Texans wild about 'American Idol' finalist James

American Idol finalist Lee Dewyze, center, rides with his parents Kathy, left and Lee, in a hometown parade in his honor Friday, May 14, 2010 in Mount Prospect, Ill. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

May 14, 2010 7:22:39 PM PDT
More than 2,000 screaming "American Idol" fans packed a pavilion on a rainy Friday to see Casey James, a local musician who's among the show's three finalists.

James, 27, standing on the stage with his guitar, played several songs at the Fort Worth Stockyards, where a giant banner "Fort Worth Welcomes Casey Home" was above the road. A parade in his honor was rained out.

Dozens of fans held small signs reading "Casey Is Hot" and "Casey Is Cool" - a reference to the name of his hometown, a tiny farming community 40 miles west of Fort Worth. Some fans wore black T-shirts emblazoned with his name and a red guitar on the front, and "Team Casey" on the back.

"Thank y'all so much," James said to the crowd, wearing a black cowboy hat just given to him by city officials. "I love you guys so much. This has changed my life. It's unbelievable."

Sisters Amber Thomas and Angie Ramirez knew James from Millsap High School, where his senior yearbook lists his plans as becoming "a famous blues musician." The sisters said they had not seen him in years but wanted to see him perform Friday because of his "American Idol" success.

"It's neat to see someone you know on TV, trying to be famous," Thomas said.

Paula Gullredge and her 5-year-old-daughter, Kate, held up an "I (Heart) Casey" sign they made with glitter and tinsel. Gullredge, of Fort Worth, said she braved the stormy weather to attend James' performance because he was a "local boy who makes good."

"I showed my daughter his picture and said, 'That's Casey, the guy we've been watching on TV,' and she said, 'He's cute,"' Gullredge said.

James has been a fan favorite since his Denver audition for the Fox show's ninth season, when some of the judges asked the 27-year-old to remove his shirt and take down his ponytail - revealing wavy, dirty-blond locks.

Earlier Friday he greeted fans at other venues in the area as part of his hometown visit, a perk awarded to the show's three finalists. Crystal Bowersox was touring Toledo, Ohio, and Lee DeWyze was in the Chicago area.

Footage from the visits is scheduled to air on next week's show.

Outside a Grapevine store, hundreds hugged James, gave him roses and held heart-shaped signs with his name. He later performed with his band at a Fort Worth bar.

James now lives in Fort Worth and has been playing solo and with his band at gigs in Texas and Oklahoma.