Lee DeWyze has gone from the suburbs to Hollywood, winning the popular "American Idol" singing competition, scoring a record deal, and gaining a following of countless fans across the country.
But Mount Prospect's own idol hasn't let fame get to his head, according to local admirers who attended the 24-year-old's homecoming concert at Arlington Park Friday night.
"He's a hometown guy that made it big and still is down-to-earth," said Chris Grabowski, who brought a group of eight DeWyze fans to an exclusive meet-and-greet with the singer before the concert. Grabowski's daughter Rachel won a singing contest sponsored by the Lee DeWyze Hometown Fan Club.
They joined about 50 in the Arlington Beverly D room, where DeWyze posed for pictures and signed autographs to ecstatic fans.
"It was amazing," said club President Ali Lapping, 17. "He was so grateful for what we're doing."
Said Carly Gordon, 17, the club's vice president: "We've been huge fans from the very beginning. His story is inspiring."
Indeed, much of DeWyze's upbringing was anything but spotlights and cameras. He played with his band at house parties, sang at karaoke bars, and worked at a paint store in Mount Prospect.
Kristin Dillon, 10, remembers one time she saw DeWyze working behind the register at the store.
"He looks different now. His hair was more brownish, and not spiked. He seemed like a nice guy," she said.
Dillon and her group of seven friends, all wearing lime green "Vote 4 Lee" T-shirts, waited four hours for the nighttime concert. Some of their signs: "Lee Da Bomb," and "Ur tight dawg," a la "Idol" judge Randy Jackson.
Courtney Stedman, 13, brought her "Lee you baby-sat me" sign to the concert. She said DeWyze and his girlfriend watched her. She'll always remember when he came over with a special treat - a big deal at age 8.
"He brought me a Frosty from Wendy's," she said.
DeWyze took the stage shortly before 8 p.m. and played 12 songs, from his popular cover of "The Boxer" to his own "Hallelujah." He also introduced a new tune, "Only Dreaming," set to be released on his first album in October.
It was his first performance since wrapping up a nationwide tour with other "American Idol" contestants. Just over 20,000 attended - about half the number that saw DeWyze at Arlington Park in May when he was still on the TV show.
He declared, "My musical career starts tonight."
"Coming home for me is the greatest, and the fact that you're here makes it even better," DeWyze told the crowd. "I've never felt more at home than I do now."