By BRYCE MARTIN
Pioneer Editor | firstname.lastname@example.org
A little more than a year after finding success on NBC’s “The Voice,” Scranton native Kat Perkins returned home for the first time this week with a message for Bowman County youth: Be kind and be fearless.
Perkins visited Scranton and Bowman County schools May 11 as part of a multi-school tour in partnership with EduTech, an organization that helps schools understand the new technologies used in their classrooms.
Her own “fearless” journey through the music industry has empowered Perkins to help lead youth in a positive direction, especially when using social media. She’s spent several months travelling to schools in an effort to share her unique experiences after being a Top 5 performer on “The Voice.”
Perkins has already spoken and performed in front of nearly 40,000 students since she began visiting classrooms across the state last year.
But giving a presentation to Scranton students was different for Perkins.
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“This is where it all started,” she told the audience.
The songstress grew up in Scranton with her parents, Mark and Gayle, and her sister, Kelly Perkins-Robinson, and graduated from Scranton High School. Despite leaving her hometown over 16 years ago—she now lives in Minneapolis—Perkins said she’d always be a North Dakotan in her heart. It was in Scranton schools that she was taught everything she knows, as she explained.
Seventh through 12th grade students filed into the Scranton High School gymnasium at 10 a.m. Monday to hear the Scranton alumnus give her second speech and performance of the morning. Kindergarten through sixth grade students listened to Perkins give a more generalized presentation suitable for their young ages earlier in the morning.
Her mission for the older students was to define “fearless,” which is also the title of her latest hit single.
Fearless, for Perkins, meant following her dreams. “It wasn’t easy,” she told the students. She explained that the music industry is volatile. A singer needs to be adaptable, have “guts” and work hard. The industry’s behind-the-scenes aspects are not often represented for the public, but Perkins experienced them firsthand.
Music is her passion and she said she wanted the students to find theirs in life. “Everyone in this room is good at something,” she told them. “You need to question what that is for you.”
Scranton’s students, like Perkins, grew up in what she considered an “awesome community” and in a culture of hard work. For that, Perkins said she was fortunate and the students should feel the same way.
Across her right arm is Perkins’ 33rd tattoo: “If you can dream it, you can do it” is written in black, script letters. That motto started with her father. It’s such an important family message that both her parents and sister have the same tattoo.
Some online users pointed out that her tattoos were satanic and shouldn’t be found on somebody wanting to empower today’s youth.
That’s how Perkins broached the issue of behavior on social media; she’s experienced the brunt of it.
Social media was pivotal in Perkins’ success on “The Voice.” Producers of the show used Twitter as a way for the public to save certain contestants from being eliminated from the competition. Whichever contestant amassed the most saves stayed for another week. People would simply log on to their Twitter account and write Perkins’ name followed by #voicesave, as junior Colbey Steeke yelled out when Perkins brought up Twitter during the presentation.
Perkins found herself in that situation twice before ultimately being eliminated from the show last May.
While social media granted Perkins an extension to perform for the show’s average 15 million viewers, it was also hurtful.
“I was never ready for it,” Perkins said after she discovered negativity was spreading via social media about her performances and her appearance.
Perkins told the students the negativity ranged from a person saying her voice sounded “like a dying raccoon,” all the way up to receiving a death threat.
That’s why Perkins’ message for students was so important: They are leaving a legacy online through their Instagrams, tweets, Facebook posts and Snapchats.
“Do those give an accurate representation of yourself?” she asked the students.
The stereotypical playground bully has been transformed in today’s technology-driven society—the playground setting is now social media and, instead of punches or kicks, bullies use social media posts or messages as their method to administer pain.
But students these days should consider what they’re putting online, not only to be kind to others but for their future, Perkins explained. People are often fired from their jobs or not hired because of something found by employers on social media.
Following a recent presentation at another school, Perkins received a “nasty” Snapchat from a sixth grade student, she said.
“I can never unsee it,” Perkins said.
Perkins explained that Adam Levine, her musical coach on “The Voice” and lead singer of the popular pop group Maroon 5, defied her expectations of celebrity—he was nice and some other celebrities she met were not.
“He’s successful because of his culture of kindness,” she said.
But kindness won’t be found everywhere the students venture, as she explained that outside of small, rural Scranton lies a big world filled with people that can be cruel.
To be truly fearless, Perkins said, is to be kind to one another.
After her presentation, Perkins changed up the atmosphere to have some fun with the students. She held a game of “Ball of Truth,” where selected students would make a free-throw shot into the basketball net and get to ask Perkins a question. If they missed, however, she got to ask them a question.
Perkins selected Alex Czajkowski, seventh grade; Ebony Musonda, eighth grade; Abraham Musonda, a freshman; Jordan Dilse, a sophomore; Steeke; and Zane Johns, a senior.
Steeke made a jump shot, much to the delight of Perkins and the audience, and got to ask his question, “Besides music, what was your favorite organization in school?”
“FBLA,” she answered.
Perkins said it was the most fun session of Ball of Truth thus far.
Of course, to end her visit with students, Perkins unleashed her powerful voice for a trio of songs, including her single, “Fearless,” “Barracuda,” and a special performance with her father on guitar—along with her guitarist, Eric Warner—in an impromptu arrangement of Sia’s massive hit, “Elastic Heart.”
It was easy to see she won the audience’s heart (if she hadn’t already).
The students screamed for an encore, but Perkins had a schedule to follow. Her next stop would be Bowman County Public Schools.
A few hours later, Perkins and her entourage arrived at Bowman County High School’s Solberg Gymnasium for her first live Bowman performance in years.
Before giving a similar presentation to Bowman’s middle and high school students as she had in Scranton, she turned her attention to Bowman’s youngest.
Kindergarten through sixth grade students, many wearing “Team Kat’ T-shirts, watched in amazement as Perkins strutted to the center of the gym.
Students from Rhame, Amidon and Marmarth joined Bowman’s students as they got to hear Perkins talk about being brave, something she had to do throughout her life.
“I would have never known I liked singing until I tried it,” she told the young students.
Then she offered a secret that many could relate to, she didn’t try vegetables until she was 20 years old. And she said her father didn’t try broccoli until he was 40.
“So you can never be too old to try new things,” she explained.
And auditioning last year for “The Voice” was certainly one of those new things for Perkins.
She encouraged the young students to follow their dreams, believe in themselves and be kind, even to their siblings, which was met with a resounding sigh from the students. She asked the students to “pinky promise” that they would also be nice to their teachers. Adults in the audience smiled and laughed.
Perkins donned a gray T-shirt that most of the faculty wore in preparation for her visit that read, “Bowman County staff is fearless.” An appropriate way to show their support for the Scranton native and rising star.
In a game similar to Scranton’s Ball of Truth, Perkins, with the assistance of Warner, had students Mariah Smolnikar, kindergarten, Braylynn Fischer, first grade, Amberlynn Lewton, kindergarten, Avery Egeland, third grade, Adeline Lyons, first grade, Barrett Walby, sixth grade, and Ethan Reichenberg toss a toy egg into Warner’s guitar case to ask a question.
She them entertained the audience with another performance of her song, “Fearless,” and a sing-along to “Let It Go” from the Disney animated film, “Frozen.”
Perkins will return to Bowman in July to perform during the Bowman County Fair.