American Idol contestant David Cook's homecoming last Friday turned out to be one of the most memorable of my life. I reveled in my students successes and triumphs while I was teaching, but seeing David achieve his dream on a national level has given me immeasurable joy!
I haven't seen David since he was a sophomore or junior in college, though I have thought of him from time to time (as I do many of my students), wondering how his band (whose other members were also my students) was doing. Being David's teacher was a privilege and joy -- He was a solid, responsible student -- quite personable and tremendously talented. American Idol aside, David is a student I will never forget.
Part of Friday's enjoyment was seeing the culmination of all the excitement and buzz his AI success has brought to Blue Springs. Tuesdays nights a local bar and grill has held watch parties for about the last six weeks. It is a noisy crowd until our hometown boy performs, and the judges critique him. The place erupts in cheers after David sings and more cheers or boos follow, depending on what the judges have to say. At 8:00, cell phones flipped open, we begin voting. (Once I'm home, I use my cell phone and our house phone to get in as many votes as possible! My husband used the word possessed!)
On Wednesdays, conversations at the grocery store, the doctor's office, the beauty shop center on David's performance and how many times a person voted. People of all ages sport David Cook t-shirts, which draw remarks and questions: "Do you vote?" "Are you related to David?" "Look, Mom, a David Cook shirt!" Even wearing my shirt while out of town last weekend solicited comments: "He's my favorite!" "I vote for him every week." "I hope he wins!"
The local Fox channel followed David with cameras all day. He was stunned by the crowd that gathered in downtown Kansas City for a mini-concert, but he was emotionally overwhelmed at the 10,000+ fans who welcomed him home during a parade and another mini-concert at Blue Springs South High School's football stadium.
These past weeks I've prayed for David, for as fun as this is, he's also been thrust into the limelight and a celebrity culture that offers many temptations and few guidelines on how to handle them. His older brother is ill with cancer, and for David to be away from home right now offers its own challenges. I've prayed for his family as they deal with the excitement of David's success and the battle against Adam's cancer. I've prayed that someone will help David stay grounded and humble, but at the same time, he will enjoy this great opportunity.
Listening to him on television and in person reassured me; he is still the David I loved like a son. Asked to sing the National Anthem at the Royals' game Friday evening, he declined when he learned that doing so would bump a middle school choir's opportunity to perform the song. Asked what was the best gift he'd received in the past weeks, David said it was a letter and picture from an elementary teacher who uses video of his performances in lessons for her special needs students. She sent a picture of her students who had written "give back" on their palms, following David's example during a performance to remind the audience to donate to "Idol Gives Back." That he could be a motivation to these students humbled him.
He shook hands, gave hugs, posed for pictures, and signed autographs, humbly thanking all those who support him, acknowledging "I 'owe you guys the world.'" AI planned a surprise visit to David's elementary music teacher's classroom. The kids crowded around him as he spread his arms and welcomed them all to draw closer.
It was a picture in Saturday's paper of David and Mrs. Gentry in a heartfelt embrace that evoked the strongest emotion of all. I don't know Mrs. Gentry, but as a teacher, I know how satisfying and rewarding it is to see a student succeed and to be acknowledged and remembered by a student, by someone who has become a star -- an American Idol -- well, that just topped off the whole experience.
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