It was a homecoming to rival that of a head of state.
It's also one Crystal Bowersox and her fans won't soon forget.
In a whirlwind trip of parades, performances, and family reunions, the 24-year-old American Idol Top 3 finalist from Elliston, Ohio, was met with cheers by thousands of well-wishers throughout Toledo and Ottawa County Friday, part of a pipeline of local support that has helped advance her in the competition.
"It's really beyond words," Bowersox told The Blade early in the morning at an appearance at an AT&T store in West Toledo, shortly before greeting hundreds of fans. "It's a spectacle. I was joking on the way here … 'Nobody will be there, nobody is going to show.' I'm glad I was proven wrong.
"I have so much love for T-town. I love Toledo and everybody here in my hometown."
Crystal Bowersox comes home
Read the transcript from Friday's Bowersox chat
The feeling is mutual, based on the support she received from the moment her jet touched down at Toledo Express Airport late Thursday. Fans showed up then and at every public appearance after that.
And they weren't just from northwest Ohio.
Two friends from Cincinnati, Dell Fields, 22, and Michelle Bundy, 22, were so desperate to be a part of the local festivities, they hawked their TV, DVD player, stereo, and some DVDs for $30 in gas money to pay for their trip to northwest Ohio.
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After being amazed by Bowersox on American Idol, they wanted the singer to know how much she meant to them by screaming her name as she took the stage in the parking lot of the AT&T store.
Bowersox later laughed as she autographed Mr. Fields' chest.
"I knew this is why I had to be here," Ms. Bundy said. "This is really going to put Ohio on the map."
While at the AT&T store, Bowersox read a text message from American Idol judge Ellen DeGeneres, informing her she had selected Paul McCartney's "Maybe I'm Amazed" as one of the songs she will perform Tuesday.
That was at 10:45 a.m. or so. Nearly 90 minutes later, Bowersox was the main attraction in a miniparade through several downtown streets that had nearly 10,000 people crowding the route to see her.
And when Levis Square was packed with an estimated 5,000 fans for her brief performance, those who couldn't find a space to stand flooded into a nearby parking garage to watch her sing.
After receiving the key to the city from Mayor Mike Bell, Crystal joked, "A glass key for the Glass City, right? Oh, crystal. Right."
Then she got down to business, giving her fans a taste of her artistic abilities in person with a solo acoustic performance of her original song, "Holy Toledo," and a cover of Alanis Morissette's "Hand in My Pocket."
Looking out at the sea of faces, Bowersox told the crowd how unusual the moment was for her, having left for Hollywood only months ago as an unknown local singer.
"I'm just trying to take it all in now," she said. "This is intense."
The mayor said he was proud to see northwest Ohio turn out in such "massive numbers."
"It was amazing to see downtown Toledo packed with all of those people - it brought so much life into the downtown area," Mayor Bell said.
After leaving downtown, Bowersox stopped off at Papa's Tavern on Liberty Street in East Toledo for an unannounced stop.
Unannounced, yes. But not unscheduled.
Owner Tim Stahl said Bowersox had told him in advance she would work in a visit. He said he kept it under wraps from the media and even most of his regulars, at her request.
Fewer than 40 people, all regulars, were inside when Bowersox arrived. A crowd of about 100 fans was denied entry by Ottawa County sheriff's deputies.
"She just wanted to chill out. She wanted the same faces in here she's always seen," Mr. Stahl said. "She had to step back from the limelight for a minute."
Bowersox made it clear she was there to relax and be reunited, asking everyone to put down their cameras and enjoy the time with her. Some photographers, including one from a local Fox affiliate, were escorted outside.
She danced briefly, but mostly sat around and caught up with friends for about half of her hourlong visit, according to one of the tavern's regulars, Dale Velliquette, 56, of Oregon. Then, she played four or five songs on stage with Frankie May, her favorite bass player she had mentioned on national TV on Wednesday night, and Mr. May's father, local blues guitarist Bob May.
"It was so cool," Mr. Stahl said. "It reminded me of when she played here."
Said Mr. Velliquette: "She's home."
From there, Bowersox was escorted to her father's home in Elliston. A crowd of neighbors waited to cheer her as she exited the black SUV stretch limo and met her family in the front yard. After a few minutes, they disappeared into the home for some time away from the crowds and the frenzy of the day.
A half-hour later, Bowersox was back in the limo and riding through neighboring towns, past families on the side of the road who held up signs proclaiming her to be the next American Idol.
By 5:45 p.m., she was riding in another parade through the Ottawa County Fairgrounds in front of another 5,000 supporters. After a few minutes to catch her breath backstage, Bowersox, along with the ever-present film crew from American Idol there to document her every step, took the stage to receive proclamations and other gifts from politicians, including Congressman Marcy Kaptur, and other supporters.
Then Bowersox reminded everyone of why they were there: her talent. With her longtime friend and bassist Frankie May at her side, she ripped through some songs, including "Me and Bobby McGee," "Holy Toledo," and another original, "Speak Now."
"I wrote this just before I left from Chicago and I came back home," she said. "I kind of like the way it's turning out."
After that final song, Bowersox was whisked back into the limo and driven to Fifth Third Field in another escort by Ottawa County sheriff's deputies.
She arrived right on schedule for her appearance at the Mud Hens game. After donning a Mud Hens jersey with Bowersox written on the back and the number 1, she hopped in a black GT convertible and rode around the field in front of 13,200 fans, the largest crowd ever at the stadium.
Bowersox threw out the ceremonial first pitch - a bit high, but across the plate - as the crowd cheered her on. But she saved the best for last, a moving version of the National Anthem, her vocals soaring as high as could take them, as she held her nearly 2-year-old son, Tony, in her arms.
Afterward, at a brief press conference, she was clearly exhausted by the long day's activities.
"I'm going to bed," she said when asked about what she would do next. "I'm so tired right now."
But through it all, she never let the smile drop from her face.
Even as Bowersox looks to advance onto the Top 2 of American Idol next week, she said she knows how much her success has meant to northwest Ohio.
And she's fully embracing it.
"People have talked about how I've boosted the morale," she told The Blade. "Unemployment is at almost 20 percent. There's so much bad news that comes out around here. We just need something good for northwest Ohio and the Toledo area. I'm just really happy I can be part of that."
Contact Kirk Baird at