HOMETOWN 'IDOL' STUDENTS BRAVE BAD WEATHER TO WATCH CLASSMATE JOHN STEVENS COMPETE ON THE BIG SCREEN AT WILLIAMSVILLE EAST HIGH SCHOOL - The Buffalo News

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HOMETOWN 'IDOL'
STUDENTS BRAVE BAD WEATHER TO WATCH CLASSMATE JOHN STEVENS COMPETE ON THE BIG SCREEN AT WILLIAMSVILLE EAST HIGH SCHOOL

When John Stevens IV took to a Hollywood stage lit up like a disco on Tuesday night, hundreds of his hometown fans packed the auditorium 3,000 miles away where Stevens began making his mark on the music world.

As colored spotlights swished across the high school junior from East Amherst, the Williamsville East High School auditorium exploded into a huge ball of sound -- screams, hoots, hollers and cheers.

"Yeeeeahh, Johnny!" his high school pals whooped.

About 250 students braved Tuesday's snowstorm to watch the two-hour kickoff of the show's final round on a huge screen peeking out from between two heavy red velvet curtains in the school's auditorium.

With a student body of about 1,200 at Williamsville East, many of the kids who gathered to watch the show don't even know Stevens personally.

Nonetheless, there was an electric atmosphere at the school Tuesday night, as students milled around eating pizza and waiting for their schoolmate's appearance.

"This is the first time our school has been so united around something," said freshman Charles Montaperto. "That's really cool."

At 16, Stevens is the youngest contestant of the Idol bunch. He's competing against sexy married women like LaToya London, spunky pink haired girls like Amy Adams, and Matthew Rogers, a goateed former college football player.

But Stevens has a style all his own.

Clad in a gray suit, Stevens perched on a stool to sing his song, a slow, mellow rendition of the Stevie Wonder tune "Lately."

From his hometown pals, Stevens earned enthusiastic applause and cheers. Reviews from the judges were mixed. "For me it didn't pass. I was bored to tears," said record producer Randy Jackson. But Paula Abdul called him "a gentleman" and said he gave a "classy performance." Simon Cowell liked him, too, and said he broke up "some of the monotony" that had characterized the evening's performances.

Adam Kreutinger, a sophomore and artist at Williamsville East, created T-shirts airbrushed with pictures of Stevens' face. He and his girlfriend, Maria Droz, proudly wore the shirts -- which took about five hours each to make -- at Tuesday night's festivities.

Kreutinger's shirt featured the budding star's signature, which he snagged last week when hordes of other students converged on Stevens during his brief trip back to school.

"Everyone was yelling, 'Can I have a hug? Can I have your autograph?' " Droz said. "John was like, 'Whoa, this is too much.' "

After a rough start in the semifinal rounds of the show in Hollywood last month -- when Stevens forgot the lyrics to several of his audition songs -- he battled back to win the highest number of audience votes when he competed with Group 4 two weeks ago.

At Williamsville East, a huge red, yellow and white sign papered the cafeteria at the school this week. "Welcome home John! U R our #1 Idol," it read.

Even complete strangers are moved to make predictions about his success on the show.

"Once he cuts loose his nerves, he'll just explode and light up the stage," wrote one fan in an online forum devoted to Stevens.

Americans will learn of Stevens' fate on tonight's show, when one contestant will be eliminated after the viewing audience's phone-in votes are tallied.

"This one family had seven phones all going on speed dial," said Katie Fink, a freshman at Williamsville East who came out to watch the Stevens perform. "Everyone's voting for John."

e-mail: hauer@buffnews.com

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