MUKILTEO — Students and teachers crowded into math teacher Chance McKinney’s classroom at Kamiak High School on Tuesday to hear the news.
As the clock ticked closer to 10 a.m., a countdown began each time the Country Music Television home page flashed on a screen at the front of the classroom.
“Whatever nervous energy you’ve got going, magnify that 100 fold and you’ll understand what I’ve got going,” McKinney said.
Students counted down from 10 several times until their teacher’s picture appeared on the screen as the winner of CMT’s Music City Madness online contest. Cheers and some tears then followed.
“I don’t even know where to start. I don’t even know where I would be if it wasn’t for him right now,” junior Gabii Vazquez said. “I was falling behind on my credits … He taught me what I was doing was wrong and it was like a wakeup call to me. He was one of my teachers that actually did care.”
Vazquez, 17, frequently voted for McKinney’s original song, “Be Real” on www.cmt.com throughout the contest that began in October among 64 amateur country singer-songwriters. Voting took place in brackets for six rounds. People could vote as many times as they wanted for their favorite artist.
In the end, McKinney emerged as the favorite.
“I love you,” a student yelled after McKinney was announced the winner.
“You’re still getting a ‘B,’ ” McKinney said.
McKinney wrote his winning song in 2005 in the back of a truck while heading home from coaching a track meet in California. He scribbled part of the song on an envelope and then recorded it on his voice mail while on an airplane flying home. He performed the song once with his former group, Nathan Chance, in 2006.
Now his students and fans know a little more about him and the song.
“It’s a great song that describes him perfectly,” said senior Greg Turner, 17.
A Facebook fan page was created when people at the school learned McKinney was a country musician and in a national contest. Students asked friends and family to vote through social networks, including Facebook, Twitter and MySpace. They designed and sold nearly 100 black T-shirts with “Team Chance” on the back and wore them the day of the announcement.
McKinney’s wife, Lisa, said her husband has been touched by the support he’s received from Kamiak teachers, students, friends, family and fans throughout Washington, Oregon, Montana and Utah.
“It’s just been a remarkable road with a lot of sleepless nights and anxiety,” she said. “He is truly blessed. I’m fortunate to tag along with him.”
After learning he won, McKinney brought out his guitar, sat in the spot he normally teaches trigonometry and statistics and played “Be Real” at the urging of his students. They sang along and carried the last few verses when McKinney became too choked up to sing.
“Make sure you thank everybody that helped us out,” he said.
Then he gave his students some words of advice.
“I was a real nerd. I was an athlete. I was shy and others thought I was stuck up,” he said. “I had moments both ways. Please don’t think yourself any different. You all have good qualities and bad qualities. You all make good decisions and you all make bad decisions.”
McKinney is a good example for students, Linda Swanson, who works in the Kamiak office, said.
“They’re helping him follow his dream and hopefully this will help them be inspired to follow their own passions in the future,” she said.
As the contest winner, McKinney will travel to Nashville, Tenn., for a televised national recording session at Studio 330, be given the opportunity to audition for Valory Music, and meet with country star Reba McEntire. He said he’ll wait to hear from CMT representatives to determine exactly when he’ll take the next step.
Vazquez, 17, said she hopes McKinney will teach math during her senior year.
“I’m planning on having him again as a teacher next year, even though he probably won’t be here,” she said. “It’s the hardest thing for me but I know he was there for me when I needed him so I had to be there for him.”
Amy Daybert: 425-339-3491, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hear “Be Real”
Chance McKinney will perform as part of the band CrossWire at 9 p.m. Friday at Gerry Andal’s Restaurant and Lounge, 27021 102nd Ave. NW, Stanwood. Children under the age of 18 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian. Anyone under 21 will be asked to leave at 11 p.m.
More info: www. chancemckinney.com.