Photo by Matt Beard

Photo by Matt Beard

Secular music resonates with Christian Rising Star

The roar of the virtual crowd rose in a crescendo as the game’s beep-beep-beep counted down to the song’s first bar.

Eleven-year-old Colin, with red hair and a freckled, round face, clutched his sister’s plastic Guitar Hero controller and stared in wonder at the animated characters striding across lit-up stages on the screen.

“Dad, come in here and watch me play,” Colin begged his father, Bob.

Colin selected “Hit Me with Your Best Shot” and clicked the brightly colored buttons on the guitar’s neck in rhythm with the flashing colors on the screen. Bob watched his son for a few minutes before picking up his real guitar and starting to play the same song. Amazed, Colin listened to his dad playing—improvising, even—along with the game. A connection suddenly clicked in his mind: ZZ Top, Slash, and other rock star avatars that walk the PlayStation game stage reflect real musicians in real life. At that moment, Colin says, he “put down the plastic guitar and picked up the real one.”

Colin’s parents noticed his talent right away. He’d come home from school and baseball practice, pop in DVDs of guitar lessons, and watch YouTube videos with guitar instructions for hours. He was playing songs like “Stray Cat Strut” by the Stray Cats and “Pride and Joy” by Stevie Ray Vaughan and easily singing while playing. Bob recalls feeling amazed that Colin’s abilities were so far ahead of the training he’d had.

Colin Huntley performing at the Square Photo by Rudy Ximenez

Photo by Rudy Ximenez

Colin soon realized that he had a passion to be on stage as well as a love for music. In the sixth grade, Colin landed the lead role in an eighth-grade performance of Huckleberry Finn, which he played compellingly. Many people feel nervous on stage. Colin came alive. He asked his parents for voice lessons and began to write songs, saying that he felt God calling him into the music industry. Later, he attributed his early successes—including producing a music video, writing songs, starting a band, and competing on ABC’s Rising Star—to being propelled by an assignment from God.

“Why Don’t You Want to Play ‘Jesus Music’?”

Although they couldn’t deny that Colin had a gift for playing guitar, Colin’s drive toward the stage concerned Bob and Linda, who felt that the pursuit of secular music was an unwise career choice. Bob’s father, Wayne “General Boogie” Brooks, was a talented singer and pianist who left his family for music. When Bob was five years old, Wayne divorced Bob’s mother to be free to perform in honky-tonks and nightclubs in Houston, at casinos in Las Vegas, and on cruise ships. He didn’t see his children for forty years. Later, Bob learned about his father’s involvement with drugs and alcohol in these venues. Bob never dreamed that one of his children would ask to pursue a similar path.

“Why don’t you play in churches as a worship leader?” Bob asked Colin. But Colin—just a twelve-year-old kid—looked his father in the eyes and said, “Dad, my calling is to be a light in the secular music business.”

Bob and Linda felt they couldn’t say no after their son said something like that, but they still had reservations.

Colin Huntley sitting on a couch

In 2011, while Colin was thirteen, his iPod broke. For the first time in his life, he turned on the radio. He heard an advertisement for Actors, Models & Talent for Christ (AMTC) announcing upcoming auditions in Austin. “AMTC’s mission is to make good stronger in the entertainment industry,” the voiceover said. Colin was hooked. He pestered his parents until they relented and took him to the hotel where AMTC was holding free auditions. In the opening session, a speaker presented AMTC’s vision to equip Christians with aspiring talent to engage in traditional entertainment venues rather than sticking strictly to Christian venues.

“Nothing had ever connected with me more than that,” Colin says. “I didn’t know there were people who had that vision—the same one I had. People were always asking me why I didn’t want to play ‘Jesus music.’ I had played in the church before, but it didn’t excite me. For some people, that’s exactly what they’re supposed to do, but it’s not what I’m supposed to do, and I know it.”

The message at AMTC impressed Bob and Linda and showed them a different side of the music industry. They’d also been observing Colin’s personal character. Colin was kindhearted, especially toward people who were mistreated. He stayed away from friends who were getting into trouble, and he was open with his parents about mistakes he made. Once, he dropped his bike on the family car and dented the door. Even though no one saw the accident, he immediately told his parents and took responsibility. Bob says that seeing this maturity in their son allowed him and Linda “to trust that whatever comes,” Colin will stay grounded and continue making decisions that reflect his faith. He and Linda decided to “buckle our seatbelts and support Colin one hundred percent.”

Since then, as they’ve watched the way Colin comes alive on stage, they’ve come to understand why “Boogie” made the choice to leave Bob’s family years before.

