One hot morning last June, Lee DeWyze and his buddy Vincent Ferrara arrived at the United Center at 4 a.m. to try out for "American Idol."
Turned out, thousands of people had the same idea, and DeWyze almost didn't make it to the front of the line.
"He wanted to go home," Ferrara said. "It was so hot out, and the line was so long. But I told him, 'No way, you have some serious talent, we're staying.'"
Seven hours later, when DeWyze finally got in front of the judges, he sang "Stand By Me" and "Lean on Me."
"When I sang, one judge liked me but the other one didn't," Ferrara said. "I didn't have a good feeling.
"But for Lee, the judges just told him, 'You're on.'"
In the beginning, DeWyze wasn't exactly thrilled at making the cut. A self-taught guitarist, DeWyze likes to sing more alternative folk songs - and there's nothing more pop than "Idol."
So Ferrara had to sort of talk him into it the idea.
"If anything, I helped Lee get the opportunity, but since the audition, it's been all Lee," he said. "I don't think Lee understood exactly what 'Idol' could do for him."
Now among the nine finalists, it's safe to say DeWyze gets it.
He took the stage Tuesday night, when the contestants channeled Elvis Presley.
Two contestants will be voted off the show tonight because no one got canned last week. The judges chose to save Michael "Big Mike" Lynche last week after he polled last among fans.
If DeWyze, 24, survives four more weeks and makes it to the top three, "American Idol" will throw him a parade in his hometown, Mount Prospect. In parades past, as many as 20,000 people have come out to hear their Idol sing.
The show's winner will be announced in May.
But first things first.
Tuesday, Ferrara, 26, and Brian Friedopfer, 27, flew out to Los Angeles to see DeWyze compete, and they were both thrilled when the judges praised DeWyze's take on "A Little Less Conversation"
"I thought he did a phenomenal job," Ferrara said. "It went right to my heart and it moved me in ways I didn't think I could be moved."
Friedopfer had his own 15 minutes of fame when host Ryan Seacrest invited him to waltz during contestant Tim Urban's performance of "Can't Help Falling in Love."
Cameras cut to Seacrest and Friedopfer's dance several times.
"He just came up and asked me if I wanted to dance," Friedopfer said. "I thought he was going to ask me to move. It was pretty surreal."
Both Ferrara and Friedopfer said they hoped they'd get to hang out with DeWyze in L.A. but acknowledged he's on a tight schedule.
Ferrara has known DeWyze since they attended Prospect High School together. Friedopfer met him about five years ago through Ferrara when the three of them would work on music together.
"No matter what happens from here on out, Lee made it," Friedopfer said. "His life has changed."
"We might hang out when Lee comes back for a visit, but California is where the music business is," Ferrara said.
• Daily Herald staff writer Kathleen Danes contributed to this report