JOPLIN — Caleb Freeman was perched on a couch in his home, hands at his side and eyes looking down.
His mother, Becky, said that's typical of him — most of the time.
"He's really shy, except when he's on stage," she said. "I guess that's his place to shine."
The 12-year-old Webb City Middle School student has found his niche on the stage, belting out his favorite songs for audiences to enjoy. Over the past two years, he's been booked for performances at several local churches, school programs and events hosted by the city and the community.
Caleb said he enjoys singing because of the feeling of productivity.
"It just makes you feel good that you're doing something," he said. "When you're just sitting around, you don't feel (anything)."
He began singing about two years ago, after his father suggested he perform a song during a birthday celebration for his grandfather, the pastor of a local church. Congregants later urged Caleb to sing at the church during services, which he did. He was also given a solo during a school performance for the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program.
Susan Warden, who teaches music at the middle school, said she remembers organizing that performance.
"He's a quiet little boy," she said of Caleb. "He sat on the front row, never said a peep, very pleasant, smiled nicely, never said a word, and then he said he wanted to try out for a solo. I was just blown away with that child's voice."
After that performance, Caleb said he was surprised when former Superintendent Ron Lankford sought him out during class, looking for someone who could sing at his annual community breakfast. Caleb said he was asked to sing for Lankford right there in the hallway of his school, and he claims he was nervous as he began his song.
"I didn't know what to expect," he said of his hallway audition.
But his mother tells a different story.
"Dr. Lankford said he just got out there and belted it out," she said.
Caleb later sang "I Can Pray" in a cafeteria packed full of administrators, city leaders and community members at the superintendent's breakfast in January 2010. It was his first time performing in front of such a large crowd, he said.
"It was neat (with) all those people," he said. "I was scared I was going to mess up, but I was mostly excited. It was exciting to hear all that applause, knowing that I did pretty good."
More recently, Caleb sang at last fall's Barnyard Days festival, where he said organizers kept calling him back during lulls in the music schedule. In March, he sang Josh Groban's "You Raise Me Up" during an audition for Webb City's Got Talent, a fundraiser for the high school's Project Graduation, and then at the talent show April 15.
"They said one of the judges cried when I sang," he said of his audition, a hint of pride in his voice. "That made me feel pretty good. I know that I touched somebody and (that) they liked me."
Warden said she has worked since that initial DARE program to find every opportunity she can for Caleb to sing. She has even volunteered to work with him before school for a few weeks, prepping him for some of his upcoming performances.
But she said Caleb's talent is all his own.
"I'm a lucky person. I was at the right place at the right time," she said. "I don't have anything to do with his voice. He came to me with this voice."
In his time away from school, Caleb said he enjoys playing video games and drawing. He also practices his singing skills. When he grows up, he wants to be a singer, make CDs and perform his songs live. He is also entertaining thoughts of becoming an actor.
"Acting is just fun to do, and you can be something else," he said. "And singing — I think it'll be more of a good career, and it'll be good for me to sing and not just sit there."
His mother, Becky, interjected: "Do you want to be a star?"
Caleb smiled and answered in the affirmative.
"He's got the ambition, that's for sure," his mother said. "He definitely does have that willpower, that motivation."
When asked for advice he would give aspiring singers like himself, Caleb drew from his own experiences and offered up these little nuggets of wisdom: "Just keep practicing,. You have to try; you have to find that chance and do it."