“He and Colin just feel compelled to perform,” Bob says. “That can be a good thing when they’re able to pursue their passion. But it can also lead to poor choices when it’s in conflict with other personal responsibilities.”

Colin and Boogie

Colin and Boogie

Fortunately for the Huntleys, Wayne turned his story around before it was too late. He reunited with his family several years before Colin’s auditions at AMTC and began playing to make a little money at Lone Star Cowboy Church in Montgomery, Texas, during their Sunday services. After listening to three sermons every week while waiting to play, he became a Christian. He passed away in 2013.

“Music tore my family apart when I was little,” Bob says. “But music brought us back together before my dad passed away.”

A Little Too Obvious Not to Be Providence

During and after the auditions at AMTC, Colin’s career began to unfold quickly. Connections and events worked in his favor in ways he couldn’t explain. For instance, after he passed the auditions and made it to the convention in Orlando, Florida, a backstage coach observed Colin and said, “You know, you’re really funny. You should try out for acting.” Colin competed on guitar and did a few improvisational acts, which landed him twenty callbacks, five for music and fifteen from acting agencies, including the prestigious Abrams Artists Agency, which signed him. He and his mother flew to Los Angeles, where he landed small TV roles—including ABC’s Modern Family—and commercials.

Colin returned, nine months later, to attend The Austin School for the Performing and Visual Arts. About two years after the AMTC Orlando conference, a scout contacted Colin. He’d been cleaning out his office desk and found Colin’s audition from AMTC. He told Colin, “I didn’t think your audition was very good, but I thought that you had a lot of potential and kept your audition to check you out in a few years.” Sure enough, he liked Colin’s new work and connected him with his friend in the business who worked at a consulting company. They helped Colin produce his first extended play and a music video of Colin’s original song “Best I Never Had.”

Colin Huntley signing autographs Photo by Liz Pagliuco

Photo by Liz Pagliuco

As Colin reflects on these early breaks, he says, “It was almost too easy that I was able to get to do some of the things that I got to do. There were things that were not in my power that were lining up repeatedly. And at that point, you’re like, this doesn’t seem like it’s an accident.” Instead, Colin feels that it confirmed that he is right where he is supposed to be.

Colin has found his niche in secular pop and rock, which he finds is a perfect expression for him. He sleeps best after playing shows and feels the most alive in front of audiences. As he pursues a career in music, he hopes to share his faith by his example.

“I want to be the guy who people ask, ‘Why hasn’t he ever gotten into trouble? How is he still married even though he’s touring? Why is he so grounded? How is he holding a family together?’” Colin says. “I want to be the guy who, when people ask how is he doing all of this, I know who to point them to.”

Colin’s Rising Star Experience

On June 22, Colin competed on ABC’s new reality television show Rising Star, a competition for aspiring musicians. (Go to the Rising Star website to watch Colin’s performance). The show was hosted by superstar Josh Groban, and each performer received feedback from music industry luminaries Brad Paisley, Kesha, and Ludacris. Colin didn’t make it past the first round, but Paisley encouraged him: “I hope to see you back here on this show—I don’t know if that’s even allowed—but I’d like to see you again in a few years. You have real promise.”

Photo by John Pesina of Live Box Photography

Photo by John Pesina of Live Box Photography

Mikaela Cain chatted with Colin about his experience:

Tell me about your first moments on the Rising Star set.

I was the first contestant to arrive. The first thing I heard over the walkie-talkie was “Make sure Colin gets a warm welcome!” The crew gave me lots of free food. Then I started to meet the contestants. We were staying in the same hotel together, eating dinner together, spending fourteen-hour days together.

Have you kept in contact with any of the contestants?

Yes. Maneepat Molloy and I are the same age and have similar senses of humor. She’s definitely a life-long friend. I also keep up with Austin French. He was on The Voice two years ago and didn’t make it past the first round—the exact experience I had on this show. Now, he’s just made it to the semifinals in Rising Star. We were texting the other day, and he encouraged me that “[t]here is definitely something else in store” for me.

How did you handle the nervousness before the show aired?

Some contestants and I had a jam session in the Green Room. What they call the Green Room you see on TV is actually a part of the set called the Contestant Holding Area. The real Green Room is up several floors and is where we spent our time off-camera.

Although the judges didn’t vote for you, you thanked them for the experience and for their feedback. Why?

It just kind of came out. Even when “the wall” didn’t go up, I knew that my career wasn’t over and that this moment is going to be a reference. Anyone who can make or break my career can look back on this, and I want them to know that I have a good attitude about things. I want to be known for that, personally and professionally.

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