While millions watched in awe as Katy Perry rocked this year’s Super Bowl Halftime Show Feb. 1, alumnus Jonny Rice’s friends were more in awe that he had actually met the world-famous pop singer.
“It was kind of fun to be able to point out to friends, ‘Hey, I met her 15 years ago when she was a Christian folk singer,'” he said.
Katy Perry started out as a Christian musician with her original name “Katy Hudson.” Her debut album came out in 2001 and sold a miniscule 200 copies. In comparison, her most recent album, “Prism,” featuring singles “Roar” and “Dark Horse,” has sold over 1.5 million copies in the United States alone.
After the release of her debut album, Hudson embarked on a tour and played at various colleges and churches, including Taylor University, Grace College and Asbury College. According to katyhudson.ca, a fan site, she played at TU Oct. 9, 2001.
She had no shows scheduled the day before or after. She would have likely visited then–Huntington College that same week while in the area.
“She was only 16 at the time and playing colleges or smaller venues around the Midwest,” Rice said. “A couple of other students gave her a tour of our Communication Department in the MCA after the show, and I remember her being so excited to be visiting her very first radio station. In hindsight, it’s kind of hilarious that this mega-pop-star’s first station tour was at HU’s LP-FM. She seemed thrilled to be there.”
Rice said she signed a head shot to hang in the studio and gave them her brand new CD to play on the air.
Bob Johnston, program director of the station at the time, put her music into the rotation after her visit. He said Perry did not sing in chapel and only visited the campus.
“I had a class at the time,” he said. “I only recall her getting a tour of our radio station and meeting some of the radio station staff, but I don’t remember a performance. If that happened then I did not attend.”
Johnston said he thought she was just a new Christian artist hoping to get some publicity on college radio.
“Unfortunately it was not a big deal at the time because she was not a known artist,” he said. “I don’t think I remember much else. If Steven Curtis Chapman or DCTalk had visited the radio station, we would have all kinds of photos and memories of that visit. Katy Hudson was not a big deal at the time so there wasn’t much fanfare or attempt to mark the occasion. Of course now she is.”
Rice said the signed photo of her in the MCA studio is nowhere to be found.
Randy Neuman, director of the United Brethren Historical Center, said there is no evidence in the university’s archives of her performing in chapel.
Bill Fisher, former campus pastor when Perry would have visited, said he would have known if she did sing in chapel.
“I booked all special music, performances and concerts for chapel during that time, and I do not remember her ever being there,” he said. “What makes me even more certain that she was not there is that she would have been so young at the time that it would have been an exceptional circumstance for me to have had a teenage soloist perform in chapel. I cannot say whether she was or was not on campus for other reasons, but I can say with a great degree of certainty that she never sang in chapel.”
Rice said he first made the connection between Katy Hudson and Katy Perry five or six years ago.
“I read an article about how her minister-parents were disappointed with the path her career took, and how she adopted the stage name ‘Katy Perry’ to separate her new music from her Gospel career,” he said. “I made the connection with the 16-year-old who signed a photo for WQHC a decade before.”
Lance Clark, Ph.D., said he vaguely recalls the singer visiting campus.
Jeff Berggren, former vice president of enrollment management and marketing, Nate Perry, director of admissions, Ron Coffey, Ph.D., vice president for student life, Joanne Green, sports information director, and Jesse Brown, associate dean of student life, said they do not remember a Katy Hudson visiting campus.
“I know that is her real name, and I know she started out doing Christian music, but I don’t remember her being here,” Coffey said. “That doesn’t mean she wasn’t, I just don’t remember it.”
For university graduates, the signed head shot is the one piece of evidence to confirm Katy Perry’s visit to the institution in 2001.
“Wouldn’t it be great it HU could bring her back for a Q&A about her what led her away from her faith?” Rice said. “It’s such a taboo topic among some evangelicals but a lot of young people fall away from the faith in their 20s and 30s. … I don’t have the answers, but it’s a great question that everyone in ministry or Christian high ed should be wrestling with daily.”