'Idol' fans line up in burbs to see Haley Reinhart
For a split second on Saturday, it was just Harry Reinhart and his daughter Haley, known to most everyone else as "American Idol" star Haley Reinhart.
"I always knew she was a toughie, but I didn't know she was this tough," said Harry, looking at the trail of photographers, cameras and reporters up and down Wheeling High School's hall. "This is going to make a hell of a scrapbook."
"Thanks, dad," said Haley, leaning in for a hug.
Haley, "American Idol's" comeback kid, may have gotten the confidence boost she needed at her hometown celebration on Saturday.
Lugging umbrellas and wearing buttoned-up winter coats, thousands of fans followed the Wheeling native starting at about 10 a.m. at the AT&T store in Deer Park until about 8 p.m. when a sold-out concert at Arlington Park wrapped up.
Along the way there were "Haley growls" heard in the halls of Wheeling High School and a visit to the Wheeling Aquatic Center, where Haley used to warn people not to go down the slide too fast back when she worked there.
"This is nuts in the best kind of way," Haley told fans outside Wheeling's village hall while the rain fell.
If you're a Haley fan, you get it.
For the first time, it was Haley Reinhart's very own concert. And she was glad for the chance.
"This is the first time I've been able to say 'this is my concert right now,' so thanks," she told 29,772 people crowded into Arlington Park before saying, "let's rock," and kicking off the show.
She opened with Elton John's "Bennie and the Jets," then the family that gave Haley her musical roots joined her onstage. Father Harry played guitar, mother Patti Miller-Reinhart kept the beat on tambourine and sang backup vocals, and sister Angie played bass guitar.
"It's really exciting because actually my neighbors know Haley, so they tell me a lot about her," said 11-year-old Gianna Trippiendi of Wheeling, who waited about 2½ hours in the rain for the concert to start. "It'd be so cool if someone from Wheeling won 'American Idol.'"
That's what Wheeling Village President Judy Abruscato thinks, too. Speaking before the show, she gave Reinhart a Wheeling-themed gift of a wooden keepsake shaped like a guitar, with spokes and a wheel in place of a guitar's soundboard.
Reinhart said she was glad for the chance to move closer to recreating the Idol-winning excitement Lee DeWyze of Mount Prospect brought to the suburbs last year.
"I think I like Haley more, but they're both really talented," Katelyn Shanahan, 16, of Arlington Heights, said about the two singing stars.
And Reinhart knows her fans are important, "power-voting" her into Idol's top three.
"I'm almost at a loss for words," she told the crowd. "Except that I need to tell you all how much I appreciate you."
Among the hundreds outside Wheeling Village Hall were two of Reinhart's cousins, Molly and Emma Rosenfield, who said Reinhart hasn't changed a bit since her big break.
The pair said they flew to Los Angeles to see Reinhart perform the week she took on Blondie's "Call Me." After the show was over, they had dinner at The Cheesecake Factory with Reinhart and fellow contestant Casey Abrams.
Molly made one thing clear: "They aren't dating. Casey's just a really nice guy and he and Haley like a lot of the same music."
The village hall celebration drew about 300 people who chanted as Reinhart's motorcade approached.
And she seemed to delight in the crowd as much as they loved her. Abruscato had to pull Reinhart away from hugging and kissing fans so Abruscato could officially proclaim May 14 "Haley Reinhart Day."
"You guys are amazing. I thought I'd see maybe two of you because of this weather," Reinhart said. "Thanks for making this girl's dream come true."
Reinhart grabbed lunch at one of her favorite Wheeling eateries, Bob Chinn's Crabhouse. The owners have been serving up "Haley Comet" drinks since the show began in March.
Her cousins, the Rosenfields, said they stopped by to talk with Reinhart during lunch. What did she order? Surf and turf.
High school homecoming
Reinhart popped in to surprise Wheeling High School band members, who were practicing for her celebration later in the day. She also met privately with her former band director, Brian Logan.
"It's so good to be back here, I can't believe I'm back here," Reinhart said at the high school she graduated from in 2009.
She arrived at the school in a stretch limo to chants of "Haley! Haley! Haley!" from fans lined up six and seven deep, cellphones in their outstretched hands.
"She definitely has that 'it' factor," said Wheeling sophomore Mallory Schiferi. "I think she's going to be a huge star."
Deer Park debut
Reinhart began her day at the AT&T store in Deer Park, where she hugged and thanked about 200 fans.
She also answered questions about her "Idol" journey, including one about the critical comments she has fielded from the judges.
"It's harsh, but Steven's always got my back," she said referring to judge Steven Tyler. "They want to push me. They say that's when I'm at my best."
Reinhart got her first taste of suburban fans chanting her name.
"This is the first gathering where there have been people waiting. It's mind-blowing," Reinhart said. "It's only the AT&T store and already I'm tearing up."
•Marie Wilson, Deb Pankey and Eileen Daday contributed to this report.
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