Posted by: Diane Capuano
Lee DeWyze, a six-year employee of a paint store in Mt. Prospect, Ill., is the Season 9 winner of “American Idol.” DeWyze prevailed over second-place finisher Crystal Bowersox in a nationally televised finale that aired May 26 and was watched by an audience of at least 26 million people.
The 24-year-old DeWyze grew up just six doors down from the store that is now known as Mt. Prospect Paint. He started working there when he was just 15 years old. After three years, he tried another line of work for a while, but then came back to Mt. Prospect Paint for another three years.
DeWyze became a valued employee at the store for his skills as an expert color and stain matcher. However, it was his talent as a singer and musician that led him to try out for “American Idol” in November 2009. He got his “golden ticket” and flew out to Hollywood in January 2010 to pursue his dream. Over the months, he moved from the Top 24 contenders to the Top 10 and eventually to the final dramatic moment when host Ryan Seacrest revealed him as the winner.
Among DeWyze’s most ardent supporters during his “American Idol” journey—outside of his mother, father and brother—were the staff of Mt. Prospect Paint. Owner Bill Lagattolla and the store’s six employees were upbeat about his chances of prevailing in the contest. “As soon as he went out there, I knew he was going to win,” says store owner Bill Lagattolla.
During DeWyze’s time on “American Idol,” the store sold T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan “Vote for Lee.” A banner was hung on the outside of the store so that all customers and passers-by knew that this was the home of one of the most promising “American Idol” contestants.
One of the most exciting days was Friday, May 14, the day that DeWyze had his homecoming, which is something that “American Idol” reserves for those who make it to the Top 3. The day included a parade that started in downtown Mt. Prospect and concluded with a stop at Mt. Prospect Paint. By Lagattolla’s estimation, there were as many as 20,000 people on the streets of Mt. Prospect to witness DeWyze and his family ride through town in a Ford Mustang convertible.
The visit inside the store itself was a closed event, with just DeWyze, his family, store employees, friends and media present. However, there were plenty of people pressing their faces against the window to get a glimpse of the emotional reunion inside.
“He was here about a half-hour,” Lagattolla reports. “He was really overwhelmed. I don’t think he realized how huge the support and fanfare would be. He hadn’t been back since he was selected to the Top 24.”
The capper to the day was a Lee DeWyze concert at Arlington Race Track, which attracted the types of crowd normally reserved for well-established rock stars. “There were 42,000 people there,” Lagattolla reports. “It was really unbelievable. The track was filled with people.”
Many of them were wearing their “Vote for Lee” T-shirts or the official Hometown Parade T-shirts, which read: BeLEEve.
Most of Lagattolla’s contact with the “American Idol” staff was over the phone. However, he reports, “They came out here at one point to interview us and ask about him and his background. They were in love with the idea that here was an average fellow from an average background.”
But in reality, Lagattolla never thought of DeWyze as “average.” “He was one of our best color matchers and stain matchers,” Lagattolla reports. “He’s also a very personable, honest and good person.”
The homecoming broadcast on May 19 and 20 drew an estimated 20 million viewers, who saw several interior and exterior shots of Mt. Prospect Paint during DeWyze’s homecoming montage. As would be expected, this type of audience has brought unprecedented attention to the store.
“We have been inundated with 500 to 600 phone calls a day about DeWyze,” Lagattolla told us just days before the May 26 finale. “A lot of the calls have been just to get updates about DeWyze—the latest song he performed, reaction to judges’ comments and, most importantly, his chances of ultimately winning. Plus, we have people who have never heard of Mt. Prospect Paint coming into our store. The traffic it’s created has been unbelievable.”
As nice as all of that has been, Lagattolla stresses that this whole experience is rightly centered on DeWyze. “It’s all about Lee—him and the show,” he reports. “We’re just along for the ride.”