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Originally published Sunday, December 20, 2009 at 9:31 PM

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For real: Mukilteo High teacher wins country-music contest

Kamiak High School math teacher Chance McKinney won the grand prize in CMT's 2009 Music City Madness contest for his original song "Be Real."

Seattle Times staff reporter

On the way back from a trip to California, Chance McKinney began composing a country song in his head. He was afraid he'd forget it, so when he boarded the plane, he hid under a blanket and recorded the song onto his phone — without being caught by the flight attendants.

Four years later, that song landed McKinney the grand prize in CMT's Music City Madness contest.

The 38-year-old math teacher at Kamiak High School in Mukilteo submitted his original song, "Be Real," just two minutes before this year's contest deadline Oct. 5.

"You talk about procrastinating — holy smokes," the Montana native laughed. "I didn't put it off to the very last minute, I put it off to the last two minutes."

Contest results were announced Tuesday, and when McKinney checked the CMT Web site and saw he'd won, it sent his class into an uproar.

McKinney has been pursuing music for the past 12 years. After college, he sang bass for a Motown group, then joined local country band Nathan Chance for several years, opening for big-name country acts such as Rascal Flatts and Kenny Chesney.

"I would've had no idea that 'Be Real' would touch this many people in this many different ways," he said. "Everybody has a little piece of the song that they are. I've been getting e-mails from all over the nation. I'm sitting there going, 'I'm a high-school math teacher!'"

In CMT's contest, entrants moved forward in the competition based on how many votes they received online. When students learned McKinney had entered, they spread the word to at least 28 different states and five countries.

One of the students in McKinney's advance-placement statistics class, Najin Kwak, came up with a T-shirt to promote his song. The front of the shirt features a photo of McKinney, while the back makes a jab at "Twilight." The design shows three options: Team Edward, Team Jacob, and Team Chance. Team Chance is the winner.

Kwak said she sold 94 shirts, and is making a second run for people who still want them.

"A bunch of kids I know were like, 'I don't know if I should vote for him because I want him for my teacher next year!'" she said.

McKinney's plans for next year might be determined by what happens next with CMT. As grand-prize winner, he'll go to Nashville in late January to record a few songs in a Studio 330 session, which will air on CMT.com, and possibly the CMT network. He'll also audition with Valory Music, which holds Reba McEntire's contract.

"To be honest, I think the audition has already taken place," McKinney said, referring to the response the song has gotten. "The opportunity will only be what I make of it."

Molly Rosbach: 206-464-2311 or mrosbach@seattletimes.com

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