scott Eisenhauer, who has organized a rally at Temple Plaza in downtown Danville on Friday evening to congratulate the teen. "The nation got to see more than just a young man with an incredible voice. They got to see a true gentleman whose personality and character shone as brightly as his vocal performance. This community rallied behind him in getting out the vote, and I hope they will rally again to welcome him home following his great success throughout this competition."
The contest, which started five weeks ago, was "Today's" version of the network's "The Voice" reality TV singing competition. It was open to youth ages 8 to 16.
Cunningham was selected from thousands of hopefuls to become one of nine contestants to perform live on the show. After giving strong performances, he moved easily on to the second and final rounds.
Cunningham and Jillian Rae Schlessinger, a 14-year-old from Long Island, N.Y., competed in the final round on Tuesday, singing "Fame." Viewers chose the winner, who was announced on the show's fourth hour the next day.
"You guys were both terrific," co-host Hoda Kotb said before she and co-host Kathie Lee Gifford announced that viewers selected Cunningham. Kotb said 10,000 people voted, and the Danville teen took 68 percent of the vote.
Gifford presented Cunningham with a trophy and a hug, and announced his real prize is a meet-and-greet with at least one — or perhaps all — of "The Voice's" vocal coaches and judges — Christina Aguilera, Cee Lo Green, Adam Levine and Blake Shelton. Schlessinger received a Wii gaming system.
Several hours later, Cunningham said his win was still sinking in.
"I feel great," said the teen, who plans to study music in college and dreams of becoming a Gospel recording artist one day. "This has shown me, I really want to do this. I'm going to keep working hard and keep God first. I know he's going to open those doors for me."
Martha Lindvahl, a longtime music teacher who retired from Danville High last year, said she was elated but not surprised by her former student's victory.
"I'm biased, but I had a feeling he would win," said Lindvahl, who encouraged Cunningham to audition, helped him prepare his video and flew to New York City on Monday to help him practice his final song. "Even Hoda came over afterwards and said, 'I knew from the moment I heard him sing he would win.'
"He has a very mature voice, and he sings like a professional," she continued. "I truly believe this is just the start."
Derrick and Alicia Cunningham, the teen's father and stepmother, said they also felt their son had a good shot.
"He puts a lot of time into his music," Derrick Cunningham said. "This has shown him that hard work pays off."
"And the support he's gotten, that our whole family has gotten, has been overwhelming," his wife added. "We've gotten so many texts and messages through Facebook. It's like a chain reaction. It's definitely been the experience of a lifetime for Christian and us. And we just can't thank everyone enough."
City hosting rally in sophomore's honor
The public is invited to a rally to congratulate 16-year-old Christian Cunningham of Danville, the winner of "The Voice — Kids' Edition," NBC's "Today" singing competition.
The event, hosted by the city of Danville, will be held at 6 p.m. Friday at Temple Plaza in downtown Danville.
It will include a short presentation to honor the Danville High School sophomore and his success in the competition. Cunningham, who won multiple awards for best male solo and best overall solo at show choir competitions this past year, also will perform a few of his favorite songs.
Mayor Scott Eisenhauer urges people to line North Vermilion Street between the Fischer Theatre and Temple Plaza to cheer for Cunningham and welcome him as he arrives at the rally atop a fire truck.