When people talk to insurance agent Chris Collins ('01) these days, they tend to communicate in song lyrics. It was a temptation even this interviewer couldn't resist.
"I'm just a small-town girl," I said as our phone conversation began.
"Ah -- living in a lonely world," Collins said, clearly used to this shtick. "A Journey reference."
"You probably haven't heard many of those in the past few months," I said.
"Only three or four so far today," Collins said.
Collins has become a celebrity of sorts among his friends, family and customers now that he stars in State Farm's popular "Journey moment" commercial, in which he and a customer have a conversation that includes lyrics from Journey's 1981 hit song "Any Way You Want It."
"A lot of people don't realize that all the agents in the commercials are real agents, not actors," Collins said. "My clients get a huge kick out of it."
Collins, who began his State Farm career while he was a student at Eastern Illinois University, was among more than 50 agents nominated for the honor, based on certain performance and leadership capabilities. He auditioned last summer.
He and another agent made it through callbacks. The other agent was assigned to the State Farm commercial featuring Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Collins got to see that commercial being filmed as he sat through his wardrobe fitting the day before his video shoot.
Filming took place in August in Green Bay, Wisc., and the whole process was pretty simple, Collins said. He and his "customer" read their lines 20 or 30 times, and the rest was up to the film editors. He kept the news of his adventure quiet.
"I didn't tell anybody I'd done it," Collins said, so his friends and customers were ecstatic when they saw their favorite State Farm agent in an entertaining commercial that got its first air time during the National Football League's NFC and AFC championship games in January. Then, its reach was even bigger when it was shown on advertising's biggest stage -- Super Bowl night.
The texts, Facebook messages and phone calls started pouring in.
"I was hearing from people I haven't talked to in 10-12 years. That was great. One of my college roommates recently called me, and we hadn't talked in seven or eight years."
Journey wasn't on every student's playlist in Collins' college years -- after all, it had been a while since the band's '70s/'80s glory days, and they hadn't yet gotten a boost from the 2011 hit cover of "Don't Stop Believin'" by the cast of TV's "Glee."
"I was a casual fan," Collins said of his Journey fandom in college. "I am certainly more attuned if I hear a Journey song now."
But Collins figures he heard some Journey along the way while hanging out at Ike's, Stix and Mother's, as well as while playing basketball and working out in the Student Recreation Center.
He served as a student ambassador and a freshman orientation leader at EIU, where he got his only prior acting experience: performing skits on stage to introduce new students to EIU.
As a member of Sigma Phi Epsilon, he participated each year in Greek Sing, performing songs including "American Pie," "Wonderful Tonight" and "Mrs. Robinson."
He does recall listening to Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" a lot with his then-girlfriend, elementary education major and Alpha Gamma Delta member Eileen Mitrenga '03, after they met at the Sig Ep house. The two are now married and live in Arlington Heights with their three children, age 5 and younger.
"We still go down to Charleston once a year," he said. "Both of us have fond memories of Eastern."
Collins honed his great work ethic at EIU, and it is serving him well in his State Farm office in Park Ridge.
"The neat part about Eastern was, if you got involved, it helped," Collins said. "I got involved in a lot of opportunities, and it helped me transition into getting a job. This is a position I had to go out and seek. Eastern's the same way -- you go out and find activities."
When he first arrived at EIU, Collins thought he would pursue a career in TV or radio broadcasting, but "I quickly decided that wasn't for me," he said. His current brush with fame has reinforced his belief that he made the right decision.
"I am not quitting my day job, and I have not received any calls from anyone in Hollywood. It was an awesome experience -- a lot of fun -- but I don't have much interest venturing into that world."
Any way you want it, Chris -- that's the way you need it. Any way you want it.
(c) 2012 Eastern Illinois Alumni magazine. Used with permission.