Posted by: Diane Capuano
A visit to Mt. Prospect Paint in Mt. Prospect, Ill., is a great place to pick up a gallon of paint and to learn the latest about the career of Lee DeWyze, the winner of the ninth season of “American Idol.”
Lee worked at the store for six years, gaining a great reputation for his color and stain matching abilities. “He really had a great eye for color,” recalls store owner Bill Lagattolla. “A lot of guys would ask for him specifically.”
While Lee is no longer an employee at Mt. Prospect Paint, he is definitely still a presence in the store. Banners, photos, signage, signed memorabilia and T-shirts all commemorate Lee’s “American Idol” journey and his new career as recording artist.
Lee grew up just six doors down from the store that is now known as Mt. Prospect Paint. He first worked there when he was 15 years old. Logging in a total of six years with the store, he eventually became an expert color and stain matcher. But Bill knew that music was Lee’s first love. “A lot of times, on a Sunday, he’d bring in his guitar and play,” he reports.
With an eye on making music his career, Lee tried out for “American Idol” in November 2009. He was one of 13 people out of 40,000 Chicago auditions to get a ticket to Hollywood to participate in the show. Interestingly enough, Crystal Bowersox, who was the other Season 9 “American Idol” finalist, was another of the 13 people chosen from the Chicago auditions.
When the 2010 season of “American Idol” began, Lee left Mt. Prospect Paint to pursue his dream of pop music stardom. To say he succeeded is a bit of an understatement, since he beat out tens of thousands of people to make it to Hollywood and then survived week after week on the popular national TV show until he emerged as the one, the only “American Idol” for 2010.
As great an adventure as this was for Lee, it also was an amazing experience for the owner and staff of Mt. Prospect Paint. Every week during the “American Idol” season, Bill and store manager Mike Binek would go to a local blues bar to watch the show and cheer on their friend and colleague.
As Lee progressed week after week, customers would come into the store to discuss the latest week’s performance. “That gave us an advantage over the home centers,” Bill reports. “Customers came into our stores not only to get a gallon of paint but also to get the latest news on Lee.”
Since “American Idol” played up the idea of Lee being “the paint salesman from Chicago,” that identify definitely helped to give Mt. Prospect Paint some unexpected publicity. One of the most memorable days was Friday, May 14, when Lee had his homecoming to Mt. Prospect that included a visit to his former employer. A parade attracted thousands to the streets of Mt. Prospect, and Lee’s only stop was at the paint store, where he had a reunion with Bill, Mike and the entire staff. Parts of that reunion were included in the “American Idol” broadcast the following week, which helped bring widespread attention to Mt. Prospect Paint.
“It definitely created a nice buzz for the store,” Bill reports. “We’ve gotten phone calls and fan mail from all over the world. People have contacted us from the Philippines, Poland, Greece, Italy, Denmark and even China and Australia, offering Lee their congratulations and well wishes. We even had one woman come all the way from New York to buy her paint because of Lee. She took it back in a U-Haul.”
Now that Lee has won the national competition, a lot of the fanfare has died down, but the store still gets regular calls, letters and visitors inquiring about Lee. While Lee is currently based in Los Angeles, his parents live in nearby Arlington Heights. “His mother comes into the store every week to pick up his fan mail,” Bill reports.
Bill still keeps in touch with Lee. He attended the concert and had backstage passes when the “American Idol” tour came to Chicago. He also attended Lee’s own concert, which took place last Friday (September 24) at Arlington Race Track.
“That’s the same place that Lee had his homecoming concert during the ‘American Idol’ season,” Bill reports, “so it was nice to see him come full circle.”
Tags: Mt. Prospect Paint