As It Happens

Lil Nas X surprises a gym full of elementary schoolers with a singalong

After a video from Lander Elementary's talent show goes viral, rapper Lil Nas X surprises the school with an in-person visit.

Ohio principal Felecia Evans describes the children's 'undeniable joy' when Lil Nas the rapper took the stage

Lil Nas X with Lander Elementary principal Felecia Evans (Submitted by Felecia Evans)


Elementary school principal Felecia Evans never expected that tweeting out a video of her school's talent show would result in a free concert from rapper Lil Nas X.

But when the video of her students singing and dancing along to his hit song Old Town Road at an end-of-year concert went viral, it caught the attention of the performer himself. 

Evans told the story to As It Happens host Carol Off. Here is part of their conversation.

That moment when Lil Nas X walked in — what did it look like?

It looked like undeniable joy in children. Just children being children and laughing.

If we go back now to how this all began, because you were familiar with Lil Nas X and this song, but how did you bring it into the school? 

It was actually the kids. Each year, we have a fifth grade talent show where our fifth graders perform for their peers, for the entire school. 

Then we have a tradition, because it's the end of the school year. We play a song for the whole school that everybody knows so everybody can sing and dance together. 

And this year the kids had requested that we play Old Town Road as the song for everybody. And the moment we turned it on, the entire gym full of 500 children just started singing and dancing together and it was just such a beautiful moment. 

And I captured it on my phone and I tweeted it out and I tagged the rapper Lil Nas X, not thinking he would ever respond. 

But I guess he sort of thought it was great and responded with: ["when they want a free show"]

What did you say?

I responded back, "When can you come to Cleveland, Ohio?"

And then from there we just started messaging each other and his team reached out and we set it up as a surprise for our students on the last day of school.

Just to go back to the tweet you put out — the kids getting up spontaneously, all of them knowing the words, all of them knowing the moves. It's a wonderful scene. Do you think that's what Lil Nas X got inspired by? Because he's seen huge crowds responding to his song. 

Well, what's funny that is when he saw it, he mentioned that he wanted to make sure that all of the students [knew] that he was there for them. 

So not only did he perform the song, he then wanted to meet all the kids. So we had all the kids line the hallways. He got a chance to walk through the school and high-five every kid and take selfies and give autographs. 

He spent almost an hour at our school. So it was just really, truly amazing. You could tell that he was moved by their joy as well.

Lil Nas X performs for his most excited audience ever. (Submitted by Felecia Evans)

When you first heard back from him, how did you react?

I couldn't believe it. My phone started dinging ... I got, like, 400 likes. You know, as a school principal in Ohio, I usually get like 10 likes on something I post. And then all of a sudden, the views of the videos start cranking up, and I'm like, "What is happening?" 

Why did you post it? Why did you want to put that up?

You know, my job as a principal, we see so much, we do so much. But those moments where you have 500 kids just happy and dancing and singing altogether ... I just wanted to share that. You know, I love this job. I love that this is something that I get to do. 

How were you able to keep it a surprise that you were going to actually have Lil Nas X walk into the gym?

So we had to do a little bit of covert work because we had also been tweeting back and forth.

And so I had to deny [it] to all the local media, and even my teachers. I had to say, you know, "He's so busy, he just was not able to make it, unfortunately."

So that was kind of the cover — that we were just coming together to sing the song. They didn't know that he was actually really going to show up and sing.

So this is at the end of the end-of-year magic show, this was the pretense?

Every year we do a magic show. We have a local magician come in. And I came on stage and said, "Boys and girls, I have one last magic trick for you for this school year. Do you want to see it?" 

And they all start screaming, "Yes!" 

So then I leave the stage and I go back to our classroom where we had him hiding out and bring him on stage and that's where you see them just erupt.

That's just wonderful. And he really did give it to them, didn't he? He was very generous.

He did, yes. He even went out on the playground and met parents. It was just an incredible way to end the school year.

Written by Alison Broverman. Interview produced by Morgan Passi. Q&A has been condensed and edited for clarity.


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