"American Idol" contestant Tim Halperin gave Westside Middle School students a dose of reality Friday morning.
Fame, glory, money — all the things kids daydream about in class — shouldn't be what's important. Instead, he said, students should be true to who they are.
Halperin, on "Idol" last season, told an auditorium full of seventh graders to "do what you love and follow your dream."
For the 23-year-old Halperin, that meant producing music even when he wasn't sure if anyone would listen after his reality TV exposure died down. He made it to the show's top 24 but was voted off shortly after that.
Halperin releases his first full-length debut album, titled "Rise & Fall," on Tuesday.
Westside Middle School is a special place for Halperin because it's where he got his musical start. He returned there to encourage young people to embrace their hidden talents.
The moment the shaggy-haired singer stepped on the school's stage, children cheered, clapped and shouted "woo" and "I love you."
"That was a guy, wasn't it?" Halperin joked. "That's awesome. I love you, too."
He was charismatic, full of energy and an animated speaker. He kept all 450 seventh graders entertained for nearly 45 minutes, not an easy feat. .He gave a separate performance for the eighth-grade class.
Halperin opened his lecture with a song he wrote: "Crash Course to Hollywood." While playing on the school's piano, he motioned for the kids to clap along.
"Not too long ago, I was in your shoes," he said. "I was in choir and didn't know what I wanted to do with my life... but I loved music."
Halperin sang a little, then spoke and sang some more.
He explained how he first got into music.
"I wrote my first song in the fifth grade. I was in choir in middle school and show choir in high school."
He reminded the kids that education is a priority.
"I started writing more while in college. Yes, I graduated ... I majored in business and marketing."
He shared juicy details about leaving "Idol."
"I wasn't sad. It was a total dream (to be on the show) but it was like I need to take this with me and use it ... After it was over, it was like, 'OK, what's next?"
Halperin told students he's determined to climb the pop music charts. His newest album has a mix of love songs, broken-heart songs and songs about his aspirations to make it in Hollywood.
Tween-aged girls giggled and whispered lyrics as he sang the wistful ballad "I Want to Fall In Love." The boys, meanwhile, slouched deeper into their seats.
"I know every guy in this room is like, 'Psst, falling in love? I don't need love'," Halperin said. "So I've got one for you. Fellas, you're going to meet these pretty girls who always get what they want."
At one point, a blonde tween started crying after Halperin gave her a hug. There also was an uproar of "yeahs" and "boos" when he mentioned "The Bieb" (teen pop star Justin Bieber). And the drew laughs when he told the group he was a wide-receiver on the varsity football team in high school but caught only one pass all season.
Hours after he was gone, students were still buzzing with excitement about his visit.
"The kids, especially the girls, are flipping out," said Rob Huebner, the school's vocal music instructor. "They keep asking if he's still here. At lunch, several of them said that's the closest to a celebrity that they'll ever get."
Halperin was one of Huebner's choir students years ago. Watching Halperin's music career blossom, he said, has been gratifying.
Huebner admitted to anxiously tuning in to "American Idol" to support Halperin and reading online spoiler alerts about the singing competition to stay informed.
"It would be so easy for a kid to get wrapped up in this ... the fame," Huebner said. "But he's down-to-earth .... To see him on stage right now, it validates why I went into music education."