It was only fitting that Brian Friedopfer and a big group of Lee DeWyze's friends gathered at the Glenview, Illinois, karaoke bar Potato Creek Johnny's on Wednesday night to watch the finale of "American Idol."
After all, it was the place Lee and his pals went on an almost-weekly basis to try out their favorite rock tunes. But as his friend stood on the edge of victory after years of slogging his gear around the Chicago area playing gigs in pursuit of his rock and roll fantasy, Friedopfer said the two-hour finale felt like an eternity. "Man, it felt like eight hours," he said on Thursday morning (May 27). "Once it got to where they were standing onstage and Ryan was about to read the result, me and his close friends were holding onto each other, and we were on our toes, our hearts going a million miles a minute."
As Ryan Seacrest took his usual heart-stopping pause before reading the name aloud, Friedopfer said he was confident Lee's name was written on the host's card. But once the words actually came out, it finally felt real — and it was time to celebrate.
"We were jumping up and down, tears running down our faces and everyone in the bar gave us a hug," he said.
Hours later, around 4 a.m., Lee finally called Brian and told him, "Brian, I just won 'American Idol.' "
"I was like, 'I know you just won, I watched you!' " Friedopfer recalled. "And then, he just said, 'I love you guys so much and am so grateful for everything you've done.' He said he had to wake up in two hours to do some more interviews, but he just wanted to tell us he loved us and was grateful. That's how he is, he's an amazing guy."
Another karaoke pal, Kirstin Schlueter, 27, was there as well, and she said that when DeWyze's name was read, it felt like everyone blacked out for a few seconds, as the news sank in.
"It was just a lot of emotion," said Schlueter, who met Lee at Johnny's two years ago. "We just started sobbing, and it was so loud in there we couldn't even hear him performing the final song because we were so hysterical." Both friends said they were a bit nervous when at the top of Wednesday night's show, Seacrest said that going into the final night of the competition, the finalists were separated by a mere two percent. But Schlueter brushed it off, saying, "Ah, Lee never loses anything. He would fight to the death if he has to."
For now, she's just waiting for a phone call from her former karaoke partner. "I'm just waiting for him to say, 'Guess what I did?' and I can say, 'I know, I watched you buddy!' It's so weird to see him on TV and think, 'He used to sit in the passenger seat of my car.' I just can't wait to give him a big hug and tell him how proud I am."
Another confidant who had no doubt Lee would emerge victorious was Amy Silverman, Lee's former high school teacher and close friend, who was in the audience on Tuesday and Wednesday night to cheer him on. "I wasn't nervous at all," she said on Thursday. "I never had a doubt. I was talking to Lee the night before, and he felt the same way he felt probably every Tuesday this whole time, but times 1,000: 'There's nothing you can do. You can't worry about anything other than getting some sleep and being there again on Wednesday.' "
She said he was excited about his chance to perform with Joe Cocker and Chicago, and before the results were read, he looked over at Silverman and another of his close friends and gave them a wave. When Seacrest finally dropped the news, Silverman said she had her eyes closed and she just lost it, weeping tears of joy. "We caught up with him afterwards, and he hugged me and held me and just said, 'Oh, my God.' He was speechless, just couldn't talk. We met up with him and his family at the afterparty later, and he just kept shaking his head and saying, 'Oh, my God ... this is so cool!' I don't think it'll set in for a bit."
Once the shock had worn off, Friedopfer said he recalled sitting in a bar a little less than a year ago and telling DeWyze he was going to win the competition. "I've been confident the whole time," he said. "Now we're here and he's won. I knew it had to be him. It's the only thing that made sense. This is only the beginning."
Were you expecting Lee to win "Idol"? Let us know in the comments!