We've gotten to know Lee DeWyze, 24, a bit on "American Idol" this season. We've learned that he struggled a bit in high school, used to work at a paint store and that he can make even an old "Idol" chestnut like "Hallelujah" feel brand-new again.
But the one thing nobody has talked about, that his friends and family say is actually one of Lee's strongest skills, is his ability to improvise lyrics on the spot. There's not really room on the show to freestyle, but if you believe his karaoke pal Brian Friedopfer, 27, Lee can throw down off the top of the dome with the best of them.
"He always had [his guitar] in his car or if we were at a bar during the summer ... he'll bust it out [and] we'll have sing-a-longs. Everybody would be doing harmonies. He'll make up lyrics on the spot," Friedopfer recalled. "It's crazy. He'll sing a song about a bottle of beer, about anything. He'll look at the pool table and sing a song about it. ... I don't think you're going to have the ability to see it on the show, unfortunately."
DeWyze's sister, Sarah DeWyze-Salas, 26, said Lee would show off his on-the-spot skills during family vacations as well. "Every year, we used to go on vacation, [and] we would sit around the campfire, and he would go, one-by-one, just making up something about us," she recalled during a viewing party in support of the onetime high school hell-raiser in his hometown last week. "He's always been really, really good at making things up and having fun with us."
His old boss at Mt. Prospect Paint, Bill Lagattolla, told a similar tale, recalling that on slow Sundays, Lee would bring in his guitar and jam, making up new words to old songs or riffing off of customers and co-workers in the store and making up lyrics to improvised jams to pass the time.
During his senior year at Forest View Alternative school, assistant dean Dave Winsauer said Lee used his unique skills to make a long class trip down to Atlanta much more bearable. "I brought my guitar and ... Lee played the guitar in the van most of the way down there, and ... he would just start playing a blues riff or something like that and start making up songs about the different kids in the van or me," Winsauer laughed. "He was great. He was hilarious."
In fact, DeWyze was so good at making up songs on the spot, Winsauer tried to get the teenager to try out for the famous Second City comedy troupe in Chicago to see if he could motivate the budding singer/songwriter to pursue a career in stand-up comedy.
Another friend, Mike Corsi, 27, who met DeWyze in high school detention more than nine years ago, said in addition to being a decent beatboxer (watch out, Blake Lewis), Lee could riff a song off anything he saw. "You would talk to him, and you would start telling a story, and then he'd cut you off and sing a song about yourself," Corsi said. "I'm a deli manager for Jewel-Osco food stores, and I would be talking to him, and then all of a sudden he'd be like, 'In the deli!' " before taking off and singing a few free-association verses about his friend's supermarket gig.
That talent also came in handy when the perpetually broke twosome would go hang out at a local Denny's and not even have enough change to buy coffee. "Lee would be in the back booth playing his songs, and they just kind of let it go," he said, alluding to an unspoken free-coffee-for-fresh-tunes quid pro quo.
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