While he was visiting a friend in Knoxville, two girls from West Virginia surprised Chris Burkich by asking for his autograph. Earlier this month, when he started busking at various downtown locations, the 13-year-old was once again confronted by admiring fans.
CLAIM TO FAME
Chris Burkich, 13, has two songs ("Blessed" and "All I Can Bring") available for download through Apple's iTunes music store. He was also cast in the lead role of the musical "13" last year at the Center for Creative Arts and will front the school's production of "Bye Bye Birdie" in May.
Do you know a child age 13 or younger with a precocious talent in academics, athletics or the arts? The Times Free Press is searching for children to feature in "Talent Show," which appears in the Life section on Tuesdays. To nominate a child as a possible subject of a future feature article, e-mail staff writer Casey Phillips at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 423-757-6205.
Knowing his Christian-influenced pop/rock songs were being well received was a confidence booster, but Chris said his proudest moment came when his first iTunes song, "Blessed," resonated with someone on a different level.
"They said, 'Hey, that's really helping me through something, through a moment of life,' " he said. "I feel like my music can help people, and that was the biggest compliment I could get, so I wanted more of that."
"Blessed" was the first of two songs Chris has uploaded to Apple's digital music store since he began writing original material last May. The second, "All I Can Bring," was released earlier this month. Two more, "A Different Taste" and a remix of "Blessed," should be uploaded by April.
Now a seventh-grade musical-theater major at the Center for Creative Arts, Chris first began performing in third grade.
Although Chris' friends reacted well to that performance of Jason Mraz's "I'm Yours," he said it wasn't until he took the stage at a fifth-grade talent show that he felt confident of his vocals.
His father, Robert Burkich, missed Chris perform at the talent show but said he's had his suspicions his son was destined for the stage since he first sat down at a piano at age 4.
Chris, who also plays guitar, had a natural touch on the keys, Burkich said.
"He just had a feel for it," he said.
"It's rare when you see someone who has the talent and is willing to put the effort in. Some people don't really have the talent but are a monument to hard work; he is talented, but he also works really hard."
Chris played the lead role in CCA's performance of the musical "13" last year and will lead the cast again in the school's upcoming production of "Bye Bye Birdie."
After seeing Chris's comfort and exuberance on stage, Burkich said he decided to reach out to Ricky Bruno, a friend and industry contact from his days as a session musician in New York. Since they began working together last November, Bruno has advised Chris on every aspect of his music and its production. They are working on Chris's debut album, which should be out by the end of the summer.
When he received a call from Chris's father, Bruno said he fully expected to make working on Chris's songwriting a priority. When Bruno first heard the teen's music, however, he said the maturity and layers of meaning were stunning.
"My working assumption going into it was that it would be another Disney-template, child singing star situation," he said. "That assumption was completely thrown out when I heard the stuff he was coming up with.
"He completely breaks the mold of what a teen singer is because he has this depth of ability. That made it easy for me to say, 'Yeah, I want to sign on to this because I think we really can do things with it.'"
Bruno and Burkich said they aren't seeking to turn Chris into the next American Idol and are hoping to let him grow at a measured rate that makes the music a joy, rather than a job.
No matter how dramatically his sound evolves or how many autographs he signs, however, Chris said he will always remember his music's wellspring.
"The first time I tried to write a song, I only got through the first verse because I couldn't think of anything but dumb rhymes," he said. "When I accepted Christ, that inspired me to write 'Blessed.'
"That's why I do Christian music, because it's the most important thing in my life."
Contact Casey Phillips at email@example.com or 423-757-6205.