MAUMEE, Ohio — There was no better place to watch “American Idol” on Tuesday night than the Village Idiot. The high-ceilinged storefront pub in downtown Maumee, Ohio, just outside Toledo, was packed with charter members of Crystal Bowersox Nation for performance night, and they were ready to yell their approval for the standout singer who has put their industrial town on the map.
Bellied up to the bar and watching with rapt attention was the orthodontist who saw Crystal when she was 16 and eager to leave town to follow her musical dream in Chicago. “No matter what happens, she’s showing us that no matter where you come from or what you think, you can really make it happen,” said Jeff Bunkers, who fondly recalled Bowersox serenading his office staff with an a cappella tune after an appointment.
Behind the bar was her soft-spoken bass player and longtime friend, Frankie May, standing next to Nate Woodward, the Village Idiot cook who said he was so blown away the first time he heard Bowersox on the Idiot’s stage two years ago that he got goose bumps and had to come out of the kitchen to see the person behind the voice.
Along with a trio of women who used to come see Bowersox play on the low stage in the former bank’s tall front windows, nearly 100 other friends and strangers gathered to see what the hometown girl would do on Frank Sinatra night. Crisscrossing rows of Christmas lights filled the air above the square-shaped room whose walls are decorated with half a dozen oversized images of the bar’s pig-nosed harlequin mascot, heightening the festive feel on a perfectly clear spring night.
“We are here to support Crystal. We love her; we have parties at home every week, but we decided to come out tonight to see her and support her,” said Megan Scott, 29, who took a seat with two friends at a table near the door just moments before the show came on.
“I think she’s going to do good [tonight], I think she’s going to win it all,” Amanda Canady said.
“Anything she does is amazing. She blows me away every week,” Scott added when asked if Bowersox had what it took to make it on Ol’ Blue Eyes night.
Ashley Lieber, 27, lives just a few blocks from the Village Idiot, and she’s been coming to the bar every week to watch Bowersox perform. “Once she starts, it’s just silence, you just get into it more, it makes it more fun than sitting at home,” she explains of why she grabs a primo spot at the bar every Tuesday night. She was expecting nothing less than an “amazing” performance. “She always is. She does a really good job every time. I think she’s the best out of all of them.”
Things were pretty tame up until show time, but as soon as the contestants were announced, everyone’s attention turned from their beers to the three flat-screen TVs on the far wall of the bar, bookended on one side by a giant performance picture of Bowersox and on the other by a image of one of the bartenders dressed up as Isaac from “The Love Boat.”
When host Ryan Seacrest introduced the contestants the bar — which hosts live music seven nights a week — exploded in applause at the mention of MamaSox. One patron kindly let out an ear-piercing wolf whistle every time the show came back from commercial, just in case Crystal was on. The crowd kept it down (sort of) as the first two performances unfolded.
But when it was finally Crystal’s turn, well, you’ve never heard a raucous bar get so deadly silent. Patrons began frantically taking out their phones so they could get ready to record the numbers for their gal as soon as they were given out. When Randy Jackson gave some rather subdued praise, lusty boos rang out, as well as some mild threats of very specific bodily harm. By the time Simon Cowell weighed in with his tepid assessment of Crystal’s take on “Summer Wind,” well, suffice it to say that this crowd wasn’t having it.
“She tells ‘em what she feels!” yelled one patron after BoSox attempted to explain why she sang the tune the way she did. “She’s the best!”
The phones blew up as soon as the show was over, with some patrons going outside to dial with one hand as they talked excitedly about the night’s performance, while others walked into the night absentmindedly hitting redial as they strolled to their cars.
“The way that she fights back with the judges, it’s totally her,” Woodward said after Tuesday night’s performance, during which Bowersox had her usual back-and-forth with Cowell. “It’s her personality: take me or leave me.
“I think the show makes it look like it’s all Hollywood,” he said of the Sinatra-themed night on which single mom was glammed up in a sparkly black floor-length evening gown with her dreadlocked hair up in a stylized ‘do. “[But] she’s exactly what you see on the show. She’s completely approachable. She’s the nicest person you’ll ever meet in your life.”