Standing front and center onstage at St. Johnsville Central School in Upstate New York on a Tuesday morning, Flame lead singer Michelle King, 38, revs up the crowd. "St. Johnsville school," she yells, "we love you!" Some 100 grooving kids reply with rafter-rattling cheers.
No, it's not the latest tween-sensation band-it's 10 performers who have disabilities ranging from autism, like King, to Down syndrome. But the members of Flame (flametheband.com), who named themselves after the Special Olympics torch, say their differences just make them rock harder. "We are," says blind keyboardist Adrienne Phillips, 24, "real rock stars."
Formed in 2003 and managed by the Lexington Center, a disabled-services agency in Gloversville, N.Y., the band-which performs covers of hits by singers from Tracy Chapman to Garth Brooks-started with local gigs. They've since played New York City's Apollo Theater, the Parthenon in Athens and the 2009 Special Olympics. Says Special Olympics head Tim Shriver: "They defy stereotypes."
For the members, most of whom live with their families or in group homes and earn an hourly wage for performances, the band "is a blessing," says Mary King, mother of Michelle, who, she says, used to fear people. "This has opened her up." Now the group's talking about their next gig-Chicago, they hope. Says Phillips: "The sky's the limit."
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