The air inside the fellowship hall at Trinity United Church of Christ in Elliston was thick – not just because of the wall-to-wall crowd and the sweltering evening heat, but also because “American Idol” host Ryan Seacrest was finally about to make the announcement they’d been waiting some 13 weeks to hear.
Seacrest seemed to be talking in slow motion as, just after 10 p.m. Wednesday night, he teased, “After the nationwide vote, I can now tell you, the winner of American Idol 2010 is…”
The more than 600 people packed inside the room held their breath, waiting to exhale – hoping Seacrest would pronounce Elliston’s own Crystal Bowersox the winner.
Then he said it. “Lee DeWyze.”
The shift in the room’s energy was palpable. Some people shook their heads. One woman sat stunned, covering her mouth in shock. “I can’t believe it,” a man in the front row said.
Then as a reminder of why they were all there – to celebrate Crystal’s almost rags-to-riches success in season nine of the popular FOX series – red, white and blue balloons dropped and confetti filled the air, courtesy of Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur.
Thunderous cheers and applause filled the room despite the disappointment in the night’s outcome.
For the members of Trinity UCC, the weekly gatherings have been a way of life since Crystal made the top 12. They’ve watched the crowd grow from just a few to the largest ever that came for the “Idol” season finale.
They came from Elliston and beyond. Themselves, Elliston residents wouldn’t make much of a crowd. In fact, the town has only 16 houses, according to Ava Bodnar, postmaster of the Graytown Post Office, which has overseen mail delivery to Elliston since the town’s post office closed in 1981.
Crystal’s success came at a time when the small, rural church was looking for a way to grow and to reach out and do something in the community, according to Nancy Turnow, who has been a member of the congregation for some 20 years.
“At one of our focus group meetings, somebody said, `Hey, did you guys know Crystal Bowersox is in the finals for American Idol?’ We should have a party for that,’” Turnow said.
So they did.
Someone suggested they get matching shirts to wear to the gathering to show their unity and support for Crystal. Bob Geller created a design proclaiming, “Elliston, Ohio supports Crystal Bowersox & I do too.”
“Initially, we ordered 24 of the shirts,” said church member Tracy Dresser. “As the weeks went on, people started asking about them, so we ordered more, which we sold for $20 each, with proceeds going to support Diabetes Youth Services.” They chose the charity because Crystal has diabetes.
When Crystal made it to the final three, the church designed another shirt proclaiming “She left Elliston a singer and came home a star.”
To date, some 4,000 T-shirts have been sold. Many members of the crowd were wearing the shirts at Wednesday’s gathering.
Looking over the crowd, which included Crystal’s grandparents, Keith and Alice Bowersox, flanked by other family members seated in the front row, Turnow said she would miss the weekly get-togethers.
“It’s been a fun outreach for the community for our church,” she said. “To make these relationships with the people in our community, to let them know that our church is always open to them, is wonderful. We’ve all gotten to know each other even better through all this.”
Church members Eva Hoeft, of Martin, and her son Marty came to the gatherings to support Crystal and visit with her neighbors. Every week, she baked cookies to bring along. “It will be sad when it’s over, but maybe we’ll get some work done at home,” she said.
“This has been great,” Dresser said. “We love Crystal and we’re proud of her no matter how she does on American Idol,” Dresser said.
Keith Bowersox called the support his granddaughter has received from the church and community members “fantastic.”
After the announcement that Crystal was runner-up, Keith admitted that earlier in the day, he had visited Dialidol.com, a website that forecast that DeWyze would win.
“I came in here armed with that information, but I was sort of hoping they were wrong,” he said. “I also read contract-wise, Crystal may be better off being separate. And like those old ads, being number-two, she’ll try harder and she’ll succeed.
“Whose voice would you recognize on the radio? His? I don’t think so. Hers? Without a doubt,” Keith said.
The proud grandfather predicated American Idol would be a jumpstart for Crystal. “It gave her publicity. She came from playing street corners and subway exits, bars and now the sky’s the limit for the kid.”
What will be the first thing he’ll say to her when he talks to her? “That I hope she gets five bucks out of this,” he said.
“I’d be happy with that – but no matter how much money I had, I’d never buy a ticket out of Elliston, though. I’ve been here 40 years and I love it.”
And as for Crystal, many members of the crowd could be heard leaving the gathering with the prediction of great success for her.
“No matter what happens, I feel like I’ve done very well for myself, my family and friends,” she said in an interview with Fox 2 on the red carpet before last night’s show.
“I love you in Toledo and surrounding area,” she told the interviewer. “Thanks to all the people I love and who love me.”
On June 16, Trinity UCC will hold a party to present donations to Diabetes Youth Services and other charities and to thank the community for its support during Crystal’s “Idol” run.
“We’re very happy to be helping Diabetes Youth Services,” Turnow said. “Their staff and their mission there is just awesome. They have such a passion to help kids with diabetes – it’s really cool.
“We’re also grateful to the community,” she said. “We’ve had so many donations of food from individuals and area restaurants (for the gatherings). It’s been amazing.