MONETT — She had just stepped from her parents' vehicle and already the children's whispers morphed into hopeful questions from inside the building.
"Is that her?" they asked each other. "Is she here?"
When Monett native Michaela Wallace turned the corner to enter the Purdy High School gymnasium for a live singing performance, those excited shouts morphed again into uncontrolled screams of "It's her! It's her!"
"I had little kids coming up to me, asking for my autograph," 14-year-old Wallace said of a recent halftime performance at the high school basketball game.
The kids gathered on the floor in front of her, clapping, smiling, waving and lip-synching to what has become Wallace's signature song, "Justin Bieber's Girlfriend."
"It was so cool," she said of the experience.
Those same four words could just as easily describe Wallace's meteoric rise in popularity the moment her song about the feathery-haired male singer was first uploaded to the Internet. It's just one of four songs Wallace co-wrote with former Webb City songwriter Deanna Harper during a recent writing session in Nashville, Tenn.
In fact, it was Harper who first saw Wallace's Facebook-posted music videos and recognized the girl's singing skills.
"We wrote some songs," Wallace said. "We then got with a production company, Sorted Noise, and we recorded some songs and made a video."
She makes these recent dramatic events in her life sound almost nonchalant and matter of fact, as she sits, relaxed, near the entrance of Mocha Jo's Coffee Cafe, sipping soda through a straw; a normal, small-town teen with big-time dreams.
Even with instant accessibility brought about by the Internet and social networks such as Facebook, the odds of a small-town girl hitting it big are still nearly insurmountable.
Yet talent will always rise to the top, or so the saying goes. Wallace has already proved this with her hit song and hit video. Speaking of the latter, her YouTube video has eclipsed 1.8 million views.
"That's pretty cool," Wallace said, breaking out in a genuine proud smile. "One million, eight hundred is a lot of people."
Her other songs include: "Don't Make a Sound," "Boys Boys Boys" and "Again." While she says she has nothing planned for the immediate future, other than practicing her songs, her father, Mike, sitting beside her at the table, chuckled.
"It's a little nerve-racking," he said. "It can be a bit overwhelming."
Wallace and her parents recently left for Nashville to rehearse her four songs and to do a few studio video shoots.
Then they will spend four days in the Big Apple, taking part in a media tour and important meet-and-greets with several major teen magazines.
In between these two trips will be a studio performance and satellite interviews with television stations in Kansas City and Tulsa, Okla. She has already been featured on MTV, CNN's Showbiz, AOL Popeater and MSN's Wonderwall.
The last time Michaela was in America's largest city, she was 8 years old.
"I feel very privileged," Wallace said quietly.
That's the type of attitude Mike and Diann Wallace like to hear from Michaela. Both have vowed to keep their youngest daughter grounded, shielding her from as much of the stress of stardom as possible. This way, she can focus on being a kid first and foremost. For example, they bumped back their trip to New York City because of Missouri Assessment Program testing.
Another time, when Michaela's manager asked to see her for an appointment in Kansas City, Mike Wallace said they had to push the date back by a day "because she was getting confirmed in church.
"The manager told us, 'Well, I've had to work around jail time and drug rehab but never a church confirmation,'" he said.
So even though hundreds view her music online each day or download her words onto their iPods, the most important functions in their daughter's life are still family, church and school.
"She's pretty well-grounded between our family and her church family and her school friends. You know, she's just Michaela," Mike Wallace said.
Sometimes the comments on the YouTube video can get nasty, but Michaela shrugs them off. Being from Missouri, she said, she has a thick skin.
"It hurts her mother and sister a lot more than it hurts her," Mike Wallace said with a chuckle.
Wallace knows a very few negative comments are scribbled by folks who are only trying to initiate emotional responses out of spite. There's no true harm there.
"I can take it," Wallace said with a laugh, holding up clenched fists. "Bring on more. C'mon!"
But a vast majority of the comments are encouraging, such as this one, from "pinkchicks41044," who wrote: "Good job. I love it. Every girl wishes they could (be) JB's girlfriend."
Wallace has been belting out songs since the age of 4 and has sung in school and church choirs, as well as participated in local talent shows and contests. It was Taylor Swift's music and videos that encouraged her to pick up the guitar and learn how to play.
She would lock herself inside the room for seemingly days on end, strumming away, before running downstairs to play a song for her parents.
In fact, Mike Wallace said, she's never been afraid about getting up in front of strangers and singing or jamming. It was her Missouri "Show-Me" sensibility and quiet confidence, he said, that quickly won over those key players who had been assembled in Nashville to hear her sing and play.
"At the time she was 13," Mike Wallace said. "She was able to pull the guitar right out of her case and play in front of people she'd never met before. She did it without any (nervousness)."
As for the song, Mike Wallace can rest easy. His daughter isn't yearning to be Bieber's girlfriend in her hit song, even if she was lucky enough to meet him before a Nashville concert.
Bieber even sang his song, "U Smile," to her during the concert.
"I really do like Justin Bieber," she said of the song. "But I wanted to write a song that could relate to all those girls out there that love him and want to be his girlfriend — not because I wanted to be his girlfriend."
Because pop culture is filled with similar success stories, Michaela Wallace has been compared to another recent Internet star. California native Rebecca Black is a 13-year-old singer whose song and video, "Friday," was first noticed by a large audience on YouTube.
But that's where the comparisons end.
Black's effort has been universally criticized for its song lyrics. The video, which has received 82 million views, has collected a near record 1.7 million "dislikes." It's been mocked with numerous parody videos and remixes, including one — "Thursday" — by Conan O'Brien.
"I don't know why Michaela is being compared to Rebecca, considering Michaela has done it the right way. It was her singing talents that got her noticed," Mike Wallace said.
A writer for Yahoo! Music agrees: "If Wallace keeps up the momentum, she could be the next Taylor Swift, who also made her debut with a song named after a male pop singer (Tim McGraw). We will keep our eyes on Wallace."