'The Voice' star gets royal treatment upon return

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FARMINGTON — Teen singing sensation Chevel Shepherd was welcomed home in grand fashion this afternoon, as the newest winner of "The Voice" was feted with a procession along a local highway and a rally at Farmington High School.

Local residents turned out in droves to greet the 16-year-old country star as her caravan made its way along N.M. Highway 516 to the high school after her plane landed at Aztec Municipal Airport. Shepherd rode in a top-down convertible, allowing her to wave to her fans.

An even more enthusiastic welcome awaited her at FHS, where Shepherd is a junior. Surrounded by members of her family and local dignitaries, she strode onto the floor of the school's Scorpion Arena at 2:25 p.m. today to a standing ovation, with most members of the audience remaining standing for most of the lengthy ceremony that followed.

Shepherd responded to that greeting by hiding her hands behind her face, then rushing to embrace some of her friends and family members from whom she has been separated since early November, when she traveled to Los Angeles to participate in the remainder of the 15th season on "The Voice."

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Moments later, she took the microphone offered by event emcee Scott Michlin and addressed the crowd.

"I feel all the support and all the love, so thank you so much," she said.

The event was organized just in the past few days after Shepherd was named the winner of "The Voice" late Tuesday. She remained in Los Angeles until this morning, flying home just in time for the holidays.

The rally attracted a near-capacity crowd to Scorpion Arena, where the entire lower bowl was filled and more than 120 people were seated on the arena floor. Hundreds more spectators stood on the mezzanine level, and only a few hundred empty seats remaining in the upper bleachers by the time the ceremony began, meaning the crowd was well in excess of 1,500 people.

Doors for the rally opened at 1 p.m., but the first Shepherd fans began lining up to get in at 11 a.m. with the arrival of Feather Whitecrow and her group. Whitecrow said they didn't intend to be first in line, but they were pleased to find themselves there.

"I think it just happened," she said. "It's nice to get a good seat to watch."

Seats in the lower bowl of Scorpion Arena filled up quickly, with many fans bringing signs supporting Shepherd. A group of fans on the north side event crafted oversized, white, block letters that spelled out C-H-E-V-E-L.

Related:  Farmington's Chevel Shepherd wins 'The Voice'

As Shepherd's plane landed in Aztec and her motorcade made its way to the FHS campus, Michlin got the crowd warmed up by inducing periodic cheers for Shepherd. Large video screens at either end of the basketball court also replayed clips of her performances on "The Voice" this season.

Various local officials addressed the crowd before her arrival, including Sheriff-elect Shane Ferrari, who told the crowd, "We're sure proud of Chevel here in San Juan County, aren't we? Thanks to her, the rest of the country is finally going to know New Mexico is part of the United States."

State Sen. Bill Sharer, R-Farmington, an FHS alum, called Shepherd a great ambassador for the city and the state, adding, "I am stunned, I am awestruck by her abilities."

Farmington Municipal School District Superintendent Eugene Schmidt also spoke, exclaiming, "What a great day for Farmington."

FHS boys basketball coach Jay Collins followed, explaining to the crowd that his team had asked to have its game at a tournament in Grants moved to a 10 a.m. tipoff today so that players and coaches could be back at Scorpion Arena in time to greet Shepherd. He added that, earlier this fall, Shepherd had knocked in the game-winning run in a kickball game during gym class.

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Gloria Lehmer, a board member of the River Reach Foundation, the Farmington-based nonprofit organization that stages the annual Riverfest celebration on Memorial Day weekend, took her opportunity behind the microphone to pose a question to the audience.

"What do you think about Chevel performing at Riverfest?" she asked to a loud positive response.

Once Shepherd entered the gym, the event took on a carnival atmosphere. More speeches followed, with Shepherd receiving a slew of welcome-home gifts and awards presented by Farmington Mayor Nate Duckett and County Commissioner John Beckstead.

"When we think about things that bring communities together, Chevel, you are absolutely one of them," Duckett said.

Shepherd will resume classes at FHS in January, but as the winner of a recording contract with the Universal Music Group, she said she also plans to begin work on her debut album then with Kelly Clarkson, who served as her coach and one of the judges on "The Voice" this season. She also said she has plans to perform a concert in Farmington sometime that month.

Mike Easterling is the night editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610.

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