Centennial choir members to join Foreigner on stage


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CHAMPAIGN — A few weeks ago, choir students at Centennial High School were pulling up Youtube videos of the band Foreigner.

They hadn't heard much — if any — of the 1970s-era band before.

But they liked "Jukebox Hero," they decided. Good thing, too.

Early Friday morning, those same students learned their school's choir was the winner of an area competition for a chance to get onstage with the band during their June 23 concert at the State Farm Center.

"There was screaming out loud," said choir director Marian Wyatt. "Then they grabbed their phones and texted their parents and then came Snapchat and Instagram."

The Centennial students bested 10 other choirs, who had also joined them in sending in performance video clips for a chance to join the band onstage during "I Want to Know What Love Is."

"I think we all, in the back of our mind, were thinking 'yes,' but we just didn't want to count our chickens before they hatched," Wyatt said. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

That Foreigner was an unfamiliar band to many students didn't matter — it was a chance to be onstage, performing in front of a larger crowd than normal.

"I'm not going to lie; I only knew like one song," said freshman Meika Cramer. "I did like it a lot."

Cramer was one of a handful of freshman girls who said they hadn't planned on joining choir prior to this year but are finding themselves fighting nerves at the thought of performing with the Grammy-nominated band.

"I was expecting to just have concerts in the auditorium, but little did I know I would be singing with famous people," Cramer said.

And there's a little extra pressure for Anna Miller, who said she's excited, but also fighting nerves.

"My stepdad knows" people in the band, she said. "Like, I'm really nervous. Not a little bit — really."

Her stepdad, John Martin, who's been in the central Illinois music scene for 39 years, said he does know people in the band, but it's Miller who's really the impressive one of the family: Martin has been following the band since he first saw them in 1981 at age 14, but he's never "jammed with them" or been onstage with them in the way Miller and other students have a chance to be.

"I mean, she's doing something I haven't done, and I have 37 years on her," he said. "She'll remember this for the rest of her life."

Not all of Centennial's 150 choir students will be onstage come June 23: Wyatt said they have to narrow it down to 25 students. The narrowing will be the hard part, she said. "There won't be any trouble" in finding students eager to get onstage.

Regardless of who makes it, Martin said he hopes all students will "savor" the opportunity when it comes.

"To me this is huge — I don't know if they realize how huge it is," he said. "Until you're up there, I don't know. When you're up there, the lights hit you, and you can't see out past 40-50 rows. But when you're coming down afterward and can see — it's a lot of people, so like I said, they just don't know how big this is."

And how significant is the Centennial choir's win for 30-year veteran director Wyatt, who's retiring at the end of this year?

"It's just the icing on the cake," she said.


Lyndsay Jones is a reporter covering education at The News-Gazette. Her email is ljones@news-gazette, and you can follow her on Twitter (@__lyndsayjones).