It's been a rough couple of weeks for Elliston, Ohio's Crystal Bowersox, who appeared to be losing her season-long lead on "American Idol" as this year's slow-and-steady dark horse, Lee DeWyze, crept up into contention for the title.
But on Tuesday night, Bowersox saved the best for last, pulling off three solid, if not exceptional, performances, as DeWyze, gripped by nerves, appeared to squander his underdog status at the worst time. For friends and supporters of Bowersox, her knockout takes on "Black Velvet" and "Up to the Mountain" were proof positive that the dreadlocked single mom from the hard-hit Northern Ohio town might win this thing.
"I'm pretty confident," said Tim Stahl, owner of the gritty Toledo, Ohio, bar Papa's Tavern, where Bowersox, 24, got her start as a regular performer when she was 13. "I don't see any doubt at all. ... She definitely saved her top performances for the end."
Though last season's come-from-behind win by Kris Allen over favorite Adam Lambert still gives him pause, Stahl said Bowersox's decision to sing Janis Joplin's "Me and Bobby McGee," practically her signature song, was a wise one. "I'm sure she knew what she was doing when she came out with that," said Stahl, who has seen Bowersox perform on the low, cramped stage at his bar countless times. "I feel confident, like 99.9 percent, but stranger things have happened."
The bar, which has a painted mural of Bowersox alongside her mentors, Ron Rasberry and Bob May, on the far wall, was so crowded Tuesday night for an "Idol" viewing party that Stahl said you could barely walk through. He expects an equally rowdy, packed house for Wednesday night's (May 26) two-hour finale.
Crystal's run to the finals has been especially sweet to watch for Dan Kalo, her former principal at Oak Harbor Middle School. "I watched last night, and to be quite honest, Lee had done such a great job, and I thought the song selection that Crystal was given hurt her," he said. "I knew it had to be the final opportunity for her to prove how great she was, and I don't think she disappointed anybody."
Kalo is one of the first people to predict that Bowersox was headed for TV fame. Back in 1997, when Crystal was in sixth grade, she won the school's talent competition for her age group with an acoustic cover of Jewel's "You Were Meant for Me."
"Kids, you saw her here first at Oak Harbor Junior High. You'll see her one day on television: Crystal Bowersox," Kalo can be heard saying on a video of the competition.
After watching Tuesday night's show, he was feeling pretty bullish about his clairvoyant abilities. "That was way pre-'American idol,' but the mere fact that just happened still is kind of eerie," laughed Kalo, who now lives in Florida. "To say that someday I would see her on television was something I guess you'd say to somebody that you think has the potential to be great, but you never know that that could actually come true."
Kalo said it is "extremely gratifying" to see a student like Bowersox, who "has had to work so hard for all her success and was never given anything," rise up to the edge of potential stardom. "She certainly showed she was the better of the two contestants and proved to everyone that she deserves to be the next American Idol," he said. "Who would have thought in sixth grade this little girl playing her favorite Jewel song on her guitar would win $45 or whatever it was and ... well, the rest is history."
Another person who has watched Bowersox rise from her humble beginnings playing to a handful of people is John Schafer, who often booked her at the Village Idiot bar in Maumee, Ohio. On Wednesday afternoon, just hours before the results would be read, Schafer was feeling very confident. "I think it's a layup, man, I really do," he said. "I hate to sound cocky, but I think she was clearly the better voice and has been. I don't know how anyone could look at it any differently. I don't see any other way than for her to win."
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