Lee DeWyze can admit it now.
He didn't always like being known as "the paint store sales clerk" during his four-month run on "American Idol."
"Sometimes I was like, why keep talking about that, but that's what this (show) is all about," he said. "It was cool. It kept me grounded remembering where I came from. I'll always know what it's like on the other side."
After winning Idol this week, DeWyze will forever be on the other side of the paint counter. On Friday, he spoke with the media about his future and his fans via a teleconference call.
He also talked about May 14 - the day that gave him the energy to win the whole thing.
That's when DeWyze came home for his hometown parade through Mount Prospect and a huge concert at Arlington Park. He started the day at 6:30 a.m. stressed and exhausted. But after seeing 43,000 fans scream his name at the track, he was ready to fight for the Idol title, he said on Friday.
"Seeing all those fans allowed me to get a grip on how intense my situation was," DeWyze said. "I couldn't believe they all showed up. It was surreal."
That's why he played 10 songs instead of the three that he supposed to play, he said.
"I'm way more comfortable now, doing my thing on stage," he said. "If it wasn't for the people back home, I wouldn't be here. So thumbs-up to everyone. The whole thing rejuvenated me."
He's also heard about those moms wearing their "Lee DeWyze Shook My Cans" T-shirts around his hometown, saying "they're really running with that."
Runner-up Crystal Bowersox, who broke up with her boyfriend right before the finale, had nothing but good things to say about DeWyze.
"Lee is great, I'd buy his album in a heartbeat," she said on Friday. "I'm extremely proud of him and happy for him."
Also, they're not dating, she said, putting an end to that rumor.
"Lee is like a brother to me," she said. "I love him dearly, but not that way."
This summer DeWyze, 24, will record an album while on the Idol tour that crisscrosses the nation from July 1 to Sept. 14. After that, he wants to split his time between Chicago and Los Angeles.
Not bad for a guy who lost his apartment lease before trying out for the show.
"I'd like to be able to go back and be near my family and friends," he said. "It's weird being out here and calling this home right now. I'll definitely make my rounds in Chicago as often and as much as I can."
DeWyze hopes to play at Chicago's House of Blues and Metro at some point, he said.
On Friday iTunes listed Oct. 26 as the expected release date for Lee's first post-Idol album. The Idol tour plays Chicago on Aug. 30 at the United Center.