KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — The Wings Event Center will be rocking Friday night with classic rock band Foreigner, who will feature special guests from just down the road.
Portage Northern High School’s Songleaders choir will join the band to sing one of their most iconic songs.
The whole thing started when WRKR-FM sent out emails to Southwest Michigan high school choir directors about a contest; the group that got the most votes would get the chance to sing with Foreigner. Portage Northern’s Chelsea Whiteoak saw her inbox and filled her students in.
“They were like, ‘That would be pretty awesome, but when is it?’ I said ‘May 19th.’ They said ‘OK, let’s see what we can do,’” she said.
Her fourth period, the Songleaders, took charge.
“We really wanted to do this,” junior Ysa Cerbo said. “…To see our dreams coming to fruition was really important to us.”
“The last three days of the competition, I just sent an email out to all faculty. I sent it out to the students … probably about every hour on the hour on that Sunday leading up until the finals,” Whiteoak said. “I know that a lot of us were just up watching them past midnight to see what the scores were actually going to be.”
When that dream became reality, the students’ initial reaction was relief.
“I’m not going to say they were super shocked because they were like, ‘It was 51%,’” Whiteoak said. “They were like ‘whoo.’ That was about the level of that until I was like, ‘OK, come on, give me some more energy,’ and they were like,’ Yeah!’ So it was pretty awesome.”
“All of us worked so hard for this,” senior Alice Kraatz said. “We were getting everybody to vote. We really worked hard on our pieces and the song we’re singing for Foreigner.”
That song is none other than Foreigner’s biggest hit, “I Want to Know What Love Is” — a song the kids say they grew up with, though they weren’t around when it was released in 1984.
“I always heard Foreigner(‘s) ‘I Want to Know What Love Is’ in the car with my mom when I was younger, so it’s really interesting (that) we’re going to sing that with the band at that time,” sophomore Elijah Parker said. “It’s going to be really cool to experience that.”
“My dad is very into ’60s, ’70s, ’80s,” Cerbo said. “Just to be able to share this experience with him not only makes it very special to me, but to my dad. To be able to share this (feeling of), ‘I’m doing this for you, I think of you when I do this,’ it just makes my heart really happy.”
“I know all of my older family and all their friends are so jealous of me that I get to sing with Foreigner. My mom got two tickets and everybody was vying for the second ticket,” Kraatz laughed.
Foreigner’s bassist Jeff Pilson said a portion of proceeds from CD purchases at their concerts will go toward school music funding. Friday night’s will help Portage Northern’s programs.
“The first thing that goes when schools are having budget problems is music and the arts. It’s been proven that when those things are missing, a child’s education is severely interfered with. We want to do something about that, so we’re trying to give back,” Pilson said. “The whole thing is experiencing the eyes of those people in the choir that are experiencing it for the first time and you can follow them and what they’re experiencing. It’s a great feeling.”
While the band may be giving back, it is also giving the next generation an opportunity for an ultimate encore.
“To be able to give this to them is just incredible,” Whiteoak said. “I feel just grateful that I can actually do this for them.”
“I had a great year this year,” Kraatz said. “Everything is coming to this really wonderful experience, so it’ll be … a good thing to remember.”
“It’s just crazy,” Cerbo said. “I just never thought I’d be able to do this and do it with people that I truly do love and I love performing with, it’s a win-win.”
Tickets for the Friday concert can be purchased online here. Michiganders who can’t make it Friday will have one last chance to see Foreigner on their farewell tour at the Pine Knob Music Theatre in Clarkston on Aug. 30.