Before there was Lee DeWyze the American Idol, there was Lee DeWyze, lead singer of The Lee DeWyze Band.
The two look remarkably similar.
Just like he does on national television, DeWyze led the band wearing blue jeans and plain T-shirts. He was shy and a bit of a "an old soul in a young guy's body," said his bandmate Louis Svitek.
Actually Svitek is more than just a fellow band member. Svitek discovered DeWyze, then 17, playing by himself at a house party in the Northwest suburbs. Svitek was dating a woman whose niece went to high school with DeWyze, and the two were introduced.
"I just heard his voice and said, 'Man, you got a gift,'" said Svitek, who runs the independent record label WuLi Records with Ryan McGuire in Chicago. "He's a natural."
Svitek and McGuire signed DeWyze to a three-record deal and in 2006 the group started touring local bars and festivals. Last year the group took the stage at Naperville's Ribfest and played for thousands.
"We were a pretty - good band," said Svitek, who lives in Chicago. "We rocked it. Whenever we played people freaked out."
The band issued two CDs, "So I'm Told" in 2007 and "Slumberland" in 2009.
Ribfest organizers recently asked Svitek if The Lee DeWyze Band would return to the festival this summer.
The chances aren't good. Before DeWyze, 24, could appear on "American Idol," McGuire and Svitek had to let him out of his contract with WuLi.
"I told him to go for it," Svitek said. "I knew we had to let him go. And you know what? I would not want to stop someone from doing what they want to do."
McGuire played the drums in the band.
"I'm not surprised he made the show," McGuire said. "At first he was opposed to doing it because he didn't want to be too pop, too Disney. Lee is a nervous guy at heart."
They're something the "American Idol" judges have noticed too. For the past month, they've told DeWyze his lack of confidence was holding him back. They told him to relax and believe in himself. Last week, he finally did and belted out "Treat Her Like A Lady."
"I always believed in you," said Simon Cowell, the show's harshest judge. "This was the night your life may have changed forever."
McGuire and Svitek disagree. They said "American Idol" fans haven't seen anything yet.
"We have yet to see a flawless performance," McGuire said. "When we do, look out."
And no one wants that to happen more than DeWyze, who has a lot riding on "Idol."
The Mount Prospect resident recently left his job at a local paint store and lost his apartment lease. DeWyze had also been floating around using his musical talent where he could - sometimes for fun, sometimes to help a friend out.
Besides his band gigs, DeWyze was a karaoke regular at Potato Creek Johnny's Saloon and Grill in Glenview. Two years ago, he helped out the wife of a fellow band member and recorded six songs to promote Square One Organic baby foods.
"I totally know this is what I'm supposed to do," DeWyze said in his audition tape. "There is no backup plan for me."
Even if Lee DeWyze doesn't win "Idol," he probably won't be returning to the Chicago area anytime soon. He'll be on the national "American Idol" tour for months after the show ends, and he's made it far enough to attract the major labels, McGuire said.
But McGuire and Svitek hold out hope that The Lee DeWyze Band will one day reunite.
"I predict when Lee is done with the 'American Idol' tour, he'll come back to Chicago for a few months and we'll get together," Svitek said. "It was meant to be."
DeWyze and the eight other finalists performed tunes from the Lennon/McCartney songbook Tuesday, and one contestant will be voted off the show tonight. The winner of "American Idol" will be named in May.
• The Lee DeWyze Band CDs are available at cdbaby.com/Artist/LeeDeWyze.