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'Idol' finalist Phillip Phillips returns to Ga. home

American Idol contestant Phillip Phillips performs as a TV cameraman works from the edge of the stage during Saturday's hometown concert at Lee County High School in Leesburg.

American Idol contestant Phillip Phillips performs as a TV cameraman works from the edge of the stage during Saturday's hometown concert at Lee County High School in Leesburg.

LEESBURG, Ga. — If someone went looking for the heart of a community, that heart could be found moving to the beat at the Saturday afternoon welcome-home celebration for “American Idol” finalist Phillip Phillips.

Fans have fun, show love for their hometown 'American Idol'

LEESBURG — It was a fun-filled day in Leesburg and the fans of “American Idol” and Phillip Phillips didn’t let a long delay dampen their fun.

While waiting for the Top 3 finalist, music played over a loudspeaker and the crowd took that as their cue to sing and dance to songs like “YMCA,” “The Electric Slide” and the music from “Grease.”

Clouds kept the sun hidden and a light breeze made the temperature more pleasant. Smiles and laughter could be seen and heard throughout the football stadium at Lee County High School.

But at the end of the day, it was all about Phillip Phillips.

Nearly 20,000 strong, the fans could hardly contain their love and enthusiasm.

Lisa Burke and Deborah Kearce arrived early for the concert to support Phillips in his quest to be an American Idol. They said there were a few ingredients that made Phillips the man he is today.

“He has had great family support, a great school system and good friends,” said Burke. “He deserves the recognition.”

Phillips is certainly recognized in his community and in Perry, Fla. Carrying a sign that proclaimed three generations traveled 300 miles round trip, Melissa Moody and her family were proud to support Phillips.

“He is just himself. He is so cool,” Moody said. “We’re former Leesburg residents and we had to come back as a family to show him our support.”

A strong supporter, Sandy McLendon said she felt like Phillips was the best on the show and should win. She carried a sign that said she wanted to “Rock the vote for Phillip Phillips.”

“He is going to win American Idol,” McLendon said. “He’s a very good singer and he deserves to get it.”

—Pete Skiba & Casey Dixon

Almost 20,000 people turned out to applaud the parade in Phillips honor and attend a concert by the singer and his backup band of local musicians at the Lee County High School football field.

Delays in the parade that made Phillips more than an hour late for his concert did not dampen the crowd’s enthusiasm. Alternating between chants of “Phillips! Phillips! Phillips!” and sing-along songs to recorded music, the crowd erupted into cheers and applause when he took the stage.

“I just want to say thank you to everyone for all their support,” Phillips said. “This is so ... woooow. This is crazy. I don’t know what to say. I want to thank everyone in this town and community and wherever you all came from.”

From Congress and the Georgia General Assembly, to county and city governments, everyone either had a Congressional Certification of Recognition, a proclamation from the governor, an oversized library card, a plaque or a key to the city for Phillips.

The day was also proclaimed Phillip Phillips day in Leesburg and Lee County. In recent honors, Phillips joins World Series Champion catcher Buster Posey and country recording artist Luke Bryan.

“Southwest Georgia’s Second Congressional District has the brightest, most talented and most creative people in the world,” said U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Albany. “On behalf of your friends and neighbors we promise you our support and our 600,000 votes for you to be the next ‘American Idol’.”

State Rep. Ed Rynders, R-Leesburg, introduced himself to Phillips and offered a proclamation of support from Governor Nathan Deal. It is presumed the governor will vote for Phillips on American Idol.

As a contender on the show, Phillips’ strength comes from his singing and his musicianship. When he got down to it with his band of local musicians, including his sisters and brother-in-laws, the crowd roared its approval.

After a well-played instrumental jazzy jam, Phillips said, “Hey that was good. They’ve been practicing for me.”

Phillips and his band then made the Stevie Wonder song “Superstition” their own to the delight of cheering fans. With that song Phillips showed that he believed the music was the real key to the city’s heart.

“He has always been about the music,” said Phillips’ drummer and friend Paul Ward. “I really watched his growth from the beginning to now on the show.”

Judging from Phillips’ facial expressions while playing guitar, music is the real way he conveys his joy of living to his audience, his community.

It is the joy that music brings to a community that brought Brittany Stalvey to the field to hear Phillips. Stalvey has breast cancer but her smile and enthusiasm defy the disease.

“It is just such a joy to see the community come together like this,” Stalvey said. “And Phillip is such a good singer. My daughter just adores him.”

At the concert 4-year-old Mayson Stalvey didn’t have much to say. She did join the consensus of the younger set that Phillips not only can sing better than Justin Bieber, but he is also better looking.