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'American Idol' Top 3 greeted as hometown heroes

May 16, 2011 |  3:41 pm

RAY_2133 Getting to the Top 3 on "American Idol" means more than just that the finale is two weeks away. (So soon? So hard to believe.) It also means the three final contestants get to go back to the towns from whence they came for the hometown-hero treatment, with appearances at minor-league ballparks, visits to their former schools and places of employment, parades, the bestowal of city keys, and the musical capper -- mini-concerts before cheering, sign-wielding crowds.

On Saturday, this season's three remaining candidates, Haley Reinhart, Lauren Alaina, and Scotty McCreery, were each treated to a superstar reception from their respective hometowns.

A rainy day -- and thousands of fans -- greeted Haley as she returned to Wheeling, Ill., a suburb about 30 minutes outside of Chicago. According to the Arlington Heights Daily Herald, Haley's day started about 10 a.m. at a local AT&T store, where she learned what song the judges had picked for her to sing this week (Alanis Morissette's "You Oughta Know"), and wrapped up around 8 p.m. with a concert at Arlington Park (which was also the hometown-visit concert venue for last year's "Idol" champ, Lee DeWyze). It included a visit to Wheeling High School, Haley's alma mater, and the Wheeling Aquatic Center, where she had worked. Wheeling Village President Judy Abruscato gave Haley a guitar-shape wooden keepsake with spokes and wheels integrated into the design. (Get it? Wheeling?) Abruscato also proclaimed it to be "Haley Reinhart Day." Performing at Arlington Park before a crowd of nearly 30,000 (including friends, neighbors, family members and fans), Haley sang Elton John's "Bennie and the Jets" and then welcomed her father and mother onto the stage to play with her. "I'm almost at a loss for words," Haley told the crowd. "Except that I need to tell you all how much I appreciate you."

Meanwhile, in Garner, N.C....

Scotty's day also kicked off with a visit to a local AT&T store and a text message letting him know the judges' song choice (Kenny Rogers' "She Believes in Me"). According to the Charlotte Observer, the whirlwind homecoming also included an emotional return to his high school, Garner High, and the grocery store at which he worked, Lowes Foods, as well as a parade culminating in a concert at Lake Benson Park, attended by tens of thousands of fans. At the concert, McCreery got a remarkable surprise when his musical hero, Josh Turner, joined him onstage to sing the song that McCreery famously (and frequently) sang in his early weeks on "Idol" -- "Your Man" (a.k.a. the song that begins with the line "Baby, lock them doors...").  McCreery capped off his day by throwing out the first pitch at a sold-out North Carolina State baseball game, in Raleigh.

Lauren's homecoming brought her tears as well as smiles, however, as she got an eyeful of the devastation from the tornadoes that leveled houses not far from the town she grew up in, Rossville, Ga., and spoke with survivors. In the day's happier moments, Lauren (whose last name is reported as Suddeth on the Tennessee news site the was given the key to Rossville by Johnny Baker before 10,000 screaming fans and was also presented with the key to the city of Chattanooga by Mayor Ron Littlefield. The day included parades, a high school visit, and a visit to a local AT&T store, where Lauren learned the judges' song choice for her this week: Lee Ann Womack's "I Hope You Dance." She performed in Coolidge Park; the 16-year-old contestant's longtime vocal coach, Karen Alayne, opened for her. Lauren capped her day by singing "God Bless America" and throwing out the first pitch at a baseball game between the Tennessee Smokies and the Chattanooga Lookouts.

And if any of you James Durbin fans are feeling bereft on his behalf, take heart: Durbin not only took the stage Saturday in front of 15,000 fans in his hometown, Santa Cruz, following a day of appearances. According to "Since Durbin is no longer on the show, there was no reason for Mayor Ryan Coonerty to stick with 'Idol' tradition and proclaim the day 'James Durbin Day' or hand him a key to the city. Instead Coonerty declared it 'James Durbin Year' and handed the young singer a brand new surfboard, complete with an image of Durbin performing on it."

Eat your hearts out, Top 3.

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-- Amy Reiter

Photo: "American Idol" contestant Lauren Alaina greets fans at a hometown parade in her honor. Credit: Ray Mickshaw / Fox