BIRD ISLAND — The gym at St. Mary's Catholic School in Bird Island sounded more like a concert arena than a school gymnasium Oct. 18 as the entire student body rocked along with Kat Perkins, who was visiting as part of the school's annual fundraising marathon.
Perkins, best known for her time on NBC's "The Voice" in season 6, is a native of Scranton, North Dakota, and moved to the Twin Cities after high school, to pursue her singing ambitions.
"Minnesota has just been home. We feel we can make a difference here," Perkins said.
Since "The Voice," Perkins has split her time between performing, recording and public speaking, including visits to schools across the nation.
"We call this the Fearless campaign," Perkins said. "I tell my story about being fearless, coming from a small town and chasing your dreams. We inspire kids to do the same."
From a young age Perkins wanted to be a singer. Both of her parents were musical and Perkins was set on a life in the music business.
"It was always it, from as long as I can remember," Perkins said.
Her career started well, with Perkins starting her own band, playing as the opening act for big name performers like Guns and Roses and Bon Jovi and staring on stage in productions of the "Rocky Horror Picture Show" and "Tony & Tina's Wedding." She even signed a record deal.
"That was going really well," Perkins said.
Then her life was upended by an unexpected health issue. Perkins ended up with a vocal fold cyst, which required surgery, and brought her music career to a halt.
"It stopped me in my tracks," Perkins said.
As she was healing, Perkins worked as a nanny. She started singing again a year after her surgery and then started performing again.
Perkins did many shows for the Armed Forces overseas. It was during one of these trips when her life and career took another turn. While at an airport in Amsterdam, Perkins began singing a cover of Adele's "Someone Like You" as one of her crew played the piano in an airport lobby. Phones of travelers caught the impromptu performance and the videos started popping up on social media and on YouTube.
"That was what 'The Voice' people saw. It changed everything," Perkins said.
Perkins competed on the popular singing show in 2014, reaching the top 5. Her coach was Adam Levine, frontman for Maroon 5, and it was his advice to her about doing what made sense, that put her on her current path.
"I took that to heart," Perkins said.
Today, in addition to her performances and public speaking, Perkins has also started a music camp called the Badlands Rising Star Camp, in Medora, North Dakota.
"We sing, we have fun, we learn how to be great humans," Perkins said.
To make sure all — no matter their economic status in life — have an opportunity to take part in the camp, or have other opportunities to start their musical journey, Perkins started the Rising Star Foundation, which provides education, special events and scholarships. The foundation and camp is Perkins' way to give back and help those wanting to pursue a career in music, like the help she got.
"I had that. I had a want and a need. There are good people in this world. I am a product of that," Perkins said.
While Perkins has had success on both the east and west coasts, she stays in Minnesota. The music and arts scene in the Twin Cities, and greater Minnesota, is very diverse and active, a great place for budding artists to chase their dreams, Perkins said.
"Music is very active in our community. Thank you Prince," Perkins said, adding the Minnesota arts scene is full of unbelievable talent, willing to help fellow performers out.
"It's not cutthroat. We truly lift people up," Perkins said.
As Perkins visits schools, in addition to teaching youth to be fearless, kind and follow their dreams, she is also passing on her love for music, which she feels should be a part of everyone's life.
"Music has always been my best friend. It stays with you, your whole life," Perkins said.
And if the excited group of students at St. Mary's is any indication, as they sang right along with Perkins, they feel just as strongly as Perkins does.