When it comes to "American Idol," the homestretch is homecoming week, a yearly tradition since season 1 and the moment for which every finalist pines. This year's trio -- Scotty McCreery, Lauren Alaina and Haley Reinhart -- like 27 before them, had one whirlwind weekend as they hit their respective hometowns to greet fans, reunite with family and friends, and give special performances as a thank you to their most loyal supporters. For good measure, fourth placer James Durbin was also received with a hero's welcome in his hometown of Santa Cruz, which was dubbed "Durbin Day." According to local media reports, some 30,000 people turned out.
Haley Reinhart: Deer Park, Ill.
Haley's homecoming was a jam-packed day of fans, photos, autographs, and tears as suburban Chicagoans, for the second year in a row, came out in droves to support their "Idol" candidate. Haley kicked off her day at the AT&T store in Deer Park, where she met about 200 fans who had gathered outside, despite the drizzly weather. After pictures and autographs, fans begged Haley to sing. She politely declined, but promised to put on a show later that night at Arlington Park.
Next, she returned to her alma mater, Wheeling High School, where she could already hear chants of her name as she hopped out of the black SUV, escorted by police. Inside, a gymnasium filled with 400 fans clad in printed "Haley" T-shirts anxiously awaited her arrival and delighted in the time she spent answering questions about her Idol journey. Afterwards, Haley led a motorcade to the Wheeling Village Hall on Wheeling Community College's campus, where more devotees gathered to hear her sing a few songs.
As promised, her mini-concert at the end of night, during which she was joined onstage by her parents Harry and Patti, was, by local accounts, spectacular, drawing nearly 30,000 people to Arlington Park in inclement weather. Next week, Haley's fans will get to hear her best attempt at the Judges' Choice song, Alanis Morrisette's hit, "You Oughtta Know."
Scotty McCreery: Garner, N.C.
Garner, North Carolina went all-out for Scotty's homecoming celebration, with the Raleigh suburb spending over $60,000 to host over 30,000 fans for the weekend. The 17-year old finalist has turned the town upside down, causing police to block off his neighborhood after throngs of fans descended on the McCreery house to sneak a peek.
In typical "Idol" form, Scotty made a pit stop at his old job, Lowe's Foods, and even bagged up some groceries for laughs and nostalgia. He joked to the crowd that his manager called him, complaining that he had not yet submitted his two-week notice. It's apparent that no matter how he fares in the final round, Scotty's days as a bag boy are long gone.
His next stop was Lake Benson Park, where thousands of screaming, crying fans gathered to cheer on the country crooner. Once onstage, Mayor Ronnie Williams gave him the key to the Town of Garner and proclaimed May 14 "Scotty McCreery Day." Scotty took the mic and delivered a power-packed performance for his fans. Of course, he had to sing his self-described "theme song," "Your Man," but to Scotty surprise -- or more like shock -- singer Josh Turner appeared and made it a duet. "I heard you had never sung this song with a band before… I thought I'd bring a few of my guys in," said Turner, to which Scotty responded, "I only sang 30 seconds of it." With the proper disclaimer ("This is unrehearsed, we're gonna wing it," Turner warned), the duo delivered a sweet rendition that's sure to be good pracrtice for Scotty, whose Top 3 song included the judges' choice of Kenny Rogers' "She Believes In Me."
Lauren Alaina: Chattanooga, Tenn.
After three months away, 16-year-old Lauren Alaina returned to Atlanta as Georgia's sweetheart. She began her frenetic day at the FOX station in her hometown of Chattanooga and continued on to the AT&T store. Next, she led a parade through the city, joined by bands from Soddy Daisy High School and Fort Olgelthorpe Lakeview High School, her alma mater. Hundreds of students waited to greet her at the school, where a huge banner hung that read, "We Support Our Lauren Alaina!" She also made a point to stop in tornado-ravaged Ringold, Georgia.
Another parade followed, leading Lauren across the Walnut Street Bridge to meet thousands of screaming supporters at Coolidge Park. There, Mayor Littlefield handed her a key to the city and she gave a heartfelt thank you to her fans. "Idol's" youngest contestant then sang a few songs, filmed segments for next week's homecoming show, and wiped away plenty of tears. Now, she can only hope to spur such an emotional reaction from the judges on next week's show, where she'll sing Lee Ann Womack's "I Hope You Dance."