'Idol' finalist Grace Kinstler gets a parade in Crystal Lake, sings with students
Hundreds gathered along a route Tuesday between the Crystal Lake high school Grace Kinstler attended and the city's downtown hoping to see the "American Idol" finalist.
The parade had tentatively been set for about 4 p.m. but actually took place about 5:45 p.m., after an event at Crystal Lake Central High School where she sang with students.
Sam Leon, a junior at Crystal Lake Central, said Kinstler was greeted by hundreds of students and teachers at the school when she arrived. She played her original song, "Love Someone," on the football field for the students, and then many music students, including Leon, performed "Eye of the Tiger" with Kinstler, he said.
"She's very inspiring," Leon said.
Kinstler left the school in a yellow convertible accompanied by a few others. Her route took her through downtown Crystal Lake, ending at the Raue Center for the Arts, where she was presented with the Raue Center's Sage 2021 Award.
The last time Kinstler, currently a student at the Berklee College of Music, was in the area was back in February. She told the Northwest Herald on Tuesday that coming back to a celebration for her made her feel blessed and honored.
Kinstler has been lauded by the judges for her confidence, but she said she still gets nervous before performing.
"I feel like when I go on stage, I just become a different person," she said. She later gave a "hometown concert" at Lakewood's RedTail Golf Club. It was filmed for a segment for the show's finale.
Kinstler, a 20-year-old Crystal Lake Central High School graduate, was one of three contestants selected last Sunday to proceed to the show's final round this Sunday night. She and fellow contestants Willie Spence and Chayce Beckham each will perform a final time during the show's grand finale, when the contest winner will be announced.
The Sage Star award was a special award Raue employees came up with to celebrate Kinstler, said Amanda Flahive, education manager for the Raue Center of the Arts and program manager of Sage Studio, their in-house theater education program. Sage Studio students and their mothers helped decorate the front of the Raue for Kinstler's celebration.
Flahive taught Kinstler, a former Sage Studio student, in their musical theater workshop program and an advanced acting class.
"I really wanted to do something that would commemorate this moment, not just for her, but for all of our Sage Studio kids," Flahive said. "[It shows] when you really commit yourself and really go full out with your arts training, that this is how far you can get if you're willing to get there."
The first time Kinstler sang during a class, it was unforgettable, Flahive said.
"It was just literally this breathtaking talent standing in front of us," she said.
Kinstler got an award of her own, Flahive said, and one will be kept in the Raue Center for people to view as well.
"Just watching her work with a diverse group of students, and pulling back in her own voice and her own needs so that others can shine, that is what Grace is all about, and that is why our community loves her so much," said Kim Scherrer, Kinstler's former choir teacher at Crystal Lake Central.
Business owners and residents alike were excited as they gathered in downtown Crystal Lake Tuesday afternoon to see a parade in honor of Kinstler as part of the show.
"Hopefully, everything won't be a blur for her, and she'll see that she has her hometown behind her," said Michelle Howell, owner of KaleidoScoops, as she painted the store's windows in support of Kinstler.
Like many downtown businesses, Howell's storefront was full of signs and the window painted with "#TeamGrace." One of Howell's signs also referenced Kinstler's single "Love Someone," which was released last week.
"How many little guys are going to go, 'Oh, Grace, she was so good, I want to sing, too?'" Howell said. "I foresee that the music programs are just going to get a huge influx of little kids who want to sing, just like Grace."
Molly McDillon, an employee at the Out of the Box store in downtown Crystal Lake, said she lucked out on snagging a ticket to the sold-out event when a friend who had one could no longer attend. McDillon said the friend is letting her use the ticket.
"I'm so excited," McDillon said.
Also among those heading to the concert was Sherry Branecki, a Crystal Lake resident of 20 years who said she knows Kinstler's mother. Branecki also watched the parade with her daughter, Alyssa, an avid "American Idol" fan.
Sherry Branecki's son Dylan, 22, went to Central High School while Grace was there, too.
"All her passion is for her dad," Branecki said of Kinstler's late father, Mitch Kinstler, who died last year. "He's looking down on her for sure. She's awesome."
Kinstler has found much success on the show since its season premiere in February, when she was the very last contestant to appear before the show's judges: pop star Katy Perry, country singer Luke Bryan and singer-songwriter Lionel Richie. She sang "Midnight Train to Georgia" by Gladys Knight & the Pips and a rendition of "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" by Aretha Franklin that brought Bryan to tears.
"This is the first time in four years that someone singing has made me cry," Bryan said.
Perry said Kinstler's performance gave her "full body chills," and Richie compared her to the likes of Kelly Clarkson and Jennifer Hudson. All three said they ranked her up with some of the best voices they ever heard on the show.
Local businesses and organizations quickly threw their support behind the local "American Idol" contestant.
Around the Clock Restaurant and Bakery in Crystal Lake put a message on their sign saying, "Grace Kinstler from Lakewood is our fav American Idol." West Elementary School, part of Crystal Lake Elementary School District 47, put their own sign up in April, congratulating Kinstler, who is an alumnus.
"She portrays herself as a very powerful woman," Howell said. "She's had some down times, with her dad passing and everything like that. But you know what? Nothing's stopping her. It's showing everybody, times may be tough, but you make the best of it and go with it."
Kinstler has talked about her dad's passing last year on the show and to the Northwest Herald. She sang the song "Father" by Demi Lovato in honor of him.