MT. PROSPECT, Illinois — It's not that Lee Dewyze's supporters are feeling cocky, but when they — from his high school principal to the drummer in his band to his old boss at Mt. Prospect Paint — were asked if they're planning to go to his homecoming parade and rally on Friday, the answer was a resounding, triumphant, "Yes!"
And that was days, and hours, before Dewyze got the news on Wednesday night that he would be coming home after making it into the "American Idol" top three. When the verdict was finally read, the crowd of 100-plus supporters at the Blues Bar in Mt. Prospect erupted into joyous clapping, shouting, whistles and hugs as they all scrambled to figure out who they needed to call in order to get tickets to Friday night's big event.
"My heart is pounding a hundred miles a minute," said a teary-eyed Karen Kinnare, who could hardly contain her pride at Dewyze's success. Her husband, a local general contractor, used to buy paint from Dewyze when the guitar slinger was but a humble paint salesman. And though he'd never seen "Idol" before, when Kinnare was watching auditions earlier this year, her husband came in and yelled, "Hey, that's my paint guy!"
Like just about everywhere MTV News went this week in the area, there were plenty of other people at the bar who knew Lee or his family or who had seen him play at the countless clubs in the area. They packed Blues Bar wearing their bright green "Vote 4 Lee" shirts and pins, waiting breathlessly for host Ryan Seacrest to spill the big news.
As they killed time in the Blues Brothers-themed bar, they could buy Lee shirts and buttons — including one that referenced his days as a paint salesman that read "Lee Dewyze Shook My Cans" — as well as copies of his two independently released CDs and delicious homemade cookies imprinted with the "Idol" logo and the plea "Vote for Lee!" from the Central Continental Bakery, which is located just across the street. Bakery owner Marilyn Czerniak said she's sold more than 5,000 cookies to fans across the country over the past few weeks and proudly showed off a signed photo of Lee holding one of the confections that his mother had brought out to Los Angeles for him.
Matt Mika, 25, has known Lee for a while, and like a lot of people in the area, he also had a great story about the "Idol" star's formative musical years. "The first guitar I've ever seen him play was my brother's guitar in my basement, and that was really one of the first nights he ever played guitar," said Mika of Dewyze, who didn't pick up the instrument until he was old enough to drive. "I think he's going to move on. I don't think he's going to have any trouble."
Mika's friend, mowhawked Mike Musich, 24, who went to high school with Lee, said he was also feeling good about things just before the show kicked off. "Tonight I think it's going to be the same as usual. I think Lee's going to coast on through and come home and give us a good show on Friday," said Musich. Once word broke that Dewyze had made the cut, both men were ecstatic and eager to see their old friend and bask in the glory of his newfound fame. "We'll be lucky to get two minutes with him," Mika laughed.
Just moments after Dewyze made the cut, Tara Battaglia, 18, was already planning on ditching school on Friday to attend the parade. "I was screaming 'oh my God,' I was so excited," said the teen, who was wearing her bright green "Vote 4 Lee" shirt. "I'm probably not going to go to school on Friday. I'm definitely going to follow him around, go to the Cubs game, watch him throw the first pitch, go to the parade, go to the concert. ... I knew he was going to make it."
Her sister, Deanna, 19, was equally excited, but admitted that she got nervous when Seacrest was chatting up the other contestants first. "I was biting my nails, I was so nervous," she said. "And when they said his name, I screamed and almost fell off my chair."
Earlier in the day, Dr. Patricia Tedaldi-Monti, dean of students at Prospect High School, where Dewyze attended high school before transferring to an alternative school during his senior year, said Lee promised her he'd make it big someday. Surrounded by a variety of Lee-shirts in her office, Tedaldi-Monti recalled the day when the shy teenager who was always tapping out a beat on his desk or leg and playing an imaginary guitar came into her office and told her, "I'm going to be a rock star.
"And you [and my other teachers] are going to be in the front row, and I'm going to be playing a really big concert." She laughed, recalling that she told him, "Well stay in touch, because I'd like to see that really big concert." And though she counseled him to keep reaching for his dreams while planning for a backup, Lee's promise is now coming true.
"And so, it is going to happen," she said proudly. "He's a rock star."
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