By June Mathews
Some kids can only dream of taking the stage with a world-famous rock band.
But that dream became a reality for some John Carroll Catholic High School choir members when they sang with legendary rock band Foreigner during the group’s recent appearance at Oak Mountain Amphitheatre.
Choir director Maria Wilson said the experience was the thrill of a lifetime not only for her students, but for their teacher, too.
“My husband introduced me to ‘80s rock bands such as Foreigner and Journey when we met,” said Wilson. “He is a big fan, and that is actually how I got to know their music.”
A British-American band founded in the late 1970s, Foreigner produced one platinum album after another throughout the 1980s and became one of the world’s best-selling bands of all time. Several decades later, the group is still going strong. Over the years, it has racked up sales to the tune of 75 million albums and now attracts multi-generational audiences wherever it goes.
The band’s July 30 appearance at Oak Mountain drew an enthusiastic crowd ranging from youngsters hearing Foreigner classics for the first time to aging Baby Boomers looking to recapture youthful memories. The concert also included Cheap Trick and Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience.
The John Carroll students were invited to sing along on the chorus of Foreigner’s 1984 smash hit “I Want to Know What Love Is,” an opportunity being offered to several high school choirs during the band’s 40th Anniversary Tour.
The students’ road to stardom began during the spring when Wilson was contacted by a John Carroll alum who works at Oak Mountain Amphitheatre to ask if the choir would be interested in singing backup for Foreigner. Wilson didn’t hesitate.
“I said ‘yes’ right away because I knew this would be an amazing opportunity for some of our students,” she said. “We were allowed only 25 students onstage, so I did an email lottery to determine who would go. The first 25 students to email me their genuine interest were accepted.”
To no one’s surprise, Wilson handily filled the quota and wound up with singers to spare.
“I had quite a wait list,” she said.
In preparation for the concert, the students practiced several times during the week leading up to the big event. Other than that, Wilson ran though the set-up of the stage with the students and told them where they would stand before going on, but that was about it. There was no rehearsal with the band, a detail that, in the end, made no difference to anyone involved.
“The kids said the band members were so welcoming when they got onstage,” Wilson said. “They made the kids feel comfortable and really jammed out with them.”
And what was Wilson thinking as her students sang?
“I was thinking that these kids may never have an experience like this again and how beautiful it was that Foreigner includes young people in their concerts for such a classic hit that everyone loves,” she said. “It’s a timeless song and a timeless experience. I was so proud of those kids, and I was so emotional. It all felt incredibly surreal, and I will always get chills when I hear that song.”
For their performance, the students earned a $500 contribution from Foreigner to benefit the John Carroll choir program.
“They worked so hard this past year and accomplished so much,” said Wilson, who is beginning her third year as choir director. “This experience is an incredible reward that is well-deserved.” ❖