When the select choir at Our Lady of Mercy Academy in Syosset entered a competition to perform with Foreigner at the NYCB Theatre at Westbury, the girls at the Catholic High School weren't very confident they'd win.
"We weren't sure whether being an all-girls school was going to work for us or against us," says choir member Kiera Salvo, 17, a senior from Lake Grove.
The day entrants were supposed to find out who won came and went without the girls hearing anything. They assumed they had lost the chance to sing the chorus of "I Want to Know What Love Is" with the band on Feb. 12.
But choir director Nick Troiani held out hope because WBAB radio, which ran the contest, hadn't publicly declared any winner that Monday. "It was a sleepless Monday night," he says.
On Tuesday, Jan. 27, Troiani got the congratulatory phone call -- the girls had beat out more than two dozen other Long Island high school choirs. It was a snow day, so the word spread among choir members by word-of-social-media. "When I saw them on Wednesday, it was high-five city," Troiani says.
"I was actually a little shocked," says member Danielle Case, 16, a junior from Port Washington.
Since then, the 18-member choir, made up of juniors and seniors who audition for a spot, has been "the talk of the school," says Kylie Nicholson, 15, a sophomore from Bethpage who isn't in the choir but is captain of the basketball and volleyball teams. "Everybody was so happy for them."
Foreigner invites a local group onstage to join the band at every concert in North America, says John Lappen, Foreigner's marketing director. This is the seventh year of the program; past Long Island honorees have included Uniondale High and Holy Trinity Diocesan High in Hicksville. Foreigner is a classic rock band; "I Want to Know What Love Is" was a hit in 1984.
The musicians in Foreigner love bringing the kids into the spotlight, says Tom Gimbel, who plays guitar, saxophone and more for the rock band. This concert, for instance, will be live-cast on yahoo.com worldwide, says Dan Kellachan, marketing director for the NYCB Theatre at Westbury.
“The main thing we like about it is the energy, the exuberance, the looks on the faces of these kids. These people are beaming like you could light up a city,” Gimbel says. It’s often the first time the choirs have played before a live audience of thousands, or with a rock band that has screaming fans “on their feet going crazy,” he says.
Gimbel also enjoys seeing the proud parents in the audience taking photographs. “It’s very uplifting,” he says. “It’s a real win-win.”
The appearance gives the school a chance to be in the spotlight.
The choir members wear Foreigner tour T-shirts and the choir receives a $500 donation from the band, Lappen says. In return, the choir members help Foreigner with a charity effort.
To raise money for The Grammy Foundation's MusiCares program, which donates money to schools whose arts programs have been affected by budget cuts, the kids sell a Foreigner Greatest Hits CD before and after the concert, and the money goes to the charity, Lappen says. "Through the efforts of the kids, we've raised more than $1 million, one CD at a time," Lappen says.
Choir member Elisa Grimaldi, 16, a junior from Old Brookville, says she's ready to hawk for the cause. "I feel like I'm generally a bubbly person. Hopefully my energy and personality will persuade people to buy these CDs."
Choir director Troiani says the school will pass its $500 gift from Foreigner on to the charity.
Troiani saw a posting about the WBAB competition on Facebook just a few days before video entries were due. Fortunately, the select choir had performed that song during the fall at a school event.
"I decided to enter because I have a super-talented chorus this year, probably one of the most talented choruses I've had in my 16 years here," Troiani says.
The choir members, who meet every other day during school and normally perform at school concerts or assisted living facilities, were game. In addition to submitting the entry to WBAB, the choir posted the video on its school YouTube channel and Facebook page. "Within a few hours, we had thousands of views," says member Angelique D'Alessandro, 17, of Merrick.
"I think we won because we're very unique," D'Alessandro says. "We're strictly girls and we have a very different sound because of that."
OVER THE MOON
Some classmates aren't sure who Foreigner is -- the band is more familiar to the kids' parents. "I'm very into music so I definitely knew who they were," says choir member Olivia Duffy, 17, a senior from Garden City. But she says once she sings a line to her friends, they recognize the song.
JoAnne Duffy, Olivia's mom, bought two tickets to the concert to attend with Olivia's dad, Matthew. "She was over-the-moon excited," JoAnne Duffy says of the day her daughter heard they'd won. "She called me screaming into the phone." The elder Duffy says it's fantastic to see Our Lady of Mercy Academy get notoriety. "There are wonderful, talented young ladies at this school," she says.
The younger Duffy says she'll probably be nervous the day of the performance, being on a real concert stage and knowing the performance is being livecast. "That gets a little nerve-racking," she says.
But the girls say they're more thrilled than anything.
"This is probably going to be one of the best experiences I've ever had the pleasure of taking part in," D'Alessandro says. "It's just going to be fantastic to perform with such a famous band."
WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m. Feb. 12 at NYCB Theatre at Westbury, 960 Brush Hollow Rd., Westbury
COST $49.50, $69.50; 516-334-0800, thetheatreatwestbury.com