Three Danville natives in town to sing
DANVILLE — First it was Bryan Wilson singing "His Eye Is on the Sparrow" with the Mississippi Children's Choir.
Then it was Jared Yates making it to Hollywood as one of the "American Idol" finalists.
And then, it was Christian Cunningham, winning the teen version of "The Voice" on NBC's "Today" show last month.
All three aspiring singers are Danville natives who have had their own shining moments on a national stage, and all three are in their hometown this weekend for various performances.
Wilson and Cunningham are scheduled to appear at the same three-night gospel event at Mount Zion Word of Life Church, 1535 E. Fairchild St., Danville. Yates was also scheduled to appear there, but his manager, Ryan Dejong, said flight delays have forced Yates to change his schedule, because he could not get into town for rehearsal. But Yates will still make his already-scheduled performance at Charlotte's in Danville at 5 p.m. today.
Like Yates, Wilson has been away from Danville pursuing music. It's been more than two years since he has been in Danville, where he started singing at an early age as a member of the Mount Zion congregation.
"It's a rewarding feeling," Wilson said of returning to Danville and Mount Zion church.
Wilson is leading the three-day event that began last night and continues through Saturday and also features, Cunningham and Steve Bynum, also known as Priest Soul, who sings with R&B star.
Wilson first burst into the national spotlight almost 20 years ago at the age of 10 when he sang his soulful, melismatic rendition of "His Eye Is on the Sparrow" with the Mississippi Children's Choir.
Cunningham's first taste of national attention came several weeks ago as a finalist in the "Today" show's version of the NBC network's, "The Voice" reality TV singing competition. It was open to youth ages 8 to 16, and 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, and ultimately, won the competition.
Like Cunningham, Yates also beat out thousands to become a finalist in the fourth season of "American Idol" in 2004. Now, he's working on his own music career.
Yates will be performing tonight at Charlotte's Cafe, 402 N. Gilbert St., Danville, where he often sang before his "American Idol" debut.
He has a new album being released this summer under his stage name, Jariko, inspired by the Biblical story of Jericho. He also has a video being released this summer called, "Angels." It will premiere locally on WCIA's 'ciLiving" program on Monday. And, Yates also has been on a "Choose Love Tour" that sends an anti-bullying message and encourages love for all people in all walks of life. Yates has other central Illinois appearances lined up this summer, including June 28 at the Champaign Block Party.
Wilson didn't get started on a reality television show but in the back yard of his Danville home where a neighbor often heard him singing and encouraged his mother to record him. They did and sent the audio to a record company in Mississippi. That brought him to Jackson, Miss., and to his singing "His Eye Is on the Sparrow," which marked his first professional singing appearance. Video of him singing with the Mississippi Childrens Choir can still be viewed on YouTube.
Wilson, who's now 29, is a co-pastor at a congregation in Washington D.C., but has not abandoned his career in gospel music. He has recorded three solo CDs and is currently finishing up his first CD for Blacksmoke Music Worldwide, a top gospel-recording label, Wilson said.
One of the singles on that CD, "Expect You Now," is picking up traction on radio stations across the country, said Wilson, who keeps in touch with Yates as he pursues his own singing career.
Wilson said they keep in touch through the Internet and sometimes the phone, and he's even offered advice to Cunningham, who's still in high school but would like to pursue a gospel music career some day. Wilson said he's told Cunningham to seize opportunities, because they may never come again, and told him it's essential to know the business aspect of the music industry.
"That's what keeps you in the forefront," Wilson said. "I'm very happy for those guys and what they're doing."