For the top three on "American Idol," winning is everything. Scotty McCreery, Lauren Alaina and Haley Reinhart have their eyes on the prize. But over the weekend, taking the top spot next week was probably second best to just going home and seeing their adoring hometown fans in the flesh for the first time.
According to a Billboard report, 17-year-old McCreery's reception in Garner, North Carolina, was thunderous, as the leading contender to take the competition was greeted by more than 30,000 fans. The city splashed out more than $60,000 on Scotty's big day, with police blocking off the singer's neighborhood after excited admirers crushed around the McCreery homestead to get a look at the house where Scotty grew up.
McCreery dropped in at his old employer, Lowes Foods, bagged a few groceries for old time's sake and joked that his manager had razzed him for not giving two weeks notice.
He made his way to Lake Benson Park, where thousands gathered to see him get the key to the city of Garner and see Mayor Ronnie Williams proclaim May 14 "Scotty McCreery Day." His show included a version of his unofficial anthem, "Your Man." But Scotty was pleasantly surprised when the song's originator, country star Josh Turner, showed up and performed a duet on the tune with him.
McCreery, a high school baseball star, had also been scheduled to throw out the first pitch at the North Carolina State University baseball game, but it was canceled due to rain. He made up for it by leading the team in an impromptu round of slip and slide on the tarp over the field, according to local reports.
After Chicagoland residents got to party last year for eventual winner Lee DeWyze, they cranked up the party machine again on Saturday in Deer Park, Illinois, for Reinhart. She started her day at a sponsor stop at an AT&T store, where she met 200 fans who waited in the cold drizzle. She held off on their requests to sing at the store, moving on to her alma mater, Wheeling High School, where she entered a gym packed with 400 screaming fans in "Haley" T-shirts.
Then it was off by motorcade to Wheeling Community College, where she sang a few songs, and then to the big event, a mini-concert at rain-soaked Arlington Park. Nearly 30,000 people came to see her jam with her musician parents, Harry and Patti, who joined her on the Beatles' "Oh! Darling." She also sang Elton John's "Bennie & the Jets" and Janis Joplin's "Piece of My Heart."
Things were celebratory, but with a tinge of sadness, when 16-year-old Lauren Alaina returned home to Chattanooga, Tennessee, where she paid tribute to the people who had lost their homes in the recent killer tornados. Alaina stopped by the local Fox affiliate, hit the AT&T store and led a parade through the city. She visited with hundreds of students at her alma mater, Fort Oglethorpe Lakeview High School, and then stopped in tornado-ravaged Ringgold, Georgia, to lend her support.
After a second parade led her to Chattanooga's Coolidge Park, the town's mayor handed her a key to the city and she sang a few songs.
Even James Durbin, who washed out last week in a surprise elimination, got a hero's welcome when he returned home on Saturday, as "Durbin Day" in Santa Cruz, California, drew nearly 30,000 people.
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