published Friday, April 1st, 2011

Phillips: Won’t someone think of the children?

Last week, I had the pleasure of meeting Chris Burkich, a local 13-year-old Christian singer/songwriter with a pair of songs on iTunes and more on the way.

My time with Chris was short, but even after an hour, it was hard not to feel drawn in by his likable personality and charm. He also has the sort of boyish good looks that have drawn obvious comparisons around the office to teen pop idol Justin Bieber.

I’d be surprised if, given time, Chris doesn’t end up going places. When I hear his name mentioned in the same breath as Bieber’s, however, I get nervous, which probably makes me sound like I’m popping crazy pills to some people.

Why shouldn’t a young artist receive much-deserved attention for his talent?

After all, this is the town that celebrates the continually rising star of homegrown, 16-year-old “American Idol” contestant Lauren Alaina.

To those who question my concern, I submit the following list:

  • River Phoenix (1970-1993)

  • Brad Renfro (1982-2008)

  • Michael Jackson (1958-2009)

  • Lindsay Lohan (1986-soon, if she’s not careful)

Being a young celebrity isn’t easy and can be dangerous, in some cases. Our expectations and the attention focused on them creates the kind of pressure even adults can crack under (ahem — Charlie Sheen).

Some people often like to cite Mozart as a prime example of how talent can manifest at an incredibly young age.

Yes, Mozart was composing at age 5 and performing for royalty by his teens, but there was no breathing down his neck, no mass-media attention to hyperfocus on his every move.

At age 35, Mozart still died young, but his talent had time to mature, which is why he was able to produce such a tremendous body of work.

Today’s young celebrities aren’t afforded the freedom to reach their potential. We latch onto their first hit and expect everything to follow to reach the same level. That removes an all-important luxury to make creative mistakes and learn from them.

Essentially, we love their talent to death.

Were Mozart to have faced the same scrutiny Justin Bieber faces, even his level of genius might have failed the test of our extreme adoration.

To bring it closer to home and modern day, look at the tidal wave of hate directed at 13-year-old Rebecca Black for her now-infamous song “Friday.” Or Lauren Alaina, who this week admitted to feeling the pressure of a flood of criticism since joining “Idol” (although she is managing to deal with it).

So, yes, I worry for Chris.

His producer and father are both adamant about wanting him to grow at a measured pace that keeps the music fun, but in the era of YouTube and music blogs, it only takes a few interested people for someone to explode (and subsequently disappear).

For Chris’ sake, I hope he’s given time to grow into his talent, wherever that may take him.

I say let Justin Bieber make all the mistakes first.

Contact Casey Phillips at or 423-757-6205.

about Casey Phillips...

Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, consumer technology, animals and news of the weird. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German from Middle Tennessee State University, where he worked as the features editor for the student newspaper, Sidelines. Casey's writing has earned numerous accolades, including first and second place ...

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